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Doug Murdoch :: MindShift Interview

by , May 2, 2014

Doug Murdoch is a titan of camera carry. He began with Lowepro over two decades ago and then in 2005 - feeling that manufacturers were failing to meet the needs of professional photographers - he left to found Think Tank Photo.

mindshift-animated-rotating-pack-sm

Recently, Think Tank launched a sister company called MindShift to focus on outdoor and adventure camera bags. Their first product, the rotation180° Professional Backpack, is a rotating waist pack integrated into a camera daypack that apparently allows blazing fast access to gear. Frankly, it sounds crazy, and if it didn't have someone like Doug behind it we'd have been tempted to dismiss it outright.

We threw some questions about the system at Doug; turns out he's got some things to say about camera carry!

mindshift - cutting

Doug, thanks for chatting with us today. What were the specific problems with existing outdoor camera bags that you set out to address with your rotation180° system?

Our friend Jerry Dodrill talks about the “creative momentum” that gets lost if you can’t get your gear quickly. Nothing beats a good pack when it comes to suspending and stabilizing a load on your back, but traditionally you have to take it off to access your gear. If your gear isn’t easy to get at, you don’t get it. You stop taking your pack off. You stop taking photos, and miss out on opportunities.

mindshift - sketches

On the other side of the coin, slingbags are somewhat faster for getting your gear. But they don't suspend or stabilize your load very well, and they often have less carrying capacity. Plus, they provide angled, awkward access to your cameras.

I designed the rotation180° system so that you rotate the belt pack to the front of your body while the rest of the pack stays strapped in place and stable. It's super fast, and presents all your kit clearly so that your camera, binoculars, first aid equipment, or anything else you need urgent access to is right there in front of you at a moment's notice.

The obvious analogy to what we're trying to do with the rotation180° is hydration bladder systems. They made water accessible to cyclists without losing momentum while taking a hand off the bars to get at a bottle.

mindshift - rotation example

Obviously the rotation180° system is a descendent of the Think Tank Rotation 360, but I seem to remember a vaguely similar Lowepro system existing years ago as well; did you have anything to do with that?

Yep, you're right! I graduated in 1990, and in 1991 I designed the Orion AW for Lowepro - my first major product for a major brand. It had a means of releasing the belt pack from the top day pack so that it could be rotated to the front. Obviously this concept of accessibility has been kicking around in my head for my entire career.

There was a product in the late 80s from The North Face called Totally Hip - a modular hip pack and backpack system. The other one was a Galen Rowell MFP (modular fanny pack). Neither of them really took accessibility into account - they were too focused on the “2 in 1” approach. So originally when I was working on the Orion, I thought “What if the belt pack could be rotated to the front of your body”? We put 38mm side-release buckles on the Orion, which you unclipped before rotating it to the front. Everyone loved that part but putting it back was a huge pain in the ass. Matching up the buckles was very tough, you’d have to ask a friend to buckle up the sides. Frustrating!

Years later, the Think Tank Rotation 360 eliminated the problem of rotating and reconnecting the belt pack by having a hole go through the bottom of the backpack. Although we sold several thousand of these backpacks, in my mind it didn't carry enough gear and its two-stave system and rigid hole made it too heavy. So the goal for the MindShift rotation180° backpacks was to fully redevelop this concept of accessibility: new materials (high-density foam), single stave, etc...

Who else is doing interesting things in the camera carry world? What kinds of things influence your thinking when it comes to carry?

The camera carry world is really small. I use a lot of different bags, testing products, etc... But I can’t really think of one who is head and shoulders above the rest. Regardless, I measure my products’ accessibility, stability, and performance to the competition.

You have a wealth of experience and influence within the camera bag industry. Why did you launch the MindShift project with Kickstarter?

Kickstarter was a way to introduce the product to a new community that values innovation and entrepreneurial risk. This community represents the early adopters of new ideas and technologies, which is exactly what we needed. The rotation180° Pro was so far superior to its previous incarnations that to the majority of the world it was a brand new product concept.

This product is radical, either a “wow” moment or a “wtf” moment. Kickstarter allowed us to get the early adopters who want to support outside-the-box thinking.

mindshift - skiing

mindshift - wall sketches

Panorama Belt Pack

What were some of the design challenges you guys faced in this project? Was it hard to balance bag stability with ease of rotation? How long did the design process take from start to finish?

There are a number of very subtle details that are vital to the bag's function. For example, both the belt pack and the hole it goes into are tapered to make sure the components are snug when pushed all the way in.

I've been working on the general design concept for over two decades, but for the rotation180° specifically it took about two and a half years to engineer the integration of the belt pack and the backpack so that it could be carried properly with the weight transferred to the hips. We definitely had lots of skepticism from design folks in terms of wearability, but it’s surprisingly stable. Just putting it on, most people couldn’t tell it’s any different from a normal, well designed camera backpack.

mindshift - form development

It's great to see Think Tank's collective knowledge being applied to outdoor and adventure bags. Could we see simpler, lighter, non-rotating bags from you at some point?

Of course, I just can’t tell you the release date! Rotation has broken ground, as well as given us the most attention; now we can move into normal stuff. However, our next products will still have a unique “mind-shifting” approach. Accessibility will remain key.

Alternatively, could your rotational technology be used in medical, EDC, tactical, or other non-camera bags one day?

It’s possible this could be used for any application where “urgent accessibility” to gear is required. We do have European, Asian, and USA patents for the rotation concept.

mindshift - panorama

How mad do you get when people call it a fanny pack?

Well, only the Australians have an objection... If it were up to us we'd probably call it a Hubba Hubba Hiney Pack.

mindshift---jerry-dodrill-in-the-field

Thanks to Doug for taking the time to talk to us! Check out MindShift for more info.

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