The Pick Up & Play Office

In 2007/2008, when I did the IPA Excellence Diploma, there was one section of the course that asked you to create five different pieces of creative. One of them was about building a place fit for creativity. It was my favourite exercise of that module, possibly because the task was far removed from what I did everyday; it asked you to think in terms of architectural permanence, rather than fleeting media experiences.

In hindsight, it may well have been be the thing that set me off thinking about how the space around us really does influence the things we create and the way we create them. We’re all just reacting to context, be it other people, or things other people have made.

Anyway, I submitted a piece at the time which helped me define a roaming, itinerant working method of being out and about as much as possible, and not trapped inside white-walled offices trying to crack problems.

Actually, thinking about it now, though the brief perhaps asked for something more consistent and solid, I contrived something which largely ignored the potential in static space in favour for a wandering and wondering approach, inspired by this piece on Creative Generalists.

It’s below, should you want to travel back in time. The piece only exists in separate strands now – a hosted audio track, and the slides over which it went. Slideshare used to offer that functionality, but have since stopped supporting it. Therein lies any lessons for things wot we store on the web; they change, or go away, when we’re not looking. I’m sure you can click along to the dulcet Scottish tones if you wish.

And yes, I’m highly embarrassed by the phone I chose to represent ‘camera phones’…

Why do I bring this up now though?

Well, many reasons, some of which I’ll expand in future posts about the  three-year anniversary of Smithery (TL;DR – exciting times).

But one in particular, related to one of the companies that I’ve used since I wrote that piece, to help facilitate the working method by carting various bits of tech around; Crumpler.

1 - Crumpler Logo

I’ve been using Crumpler bags for the last six years, and before that housed laptops in their excellent neoprene cases. I have had various sizes and varieties of Crumpler that have served me very well indeed.

But I found myself after something in particular; a spacious, hand-luggage sized backpack that I could use for going on my wee European work hops.

Big enough to get the tools of the trade in (and spare undies and the like), but small enough to manhandle into one of the Easyjet’s Krypton Factor-esque baggage sizing devices.

They didn’t have anything like this in the online shop. So I got chatting to Michael there at their German HQ, first via twitter, then Facebook. To cut a long story a little shorter, he said he’d send me over a couple of bags from the new range that wasn’t out, and I said I’d test them out and review them here.

But rather than a straight review of the bags, I thought it’d be more interesting (for you, me and hopefully Michael) if I tried to talk about them in the context of wider work stuff.

The first bag is called the Muli Backpack M, and it’s a small, super slim backpack. It’s basically the perfect bag for what I’ve come to think of as The Pick Up & Play Office, the bag that’d hold everything you need to do unexpected things on an expected job.

It’s most useful to look at what I have inside the bag. Ever since discovering it during a piece of research on a chewing gum brand, I’ve been in love with What’s In My Bag on Flickr… a better insight into global ‘carryable stuff’ trends you may never find.

So in keeping with that trope, here’s the plan view of  the contents for a typical day (btw – most links go through Amazon Associates, other shops are available)…

15 - All Gear

Steel Water Bottle, by Penguin – I’ve been carrying a water bottle for years, rather than buying endless plastic water bottles. Funnily enough, because of the slightly lame literary joke (“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac – geddit…?), it’s become a conversation starter with more people than I’d ever have imagined it would. It’s a water cooler moment you can carry with you. Anyway, you should all stop buying bottled water, or indeed helping to sell it. It’s stupid.

Panasonic Lumix LX7 Camera – this wee camera is by far the best tech investment I’ve made in two years, which is not a statement I’m going to make lightly. It’s a bridge camera; functions and capabilities beyond that of a standard compact, but without the inconvenience of having to heft around a full-on DSLR. It’s good enough to do really quite serviceable product shots, little instructional vids, or one-handed filming of projects on-the-hoof, especially in slo-mo. Extra bonus – they’re dead cheap now, as the LX8 is coming later this year.

Samson Meteor – a USB mic for interviewing, podcasts etc. I usually hook this up to the iPad mini, and use the Soundnote app for interviews or Audioboo to capture little audio-hunches.

Apple Mac Air, 13″ mid-2011 & Apple iPad Mini 64Gb, 2012 – as often as I’ve tried to just take an iPad to work on, I find that on its own, it’s more of a time-shifting device – it helps you capture the things you need to do for work later, rather than do the work itself. So I travel with both the Air and the iPad Mini pretty much all the time.

Joby Gorrilapod tripod – now, this is a really handy little tripod stand for the LX7 when I need it, but also it can turn an iPad into a hi-tech Overhead Projector for working with Artefact Cards (thanks to Mick Lock at Experian for the tip) – get your iPad mini, and add a Grifiti Nootle cover that takes a tripod screw on the base. Then connect a Lightning to VGA adapter, and you can plug the iPad in to any standard projector, open the camera app, and whatever the camera is looking down at appears on the screen behind you, like below.


It means that groups of people can work quickly on the Artefact Cards, and show their work to the group pretty easily. You should see people’s faces when they look back and realise how quickly they’re working (instead of going away from meetings to return with a PowerPoint presentation a few days later).

Artefact Cards – naturally, of course, given I make them as well. I’ll try to carry around four blank packs, in a mix of colours, every day. Some of them will be for using on my own or with others, but inevitably some packs get given to people who become really curious.

Sharpies – for using with the Artefact Cards. Wielding a Sharpie feels like wielding a weapon.

– Assorted wireage, connectables, and power supplies – I tend to carry a lot of little connecting things that’ll help bodge things together on the off-chance I need to. Whenever I don’t, it seems, there’s always something that crops up where I could have done with something. It can get messy unless you’ve got the right sort of storage… which is where the Muli bag comes into its own.

Let’s think in terms of the layers of working – how often am I going to need stuff, and how easy is it to access?

Firstly, the aforementioned wires are going to be an ‘every so often’ thing, they’re never going to be the first thing I reach for. So right in the heart of the bag, there’s a large mesh pocket over the laptop section into which we put all the wee wires, connectors, USB drives, clickers etc…

11 - Rucksack wires

Behind this, then, is the laptop section, which I use for both the Air and the iPad Mini. It has plenty of space, and could probably take a Mac-book Pro and a full iPad combo. But what the bag seems to do is really shrink back to constrain whatever’s inside. It’s like it’s always trying to be as slim as possible. Anyway, that’s the next layer; whenever I’m sitting down to work somewhere (train, office, museum, coffee shop) the bigger devices are relatively quick to access when I open the bag.

10 - Rucksack laptop

Then in the main section, we’ve got the larger things that I might want to grab quickly; for instance, the water bottle for a drink, or the camera to shoot something. They naturally sink to the bottom of the bag, and nestle quite comfortably away from the other stuff.

12 - rucksack chunky

Yet it’s quickly accessible; the whole front opens and closes a little like the eggs in Aliens…

13 - rucksack zip

…zipping all the way up to the top…

8 - Rucksack thin

…then the flap folds over on the zip, like a security jiffy bag, to make the bag waterproof. It’s a delightfully simple design, and even more secure method than I’ve seen before in Crumpler bags.

7 - Rucksck front

6 - Rucksack straps

So, really well sealed up, all the stuff safe inside. What if I want to get something quickly though…?

Hiding under the flap at the sides are two pockets, one either side, which are perfectly sized to take 2-3 packs of Artefact Cards and three or four sharpies in each… so in seconds I can be working anywhere. In case of emergency, pull zip.

14 - Rucksack Artefact Cards

Over the last month or so, it’s proved to be the best bag I’ve owned for The Pick Up & Play Office idea. Those layers of accessibility have proven to be just what I needed, though as always, you never really know until you get your hands on something how it’s going to work out.

It also has the capacity to get enough stuff in for an overnight; I took it to Dublin for my IAPI talk last month, and breezed through the airport security malarkey with the least of fuss of course.

But wait; surely the idea was to get a bag that’d do longer than that? Well, here’s the thing; the other bag was the Track Jack Board Case. I can’t stop thinking of it as the bag Jason Bourne probably has packed at the back door at all times. It’s a holdall equipped with dozens of sections and pockets, and a few neat tricks.

2 - Crumpler Holdall

What I like most about it though is the bag-within-a-bag thing I can do – essentially, I can just take the fully laden Muli backpack, and drop it inside the Board Case, and then pack anything else I need round about it.

5 - Rucksack and holdall

4 - rucksack in holdall

Then, I can either carry it as a holdall (it easily fits into the overhead locker size constraints in airports, because it’s a soft case), or turn the Board Case into a backpack itself, by deploying the hidden straps…

3a - Holdall closed

3b - Holdall straps

3c - Holdall rucksack

It’s more Bond than Bourne, perhaps.

Anyway, both bags individually are brilliant (and as rugged and hard wearing as you’re expect from Crumpler), but together they’ve formed another layer, a nested variation on the theme of working and accessibility.

You can get see the Muli Backpack here, and the Track Jack Board Case here. I’d like to thank Michael for sending the over to test out too – I’m not sending them back, as I’ve bought them both 🙂

As promised before, I’ll be talking a lot more about layers, levels, and working practices as we head towards the Smithery third anniversary in August…


One response to “The Pick Up & Play Office”

  1. […] what I’ve stuck to as a description. Studio. It sounds like a place, despite running as a pick-up-and-play office for most of the last three […]