Design Featured

Designing the Best Carry-On Luggage

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Hi – I’m Kevin Fox, the Designer/Founder of LAT_56. I wish to give some personal designer insight into the considered design approach I have taken to create what I believe to be the best carry-on luggage for business travel available and I hope some of this will resonate with you as a jet-setter when considering what’s important in your luggage.

Creating the ‘best carry-on luggage’ is a huge task as every traveller has their unique requirements be it trip duration, budget, mode of transport, typical destination, possessions they carry, preferred airline and its restrictions, travel habits and design taste.

The Background

LAT_56 Road Warrior - Best Carry-On Luggage

The two new carry-on suitcases – the RW_01 Road Warrior (2 wheel carry-on with garment bag) and the RW_02 Road Warrior (8 wheel carry-on spinner) were in development for many months (many years is the truth, but I can’t bring myself to say that) and are an expansion from our existing collection of laptop bags, garment bags, backpacks, messengers, briefcases, duffels and accessories. The product range all started with the Red-Eye carry-on garment bag, which was sold for the first time ever at the brand’s champagne launch event in Selfridges, London in the autumn of 2010.

When designing the new carry-on luggage, I was in the unique position to create something new and to bring a fresh take on what a carry-on bag should be to the modern traveller. I was able to design these new pieces with an already well established global brand following. From a designer point-of-view this was a very proud moment, having started LAT_56 from scratch. As we are so agile compared to some larger corporate brands, we can really push the boat out in terms of choices we make and innovate to our full potential.

I have been able to prioritise LAT_56 values without external influences and I think this shows in our design.

Our bags are unapologetically masculine in style but in a world where unisex dominates – where it is a choice between conservative, bland aesthetics or pastel colours – we have carved out our niche that hopefully appeals to you.

The Challenge

In this challenge involving LAT_56 expansion into carry-on wheeled luggage, I tasked myself with creating two ideal suitcases for business travel but that could equally be used as your all-round leisure travel cabin bag.

Durability & High-Performance Vs Saving Weight?

I wanted to create a suitcase which valued both durability, aesthetics, strength, performance and weight saving features. Not one or the other. It had to be tough to survive the constant abuse a frequent traveller bag takes, it had to last a lifetime, and it had to perform to best-in-class standards. But all of this shouldn’t come with the negative impact of adding weight and ultra-exuberant cost. It is a very hard line to play but I think we nailed it.

The Structure

LAT_56 Road Warrior - Best Carry-On Luggage

This was a decision which had to be taken from day one. What sort of case will it be? 1. Hard case or 2. Soft case? This was an easy decision. As the designer and a frequent flyer myself, spending periods of time living on planes due to my company’s international travel duties, I have built up a thorough understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

In my view, hard shells perform far better as check-in bags than they do as hand luggage, protecting your belongings in the rough and tumble of airport baggage carousel life. Don’t get me wrong, I really admire some German hard shell designs but I don’t find them practical for carry-on.

Hard shell cases are not compactable. Soft shells have an element of ‘give’ in them, making it possible to squeeze them into the overhead compartment or even under a seat. Moreover, trying to close a hard shell bag when it is full is near impossible. Additionally, when a hard shell isn’t packed full it loses the ride quality as the case needs the internal contents to absorb the bumps on the ground or you just feel like you are dragging around an empty shell with a terrible echo and vibrations shuddering up the handle.

My answer to this was to develop an entirely new hybrid design – made of our trademark semi-rigid exterior honeycomb fabric combined with a rear frame clad in the best quality ‘ballistic’ nylon (1680D x 1680D) and soft side walls made of the same again, ballistic nylon (1680D x 1680D). What you end up with is a hybrid soft/hard shell which gets the best of both worlds. It’s got total protection where needed and it saves on weight.

In my view, this is an entirely ground breaking prospect for travellers.

The Size

The modern day business or leisure traveller doesn’t want to have to waste time waiting on luggage if it can be avoided (it can add up to several days in the year when totalled up for the most frequent flyer). The leisure traveller wants to get to their destination and enjoy it, not spend it at the airport.

Furthermore, the leisure traveller, and majority of business travellers for that matter, does not want to pay for excess baggage fees. Lastly – no one wants the dreaded situation of luggage not showing up on the carousel at the final destination airport.

It’s got to be carry-on size and for the majority of trips this is sufficient for frequent travellers.

Airline carry-on size limitations can be imposed on travellers both in terms of weight and dimensions. So keeping the weight down is imperative. Furthermore, you don’t want to be hauling around a bag that feels like it is as heavy as you before you’ve even packed it.

The bag’s priority task is to carry your contents, get itself plus precious cargo from A to B and in one piece, last a lifetime and generally make life that bit more pleasant while in transit.

Travelling can be at times a very stressful experience so the last thing you want is your gear to fail. It’s as simple as that – plus it helps to have killer looks. It’s in part why I’m hesitant of the current crowdfunding fad towards luggage embedded with technology – they are heavy, they won’t last a lifetime as premium materials are not used (component unit cost is prioritized towards tech gimmicks instead of high-end luggage components), the tech isn’t really practical a lot of the time, it will become obsolete as new tech is developed, and the technology is inevitably going to breakdown (or at least increase the chances of something on the bag breaking down which is something a bag should never do in my eyes). For example, technology such as a portable power source are readily available independently from specialist, superior brands, they are better quality/value and you can transfer it to another bag such as a laptop shoulder bag when you are commuting or another sized suitcase. Frequent travellers carry a fleet of different sized bags to accommodate different journey types/durations. The list is very long as to why suitcases with tech are a gimmick.

As a designer sometimes the hardest thing is to design something which is simple, clean and effective. With a carry-on bag, you want something that is fast, nimble and light – but you also want something which can handle being thrown in the back of a taxi, dragged through downtown streets or squeezed into an overhead compartment of a regional jet over and over again.

Component Quality

LAT_56 Road Warrior - Best Carry-On Luggage

The selection of components was incredibly important to me. Straight off, it had to have the best wheels and telescopic handle. These are your two dominating contact points as a ‘user’ when travelling with the bag. The wheels are in constant contact with the ground, the handle is what you use and touch to manoeuvre the bag. I went all out in terms of specifications for these two components and this is obvious to the proud owners of the Road Warrior’s.

On the 2 wheel RW_01, we have used longboard skateboard inspired wheels to give an effortless, agile, silent ride. You have to try it to feel how smooth it is.

One of our first customers referred to this when he said he “felt like a ninja going through the airport” compared to other travellers with their bags clunking along.

I’m surprised that other premium brands don’t focus on this more. Some of the most premium bags out there are the loudest, bumpiest rides you can get.

LAT_56 Road Warrior - Best Carry-On Luggage

It’s not only the airport concourse where our wheels triumph. Train and subway stations, stone paving, hotels with tiled floors, urban environments – anywhere that doesn’t have a floor like a bowling alley. During my design process, I’ve trialled all of our major competitors and LAT_56 wheels are industry leading.

When referring to the wheels, I have to mention the red transparent design on the RW_01 Road Warrior wheels. When it catches the light it’s a stunning detail. Not forgetting our RW_02 Road Warrior spinner bag which has a fantastic high-end 8 wheel set up.

Some of you may not have noticed, but the rear RW_02 wheels are about 50% larger than the front.

This means you can easily tip the spinner bag up on the 2 rear wheels when it makes life easier depending on the terrain. Spinners can be a fantastic solution (preferred by many) in airports but sometimes outside of that smooth airport they can be a hindrance when you need to go somewhere fast. This LAT_56 rear wheel design means those days are over.

Material Selection

I can’t express how important the material choice was to me.

Every single fabric has been carefully selected after months of consideration and hundreds of swatch samples.

From the soft mesh that has elastic properties to the best quality “ballistic” exterior nylon fabric that is 1680D x 1680D (amongst the toughest you can get). It not just a tough nylon, it was chosen for how it feels when you touch it. Not too rough, and not too soft – just right.

LAT_56 Road Warrior - Best Carry-On Luggage

The internal lining was a bold statement of luxury. Owners get a real delight when they open the case for the first time. The dark red interior adds a touch of je ne sais quoi. The bags show considered thinking both on the exterior and interior and the lining is a great example of what thought went into the interior. Every time you travel with the bag it’s a pleasure to place your belongings against the soft fabric.

The telescopic handle with its super smooth up/down mechanism has a rubber surface at the handle to aid grip including just enough padding to make it comfortable. The zip pullers are grab friendly. The mesh is soft and elasticated. The rain runs off the water resistant zips. All of the abrasion-prone areas have PVC piping protectors or impact proof ABS plastic protectors. The shoe/laundry bag and internal suit bag is made of various grades of ‘ripstop’ nylon for durability and are detachable. The impact proof ABS plastic (same grade as crash helmets) is superior quality and will last a lifetime. These are just some of the details.

Pockets

LAT_56 Road Warrior - Best Carry-On Luggage

Some household names in the luggage world have really left a terrible legacy in terms of pocket design. I threw all previous thinking in this field out of the window.

I started all over again with our own direction.

Hopefully you will find it refreshing compared to your previous bags. Much like my decision to make the interior as important as the exterior, the pocket selection is very carefully considered. Each pocket has a silicon logo detail to graphically identify its purpose. Gone are the internal webbing straps and randomly positioned pockets made of that mesh and polyester which is as rough as sand paper. Gone is excessive pockets which have no apparent purpose and as a result end up adding weight and taking up valuable volume. Consistent with both new suitcases, a long zipped side pocket with an opposing twin zipped mesh pockets design was chosen for the base of the interior. The latter being ideal for your small bits and pieces. There is also the shoe/laundry bag which is detachable via webbing hooks, this also means you can flip the shoe/laundry bag over the edge of the case but still keep it attached when you are packing/unpacking. On the top lid there is an elastic mesh sealed area for either the detachable Suit Packing System (in the RW_01) or perfect for keeping shirts/folded clothes (in the RW_02).

LAT_56 Road Warrior - Best Carry-On Luggage

Externally, there is a rear pocket ideal for sticking in items on-the-go like newspapers, magazine or documents. The handle also zips away to its own pocket on the RW_01.

Last and not least, there is an external pocket for access to your toiletries. This is designed for when you are going through security and need quick access to the 100ml/3-1-1 bag. This feature is LAT_56 design is a nutshell.

I hope you enjoy my considered design approach towards creating our best carry-on luggage. It has been a fantastic challenge and provided an opportunity to let LAT_56 design flourish into creating the bags we were meant to produce.

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  • Dave Jennings

    Great article, thanks. As a frequent traveller ( and big Lat56 fan ) it’s really interesting to hear the thought process behind how the range becomes what it is. I can certainly vouch for the sheer quality and durability of the products, they all look as good now as when I first bought my Lat56 Red Eye almost 4 years ago.

    • thelatitudemagazine

      Hi Dave, thanks for your kind words. A huge amount of thought went into the new carry-on luggage. It’s also great to hear that your original Red-Eye Garment Bag is still going strong! It must have done the air miles!

  • David Reeder

    Kevin,
    I’ve only had my RW_01 for 4 weeks but have done 4 week long (M-F) trips from Denver to Ireland, Rio de Janeiro, Atlanta and Haiti and a weekend wine tasting trip in the US.

    I’ve found the bag wonderfully diverse for handling different trips (suiter for S. America & Caribbean), extra shoes for Ireland and weekend, and I LOVE the 3-3-1 pocket. While I’m TSA Pre-check in the US and don’t need to pull those out, its great for international security and just a convenient location to store these with just a little more spillage protection as well.

    The bag is by far the quietest and smoothest in the airport, extremely impressed by the wheels. I’m not the heaviest traveler (~145 days/year) but am on the road enough that I’m quite picky about my luggage. I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. Well designed for the heavy traveller indeed.

    Thanks,
    David
    UA 1K/Million Miler