PostNL Messenger Bag
Published August 22, 2023
I designed the messenger bag for Dutch postal workers. This is a true story about beginner’s luck, obviousness, and hairy arms.
Between 2007 and 2008 I lived in the small Dutch city of Delft and worked as an industrial design intern at the agency Flex. During that time I designed the messenger bag for Dutch postal workers. With a bit of beginner’s luck, this became my first industrial design project to make it into production.
People sometimes talk about the “hairy arm” method of client management. The idea is to show an obviously flawed design to your client, so that they accept your intended design and feel some agency in the process.
As a lowly intern, my task was to offer up an alternative direction to the primary directions created by the senior designers on the team. My design wasn’t exactly a “hairy arm” but an obvious solution, probably meant to look like we had left no stone unturned. In the end, my design was the one all the postal workers liked best.
The project started because a new law had been passed that allowed mailboxes in the Netherlands to decline advertising with a sticker.
Before that law, advertising mail was bundled with regular mail at the sorting office. The new law instead forced postal workers to carry advertising mail separately from regular mail so that it could be manually sorted at the last moment.
The challenge was to design a solution to carry and sort the two kinds of mail. It also required the solution to be operated one-handed in rainy and windy cycling conditions, with thick gloves that postal workers often wear in the winter. Finally, the solution had to be flexible so that it could adapt to the shrinking pile of mail throughout the delivery.
The senior designers came up with all kinds of contraptions — one of them was like a folder attached to the inside of a glove. Wearing it made you look like Edward Folderhands.
My solution was simple. A messenger bag with an outside pocket that uses a thick bungee cord strapped to an easily accessible hook. This enabled quick one-handed operation of the compartments.
The simplicity of this design is what made it attractive to the postal workers. Sometimes the obvious solutions are the right ones.