Interview with An Industrial Designer: Agency Aspect Founder & The North Face Alum
And wearing Kinflyte
Ergonomic design is often overlooked in the apparel industry. This is also true in the hard goods space, which includes bags and backpacks. Physiotherapists have referred to a specific problem coined "handbag syndrome" in which women suffer neck and shoulder strain caused by their unwieldy handbags. We had an opportunity to chat with Liana Delucca Johnson, founder of Agency Aspect and a veteran industrial designer, credited with designing bestselling products for The North Face and Camelbak. Here is the Q&A from our interview.
How did you become an expert in ergonomic design?
I spent a good part of my career designing bags and equipment for lifestyle brands like The North Face and Camelbak. As a senior designer for The North Face, I developed backpacks, daypacks, sleeping bags, hats, gloves, and lifestyle products. I paid attention to how a backpack fits around a woman's anatomy - evaluating shoulders of different sizes, how the angle from the neck to the shoulders is different. I worked on an in-depth study there, measuring different women's spines and torso length. For example, when I designed backpacks, I noted how shoulder straps need to be adapted to a woman's curvature, and straps should be narrower and shorter for women versus men.
Who did you consult with?
I interviewed different women, physical therapists, and chiropractic professionals to discuss weight distribution in backpacks and bags. I also worked closely with professional athletes and specifically ultramarathon runners.
What many people don't realize about ultramarathon runners is just how meticulous they are when it comes to every gram and ounce they carry. They don't want to carry excess weight, so they will remove unnecessary zipper pulls and pay attention to exactly how much water they carry. They're running 100 miles in 24 hours, so they have to get it right.
How important is posture and alignment to you as a designer?
Incredibly important. For many of us, we carry a lot of things in our bag or purse. If you don't consider how you're carrying that weight, it can ultimately hurt your body, and you'll feel more tired and drained.
I have been a lifelong athlete. I grew up playing three sports - volleyball, basketball, and softball. I still run about 15 miles a week, and I ran a half-marathon just before the pandemic hit. I enjoy sports of all kinds, from kickboxing to running.
I'm also a mother of three kids, so I have less buckets of creative time. Having to juggle it all, I've learned to appreciate the importance of efficiency and ergonomics when it comes to developing solutions-oriented products for women.
Agency Aspect creates innovative bags and equipment.
Tell me about your core products.
Wide strap for even weight distribution
Our bestselling product is the Hybrid Crossbody Bag. It has a wide strap, designed to promote even weight distribution across your shoulders. Depending on how you wear it, you can tighten the strap to wear it across your sternum and above your breast for a more comfortable fit.
Slim design that wraps around your body
Our crossbody bag is angled and has extensions that wrap around the curvature of your body, so the bag hugs you. The silhouette is designed so the bag itself is a bit longer and slimmer. It won't bounce off your body like most other crossbody bags or handbags. Also consider most crossbody bags have relatively skinny straps and are rectangle in design, so they literally bounce off your body.
I referenced earlier how ultramarathon runners pay attention to every ounce and gram they carry. Our bag is a leather and nylon hybrid bag, so it is lighter weight than traditional leather bags. The nylon in the back serves to grip to your body, so the bag never slides around.
Technical in design
Most women's bags do not use innovative technical materials. We use a water repellant nylon-based fabric by Cordura, which is made with a high tenacity yarn. We combine that with Saffiano leather used in designer luxury handbags.
I care more about functionality than what's out there in the market. There are a lot of details that have gone into the design of our crossbody. For example, the main compartment can fit a small jacket and has more space than at first glance. It has a strategically placed zippered pocket on the inside, as well as a grab and go handle. The large back pocket can fit a small tablet or iPad Mini, and the inside back pocket can hold a passport as well as business cards and loose items.
Our messenger bag is the big sister to our crossbody bag, and we use the same technical materials. Compared to a traditional messenger bag, ours has a slimmer profile. It can accommodate a large 15" laptop and has a padded laptop compartment. You can fit a liter water bottle, and the bag is designed to wrap around your body. It's a great everyday solution that is a cross between a briefcase and a messenger bag.
Last question. What is your go-to everyday bra?
I recently traded in my Nike bras. During the pandemic, I've been wearing Kinflyte bras for my daily life. My favorite is the Freedom Bra - Max Support. I wear it while running and also when I take my kids to sports practices. What I love about the Kinflyte bras is that they are super comfortable, provide great support, and look like a regular bra. My old sports bras would flatten me out, so I traded in my old bras.