Blog — behind the scenes

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Which type of minimalist are you?

I originally thought of my product line as slim wallets, but now more and more folks are looking at products like these as just one element of their minimalist lifestyle.

As a designer and someone who’s obsessed with efficient processes, I think I’ve always pretty much been what one may call a minimalist, but what exactly makes someone a minimalist? And are there perhaps different kinds?
Minimize by Jeff Sheldon of Ugmonk
Graphic courtesy Jeff Sheldon of Ugmonk

The terms Minimalist and Minimalism have grown in popularity to the point that folks have actually started to use them to mean slightly different things. And minimalist specialists have emerged for the different aspects.

So let’s explore the three dimensions of minimalism to learn more about the minimalist movement…

Efficiency
This category of minimalism is rooted in the ideas first laid out in Getting Things Done. The GTD method popularized by David Allen systematized many of our daily tasks so they could be accomplished much more efficiently.

From a business perspective, the E-Myth by Michael Gerber has become a go-to source to describe how a business itself can run efficiently with the least amount of resources. This is accomplished by defining processes and systematizing activities so they can be done repeatedly with consistent quality. Sometimes these can even be improved by incorporating technology or by designing a system that eliminates or automates a task entirely.

As technology has developed, many of the time and task management approaches found in smartphone apps build on the GTD method, whether they’re aimed at organizing To Do lists better... or developing routines that streamlines your day.

Reductionism
With more and more folks feeling like they have too much stuff, this is perhaps the fastest growing element of minimalism. From an organization perspective, Marie Kando has provided simple yet powerful systems and approaches to help folks organize their whole house… usually starting in the closet.

Meanwhile, the Minimalists have taken the ideas of paring down to the extreme… extending it not only to all the things in your home, but everything you own. They even get into the psychological reasons behind why we accumulate stuff and suggest that we extend the minimalist concepts into our work and finances.

Whether it’s feeling like they’re a victim of consumerism, or it’s feeling overwhelmed by clutter, folks have found a sense of relief by drastically reducing the amount of stuff they own and organizing the things they have.

Essentialism
Popularized by the book with the same name by Greg McKeown, this is one of the more recent and interesting dimensions of minimalism to emerge. Like Covey does in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he advocates for spending time to define what truly matters most in order to live with more purpose.

But while Covey takes a bit more of a nuts and bolts approach to develop mission statements, McKeown takes a bit more philosophical case, making the point that if we allow distractions to make their way into our lives, not only will we not accomplish things related to our life’s purpose, but we won’t enjoy the experience of living as much because we’ll be stuck spending time doing unimportant things we don’t like to do. So if we can establish firm priorities, it can clarify where we should be spending time- potentially eliminating whole areas of activity. After all, making the decision not to do something in the first place can be the most efficient of all. 

I think there also may be a dimension of Aesthetic Minimalism but I wasn’t so sure it’s completely separable from the others. Maybe when one or more of the elements is combined in the creation of an object, the result is something with minimalist aesthetic qualities?

What do you think… should Aesthetic Minimalism be its own fourth category or exist as the sum of the parts of the other three?

Of these types of minimalist, do you see your self in one or more of them? Am I missing any?
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Quitting my day job- I work for you

Many of you have been SlimFold customers or fans since we started in 2009 while others may have just stumbled across the site recently when looking for a thin wallet. Whether you saw me in San Francisco when I set up my first booth to sell wallets and it rained… or you backed a Kickstarter campaign for the MICRO Tyvek Minimalist Wallet, Soft Shell Minimalist Wallet, or Slim Pack, it’s certainly been a journey. I’m tremendously grateful that so many folks have enjoyed using my products.

SlimFold Booth
SlimFold Booth from 2013

But what you may not know is that up until recently I also maintained a full-time career as a mobile user experience designer. It runs counter to the advice most folks give about “taking the leap” into entrepreneurship, but it was definitely the right path for me. And an experience I’m starting to share with others so they can consider whether it’s right for them too.

As the company grew, I essentially had two full-time jobs but was able to manage things by being efficient with my time and getting help where needed. For example, I hired a local fulfillment company to do all the shipping, implemented systems to automatically synchronize our inventory with theirs, and hired some local stay at home moms to help with customer service. But when my son was born almost 2 years ago, I knew I couldn’t do it all… at least not well. So I committed to focusing on Fatherhood and SlimFold.

At first, this was just a trial to see if working only on SlimFold could work both financially and emotionally.

Like any major transition, it took a little getting used to. I remember listening to TGIM (Thank God it’s Monday) and thinking that the distinction between days had indeed faded… that every day was Monday yet every day was Friday. But I was thankful to be doing what I loved each day. Well, most days. This was also during the time when I was trying to produce the Slim Pack and there were lots of challenges with producing that many bags in a short amount of time… and then some major snags we hit with trying to ship the ones we had made. 

Now that all the Slim Packs are shipped and the holiday rush is behind us, I’ve been looking ahead at the coming year and all the products I want to make… and I’m pleased to let you know that I’ve decided to make my focus on SlimFold permanent.

As a designer for major tech companies, I needed to make the best designs I could while supporting their business model and balancing the desires of many stakeholders. While running my own business has a lot more moving parts in terms of the logistics, in many ways the mission is much more simple. Now you’re really the only stakeholder that matters. So in a very real way, I work for you now.

I’m looking forward to continuing to do my best to listen to your feedback and suggestions about the products you’d like to see me make. And am optimistic that if I continue to create compelling solutions, you'll continue to support us.
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Slim Pack project complete!

It started with a simple question from my wife- What do you want for Christmas? When I couldn’t find a backpack I liked and heard from previous backers that they were also looking for a minimal backpack, I decided to make one.
Initial Slim Pack Sketch
After 2 years of designing and prototyping, I launched the campaign and the response was fantastic. But while folks loved the concept, there were also lots of suggestions for additional features and design elements. One of the great things about Kickstarter is that it facilitates a discussion directly between the customer and creator. When you walk into a department store, you can’t know who the designer behind a brand actually is, much less have a conversation with them. 
The first suggestion was to add just a bit more color… but not enough to distract from the minimal style. So I added two main elements: A bar tack accent stitch on the bottle pocket and some top stitching portions on the shoulders of the bag.
Bar tack close up
On the black bag, these top stitches are also black so it makes it more of a textural element than an overt color contrast. 
Close up of top stitching
The next main suggestion was to consider a charcoal backpack. As it so happened, I was already imagining this as a potential possibility down the road. It’s kind of a big deal to make a new color of Soft Shell since it needs to be custom manufactured and color matched, but I thought that our previous gray wouldn’t look as good for a backpack. So during the design phase of the Slim Pack, I defined a new darker gray and had already ordered it. It came in during the campaign, so I created a prototype Slim Pack. It looked so good, I decided to make this available during the campaign so folks would have the bag they most loved. And the Charcoal/Orange color combination ended up being incredibly popular.
Charcoal Slim Pack
There were also several functional elements that entered into the discussion… is there a clip for keys? What’s the handle like? Based on this feedback, I added a highly functional key clip with a rotating head so it doesn’t get tangled up and long leash so you can unlock a door without actually unclipping it.
Key clip addition
I also upgraded the handles to use an overmolded rubber grip, which is super comfortable in your hand.
Overmolded handle detail
Lastly, folks asked about the stability of the bag if they were active, such as while hiking or commuting on a bike. Some wanted a chest strap but others implored me not to add one since they hate how they dangle. So I came up with something I call Minimal MOLLE, which leverages the spacing of military webbing and allows things like a sternum strap to be added. Other things such as sunglasses or small pouches can also easily be attached.
Sternum Strap
By the end of the campaign, we had over 1,000 backers… which meant 1000 bags to make! This has been by far my most challenging project yet, from both a design and logistics point of view. Each bag ended up taking three times as long to make which also made the cost much higher. Even though we did all we could to make the process efficient, they’re made in a very small shop in San Francisco so are still essentially hand crafted one by one.
Slim Pack Components
The project has had more ups and downs than previous ones, but I can definitely say I’ve learned the most from this one. Sometimes I guess you learn more when things don’t go that smoothly. One of the things I learned was how supportive and understanding my backers have been throughout the process. With all the behind the scenes updates, folks began to feel like they were on the journey with me… and it was their comments along the way that encouraged me as well.
Kickstarter comment
Kickstarter comment
It took a bit of help from everyone to get the project done...
A little help from your little friends
But when folks got their bags, the positive feedback made it all worth it:

"Just wanted to send a quick thanks/kudos for the slimpack…. the air pressure from the plane popped open the person's water bottle…n Everything inside the other bag (nothing important fortunately) was also soaked. Slimpack contents though, including my laptop, were bone dry. So, thanks! Sure glad it arrived before my trip. :)"
- Nathan (Canada) 

"This backpack feels like the last backpack i'll ever own. Its attractive and understated, and i get compliments from people regularly, only to wax "and it's totally waterproof!” Anyway, i just feel like this is an incredibly functional object that makes essentially no compromises. Its the perfect backpack for me. Thank you so much!!"
- Greg W (Brooklyn, NY)

"My wife and I both love our backpacks! Mine works great when on my motorcycle, too. Love the fact that it rides high, not down on my waistline. Whatever difficulties you had in producing this project, just keep it up. This is the best minimalist backpack on the market, by a long ways!!"
- John M (Hixton, TX)

"Hi Dave: I don't like my bag. I absolutely LOVE it. It's so incredibly thoughtful in its design. Minimalist in appearance, but so functional, so light. Beautifully designed with function at the forefront, and yet so robust in its material and construction. You've done a marvelous job. I'm so impressed. This thing is beautiful. I was at the Airport earlier today, and I had 5 different people walk up to me and ask me about your bag. I unwittingly became a Slim Pack evangelist."
-Pablo (Durham, NC) 

"Hello! I took my backpack to our Canada Day Celebration in Ottawa and it poured rain all weekend. Everything in the backpack stayed dry as promised!"
-Evelyn (Canada)

"Hi Dave, I got your backpack and its amazing. Very light and stylish. Thanks a lot for this beautiful bag."
-KLEOPATRA V (Greece)

"Hello Dave, Just want to say, thanks for the bag and wallet, great products."
Alex A (Netherlands)

"Dear Dave, I just wanted to say thank you for creating the SlimPack.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that it has changed my life for the better: Since it’s arrival in late May I’ve used it as a daily commuter pack, used it as an on-board pack on international and domestic flights, used it as a conference bag, and it’s held up brilliantly—including soakings in foul weather where the contents remained toasty dry! I’m carrying both a Macbook Pro and a large iPad with far more comfort, and better posture, than with my previous backpacks."
-Andrew W (Australia)

"Will say, have never received so many compliments on a backpack before!"
-Amanda H (Massachusetts)

Now that the kickstarter bags have shipped, it’s a great feeling to have the project complete but I’ll also miss the process of creation.
Which leads to another question… what should I make next?