Graduate Thesis Project

Hello people of teh internetz. I am coming close to graduating, and my graduate project will be a bag/backpack for children in under-developed countries that will also be able to function as, at least, a writing surface. Could you please fill out this survey, and if you have experience working in such circumstances, I have a second questionnaire that deals more specifically with the children’s circumstances. Thank you all and much <3

How does anyone’s response to a pretty basic set of questions about their bag use have any bearing on what children in under-developed countries may need?

Sorry to be a bit harsh and call you out on it, but I think this is a good example of what not to do in terms of research.

First rule of research+design: Garbage in = Garbage out


I would toss the first survey and go straight to Phase 2. You’re much more likely to get better feedback from the people on this forum. There are a lot of people here with a wealth of experience, and they would be more than willing to give you solid advice, input, and critique. Maybe if you could post your product brief and a synopsis of your research, and a few of your unknowns, we could have a place to start.

Agree with comments about survey. Surveys are to gather quantitative data and should rarely be used by designers in the initial research phase. What’s more important is to find people with experience in under-developed countries, what products currently exist… There are tons of organizations dedicated to bettering the third world. Go find people in the organizations!

I apologize for not being clear enough in my intent of making two sets of questionnaires. This “basic set of questions” is to find what is the most ideal and comfortable bag for people in developed countries. The relevance is to see, from this information, what can be incorporated into a bag that is set up for the needs of the children. When I get the information about children’s needs, I can then see what can be adapted, changed, and modified from the information gathered about what an ideal backpack is. Not only is it providing the needs of children who don’t have what they need, but it is also about continuing to bridge the gap between countries. I want to blend the two together to make a bag that suits the needs of the children, but can also bring to them what we have in privileged countries as far as comfort and utility.

I am definitely in touch with organizations dedicating to bettering the third world and have a questionnaire dedicated just for them and gathering information about the children they work with.

Thanks for clearing that up. However, my point about surveys/questionnaires still stands. Your true insights will be gleaned from raw, unfiltered conversation over the phone or in person. In a questionnaire, people are thinking too much, filtering their thoughts, and only typing what they think you want to hear. Great design researchers will be able to guide the conversation in a way that will evoke the interviewee to reveal information that will spark a great idea.

Sorry, but it actually makes less sense the more you explain it. An “ideal” backpack? Given that it is something that is very function oriented, how is a designer’s choice of what is ideal have anything to do with what is useful in a totally different context? To me, a backpack that is small for carrying on public transit matches my sneakers and fits my iPad might be great. Are any of these things at all relevant in your context?

“Bridging the gap” may be an admirable target for some context, but for a backpack or carrying device for kids with different needs I don’t think at all hits any mark of relevance.

Your survey will not only provide no useful information, it is the kind of bad research that will actually most likely give you bad information. Bad info is worse than no info, BTW.


PS. Unless there is also a prior huge research component that you didn’t tell us about, I think your very premise for a project is also flawed. “Designing a backpack for kids in under-developed countries” is not a design problem. It’s already a solution, and you have set yourself down a path that may be very flawed in its premise. The question you perhaps should be asking is: “what do kids in under-developed countries (that alone needs further definition) carry to school?” “What things do these kids need in school?” Which of these things may need to be transported to/from one place to another?"

The answer may be a backpack, may be lockers in schools, may be a permanent device in schools, may be anything… at this point, you have no idea if a backpack is at all even something to be considered.

PPS. Please understand my criticism is not at all personal. It’s just a major issue that projects like these can even exist in a Design Education, let alone as a grad project. Bad design process leads to bad results, and I’m surprised your prof has not steered you in another direction so far. No point in wasting your final year and so much effort on a project that has a less than solid foundation. It won’t help you develop your skills and won’t be of help in a portfolio. I just want to help and caution others who go down similar paths. I’ve seen it all too often and it’s a shame when weak projects can be prevented in the start by just rephrasing the problem and doing real/useful research.

OK, no for some more constructive feedback. Here’s what I would do in your situation.

I think you have some admirable goals and ideas. I’d re-focus the project to ensure a better process and as such as better result.

  1. Tackle a smaller more easily hands-on problem. I’d forget the under-developed country thing. Just too hard to get any actual research and observations, unless you plan on flying to Africa or something. How about kids in the US? Every Sept. I see tons of articles and news stories about how kids carry too much to school, wear backpacks incorrectly, etc. Plus, more and more kids are using computers, cell phones, new tech. What about looking at school bags or carrying devices for kids in a certain age group, say grade 4-6?

  2. Define your problem. You need a solid problem statement. This can come from research. Read articles, interview kids, parents and teachers, find out what issues currently exist in the realm of kids carrying things to school. The problem may be how to better carry a large amount of stuff. The problem may be how to protect the stuff they have from damage. The problem may be how to store the stuff when at school safely? The problem may be carrying food that doesn’t go bad or get squished. Find a concrete problem and define it in a succinct yet open way. It helps to use open ended definitions. For example, it is not about designing a backpack per se, but maybe a “carrying device”. That will allow more freedom and prevent you from defining the solution in your problem statement. In that example, maybe the solution is not a backpack, but a hat with straps, a wheelbarrow, a trolley, a coat with built in pockets, etc.

  3. Do useful research. useful research is based on the scientific method of defining a problem, setting up a hypothesis and gathering research to prove or disprove a hypothesis or get more information to define the problem. Avoid open ended surveys that ask a bunch of random info. It won’t help and you will just get tons of data that has no meaning.

  4. Explore solutions that are based on your problem and research. It should all follow logically. Problem is A, research shows B, therefore a solution X solves A by doing/avoiding/preventing/assisting B.

Hope this helps,


While I will get into the quality of the survey in a bit, I completely disagree with this statement. Written surveys can be used in a qualitative manner. Written surveys can be used successfully in initial research. Do not ever close the door of any research methodology. They all can have value at any time in the process. Yes, even the much maligned focus group can provide excellent insights. It all boils down to good research design. It is very similar to good industrial design.

For the OP.

First the survey. As a professional, I was put off by the first question. My only guess is that it is an ice breaker. Don’t do that.

As other have eluded, it sounds like you have solved the problem - a backpack with a writing surface. What exactly is the problem? Kids don’t have bags? Kids don’t have writing surfaces? Kids don’t have access to 1st world distribution systems? I don’t know.

I’d start with a problem and then determine a solution. For example, what do children carry in the 3rd world and what can help them. You also can get into the why, where, when and how.

As for “bridging” the gap between countries … huh? Are you saying 1st world countries are influencers of backpacks to be purchased by 3rd world countries? Do you have any data to back that claim? I certainly advocate getting information from influencers and decision-makers but it seems you pulled that claim out of thin air. For example, when I (decision-maker) buy a backpack for my child (influencer), I cetainly don’t care about the wants and needs of backpack users in Germany, China or any other place on Earth.

Wholeheartedly agree with Tarngerine and Rkuchinsky about this. You need to ask the right questions, and the only way you can do this is through conversation. But even before that, you need the proper demographic and cultural research for a project like this. You would need to immerse yourself into the culture of the children you want to provide for. One of the biggest problems with ‘socially responsible’ design is that it is almost always tainted by your own experience, ideology, politics and other prejudices. It usually does not take into account human dignity or regional cultural norms. Such norms vary within countries, from New York City to Cody, Wyoming, for example. If you go into an underdeveloped country or region without knowing how their belief system affects the way they live their lives, they may look at you as trying to push something onto them. You may be seen as an intrusion between them and their children. They may end up resenting you despite your best intentions. For example, if all the children in your area of interest carry their supplies to school in jars on their heads and you want to give them backpacks because it causes less strain on their necks and prevents injury, your goal may be worthy, but it will fail because you ignored their culture. Do not make the mistake of thinking that your research of how American college students or professionals use backpacks is going to work with school children in Zimbabwe. Will you reduce a father’s dignity because some rich dude from another country is providing to his child what he could not? In a culture like this, the design of the backpack may become secondary to the method of delivery. There’s a lot to consider…

Attempting to ‘bridge the gap’ between our culture and theirs may end up widening the gap. Is it a gap that really needs to be bridged? Is there even a gap at all? Or are you basing your assumptions on your belief that your way is better than theirs? If it is, you might want to design a system that educates someone from their community to learn design so they can make feasible solutions that are compatible with their culture. What if you worked directly with a person from that community? You might be able to get one of your contacts to link you up with such a person. This approach might get you to the heart of the problem instead of putting on a cast when all you need is a band-aid. Your portfolio piece will be infinitely stronger.

First off, thank you all very much for your input and advice: I really do appreciate it and in no way take any of it personally. Instead of designing an actual backpack made by “Western” societies, I am taking the approach of studying the country – of which I am still trying to decide – learning the resources they have internally, and designing a bag that would be able to be produced by them. I suppose I am designing more of a production system rather than an actual product? I do not in anyway want to impose my thinking or experience in a way of “this is what we do and it’s better…so do it.” The real main purpose of the bag is to incorporate either a detachable writing surface, or to have a hard surface built in, that when the kids open the bag, it becomes a small, portable desk. Really, this is designing a portable desk, small enough for the children to carry, yet can carry the supplies they need, and hopefully not be heavy.

Yeah I realize I have left a lot of un-answered questions and gaps about the actual project. This very beginning questionnaire, truthfully, is an assignment from the teacher. I am in no way relying on the answers to these questions as a major element in my research. If i were to quantify the research emphasis, this portion would take up maybe an eighth of the whole of the research. I very much agree nothing astounding or ground breaking will come of this: I never put it that way :slight_smile: This is only just to accomplish whether to make the bag be like a backpack – two straps — and how big pockets are. Even all of that might very well change as I do much more in depth research of the actual kids’ needs. Do not worry, I am definitely not putting the needs of college kids in front of the kids in any country in need.

Again, this is just the very very very very very beginning and nothing substantial. I am throwing this out just to see, in general, what people prefer. When I do much more in-depth research – calling on the phone, sit-down interview, maybe even going to the country – all of the information gathered from this most likely will change to suit the children’s needs. Really the main priority of this questionnaire is to fulfill an assignment. The actual research will be done when I have contacted a few organizations and specific people that I can work with.

If I may, though, I think this all would have been cleared up if questions had been asked instead of jumping to the conclusion that this is my only real design research method :slight_smile:

The more I read your responses and think about it, I really shouldn’t have even posted this questionnaire lol. I apologize I have been responding late at night so my brain has been either melted or on off mode, as well as switching around ADD medications…so I think my thoughts are a bit jumbled from that as well LOL :S

In my son’s class, the teacher got rid of all bookbags and all the kids carry ziploc bags with homework inside…No branding, no extra large uneccessary items. Just a pencil, some paper, and a library book.

“I do not in anyway want to impose my thinking or experience in a way of “this is what we do and it’s better…so do it.””

It’s good to hear more background of what you’re looking for and what you’re trying to do. Please don’t take my comments as assuming that this is what you’re doing, more of things to take into consideration as you flesh out your overall project, and later when you get into the details. Teacher-required surveys are a little annoying, IMO. Kind of like requiring a 750-word essay on a simple production technique when you can do it in 350. (Not that I’m bitter…anymore). I think sometimes teachers or schools can get a little carried away with things like the survey you were required to complete. The purpose there is more to get you in the habit of looking for information from outside sources rather than relying on your own assumptions. It is useful, but the use is sometimes limited in real world applications. But it exposes the difference between the academic and professional worlds.

I’d say drive on with your idea and document the comments you get from these forums as you go along. The comments here are always more informative than a multiple choice survey.

BTW, check out Tarngerine’s Project Modai link under his signature. (He posted above). It was a good example of how to document process and how to present it to others. And don’t be afraid to post your process here for honest critique.

Glad to hear you are open to advice and constructive criticism.

Maybe I’m missing something, but where did the “problem” of kids needing to carry tables or writing surfaces come from? Why do they need to cary writing surfaces back and forth to school? Don’t the schools have desks? What else do they need to carry?

A bigger question might be “do these kids even go to schools?” Who is is going to purchase this (government, NGOs, parents, etc.)? Why?

Bottom line, what exactly is the “problem” you are looking to solve? I hear a lot of solution words “detachable”, “writing surface”, “carrying”, etc. but not much in the way of problem words or definitions.


We’ve all seen images like this… minimal facilities for teaching in remote areas. Single pieces of paper, and a pencil provided by the teacher at the beginning of a class. Such limited resources seldom mean each student gets a book of their own; the “blackboard” being the more common means of transmitting written information. And with limited materials available “homework” as we know it in the developed world isn’t assigned so nothing leaves the school area.

So, if there are no desks then a “writing surface” might be a useful thing, but a piece of wood, or a chalk slate would do as well. And with no books to carry what is the point of a book bag to begin with? The cost of a single bag, regardless of who pays for it, would buy reams of paper and boxes of pencils.

If you were to do a survey of “hindrances to African education” (for example) you might discover things like, poverty, hunger, medical care, lack of governance, community development, and under-utilization of natural resources as other areas to address.

This article might provide a few more ideas as well.

Thank you very much for the responses. They honestly have given me a lot to consider and think about; so, rather than say what the initial problem of my project was, I will definitely re-evaluate the specific needs. And yes, to really evaluate what a “bag” is, in the sense that we know it, and if it’s even viable or realistic.

Again, thank you very much :{D This has all been a HUGE help, and always makes me glad when I post on the forums.

I would think though, rkunchinsky, that the moment we stop being open to criticism or suggestions, we are no longer a designer :{)