undergraduate Thesis: FlipSac

Defying Social Expectations Through Design

For my product design thesis I created a messenger bag that empowers adult college students juggling a career and classes. The bag fulfills the functional need to seamlessly transition between work and school throughout the day and the emotional desire to appear professional at work but youthful and expressive in a classroom environment. Inspired by insights gained from studying a Japanese subculture of escapism, this product represents a growing demographic of non-traditional students in the United States who demand flexible products that cater to their busy, multi-faceted lifestyle.

My thesis is subdivided into two parts. Part one examines the Japanese subculture of Kawaii (Cult of Cute.) where adults embrace all things cute such as childlike clothing, toys, or behavior as a form of escapism. Many engage in these activities to seek relief from stressful careers. It begins with observational research gathered from my visit to Tokyo, which is expanded by contextual information from books, documentaries, and articles on the subject. Next the science behind cute is explored through a mathematical ratio defined as The Cute Factor which states that humans evolved biologically to respond positively to this ratio when observed in other humans, animals, inanimate objects, and even abstract symbols. This explains why international brands leverage the cute ratio to design and sell products to a broad range of consumers. I conducted a series of surveys and preference tests on a group of adults in the United States that confirmed this established theory. The outcome of this research led me to conclude that the appeal of cute attributes are universal and it may be possible to take aspects of the Kawaii subculture in Japan and use it to create unique product for an underserved consumer market in the United States.   

Part two leverages learnings from the Kawaii subculture to design and build a product for non-traditional students in the United States.  Observing my mother who at age fifty balanced a career, classes, and family responsibilities influenced me to study this growing demographic. I collected statistical data about non-traditional students and researched economic and social factors contributing to the growth of this trend. I discovered that both non-traditional college students and many people of the Kawaii subculture often experience work-related stress, however people of the Kawaii manage this stress by engaging in playful, childlike activities with a plethora of cute products designed for them. I was determined to create a product that fulfilled this need for non-traditional college students and made the transition between work and class easier. I conducted interviews with non-traditional college students and took personal inventories of the items they carried throughout the day. Next I created personas based on the information gathered from interviews and identified success metrics for the product I would design. Then I developed a series of sketches and functional prototypes and assessed each prototype against the success metrics. The final product was field tested with users and received positive feedback with a few recommendations for future enhancements.

The result is a dual-purpose messenger-style bag with compartments that organize and prioritize items needed for work and school tasks throughout the day (reference image on page 2). The bag can be turned inside out in one playful motion to prepare the wearer for either professional or student tasks by making the corresponding supplies more accessible. In addition to functional benefits, the bag also provides and outlet for self-expression. The professional side of the bag is constructed with simple sleek black fabric while the student side of the bag is constructed with a bold expressive fabric of the wearer’s choice. This enables the wearer to appear mature in a professional environment but also fit in with a likely younger crowd of students while attending class. Even though the professional side of the bag appears more sophisticated lifting a pocket flap reveals the youthful personality of the wearer beneath.

Thesis Part One: The Cute Factor





Industrial Design/ Interaction Design

User Interface / Visual Design

Sketches / Prototype Construction

Insight Gathering / User Testing


Two part thesis booklet

Concept Designs

User Tests


Product Showcase