MacCase Flight Jacket - Still Going Strong - Pt. 1
Cars: 4 years. Sneakers: 6 months. Apple iPhone: 12 months. MacCase Premium Leather Flight Jacket: 8 years and counting.
It seems more and more of the "things" that we buy are designed with what General Motors original design director Harley Earl called "planned obsolescence". Planned obsolescence is exactly what it states: a plan to design and build something that will, in a short time, become obsolete. Not necessarily due to advances in technology or materials but simply because of how it was originally designed to look. Don't try to make it perfect, timeless, a future classic or any of the other qualities that are the hallmarks of the the everyday objects that wind up in the automotive or product design museums. Just make it OK. Decent. Acceptable. Dull.
Every once in a while a product comes along that bucks this trend, that was not designed to become obsolete. Of course achieving this is much harder than turning out mediocre things in the same way that a great painting is much harder to do than the mass market "art" that you can purchase as a discount store. For eight years and counting the MacCase Flight Jacket has been such a product. A deft combination of proportion, elegance, grace, materials, details and functionality that has defined what a laptop case could be for a generation of Apple laptop owners.
I had to chance to sit down with creator of the MacCase Flight Jacket, Michael Santoro, and ask him a flew questions about one of his most successful creations.
JKD - What was your initial inspiration for the MacCase Flight Jacket design?
MS - I had experimented with vertical cases for several years trying to create a form factor what would work and they always looked like we were trying to hard. People familiar with the creative process will know what I am talking about. For the most part, I was still working in nylon and polyester and I could not get the quality in the details that I was after. The design was going to be small relative to our other models and when you make things smaller, the construction details become very important. This is much harder to do on high speed lines than if something is hand made. In 2007 we launched the leather collection and that really changed everything for me. Once our customers showed me that they appreciated the quality we had built into the products and that they were not frightened by the prices, that opened up the door to do the vertical case that could have the quality that I striving for.
As far as direct inspiration, it was not one thing in particular. Doing the exterior design for the Jeep Wrangler before leaving Chrysler, I got a chance to really gain an understanding of working on an iconic product. Like Harley Davidson and Levis, Jeep is as American as it gets when it comes to history, authenticity and sub-culture. There is a whole community of people to whom this product is part of their life, their family. You cannot mess that up. I learned from working on that design that you don't keep adding, you keep subtracting until all that is left is the essence of the thing. This is the approach I took with designed the Premium Leather Collection. It came to full fruition when I sat down to draw the MacCase Flight Jacket.
JKD - Looking at these early concept drawings, is it hard to choose which one to bring to production?
MS - Sometimes. Other times the right choice just speaks to you. That's the major difference between say, a student and a professional. As I have gotten older, I draw less and less and then things I draw are closer to what I want more and more. I can do all the prelim work in my head. For me now drawing is just proving what I have been constructing in my head will work. Most of the time it does. Sometimes it doesn't and that leads you down a different path. With the Flight Jacket, I had to strip away a lot of the "cultural baggage" to get to the essence. These drawing represent that process of cleaning and letting go so the true nature of the design could be revealed.
JKD - Was there a "eureka" moment with the MacCase Flight Jacket? Tell us about the gestation....
MS - Just like a musician or architects, product designers have a personal vocabulary, a design language that you cultivate that is your unspoken signature. Living in California, there is a lot of history here though you would not know it by looking around (laughing). That history was created by people with intense courage and grit. I wanted to marry my personal design vocabulary to this idea of courage and grit. What would that look like? At the same time, I did not want a retro piece that copied what had already been done. There are a lot of companies out there that make leather bags just like the ones you could by in 1880. I wonder if they are still using candles to light their homes as well. Doing retreads of anything is not interesting to me in any way. So we use modern details and fittings and combine them with this classic, American leather to create something that no one has seen before, yet somehow looks familiar and attractive. There was no "eureka" moment with the MacCase Flight Jacket, just a honing away of all the unnecessary elements until all you are left with is a pure statement.
JKD - What was the initial reaction by Apple owners and users?
MS - We were fortunate that we received a lot of press for the Flight Jacket early on and because people had never seen anything like it before the momentum built very quickly. It's the type of moment you wait for as a creative person. It was the equivalent of having a hit record. I use that analogy all the time. Looking back now, the MacCase Flight Jacket was like a number one record. It's a tough thing to do twice.
One thing that was very rewarding and still happens all the time is when I talk to customers about their experience with the product. I had an commercial airline pilot call me and tell me he had to change the time he arrives to any given airport for work. He shared he now needed to get to the airport 15-20 earlier than before he brought a Flight Jacket. I told him that the vertical design should make it easier to walk through a crowed place like an airport. He should be able to move through faster. He agreed but informed he what I am not realizing is how many people stop him to ask about the bag. Where did he get it? Who makes it? Was it expensive? How much they like it, etc. He told me that no matter the airport or city he gets stopped several times between the curb and the gate going in and between the gate and the curb heading out to the point where he had to change his life.
JKD - Yes, but here we are 8 years later and not only do you still make it, you make more versions than ever and it's still a top seller....
MS - Yes to all of the above. As Apple's line of laptops and tablets has expanded to include all kinds of MacBook Pros and Airs and two to three different iPad form factors we have been able to create more and more models of the MacCase Flight Jacket for each of those users. It just shows the flexibility inherent in the original design. The iPad version was the most difficult to do. It's really small. I was never happy with the original iPad version and now that we have sold the inventory down, a replacement model is coming that fixes what I didn't like.
JKD - What didn't you like? Tell us....
MS - Well, it's bad form to talk badly about something that you've done that someone might love. It's like talking bad about one of your kids. I'll say that the original iPad Flight Jacket was a bit compromised in it's proportions in order to make sure the iPads were protected as well as possible when inside. Now that the Air, Air 2 and Mini's are the dominate iPad form factors, that compromise can be addressed. The new model is probably the best looking MacCase Flight Jacket ever. Most people will see it and see the same case, but believe me, it's better.
Please check back soon for part 2.
"Looking back now, the MacCase Flight Jacket was like a number one record. It's a tough thing to do twice."