Columbia Sportswear’s Backpacks Designed with Creativity and Math

Burbank, CA April 4, 2007: What started as a family-owned hat distributor in 1938 is today one of the largest sportswear brands in the world. Available in 72 countries, Columbia Sportswear sells everything from shoes to tents and sunglasses to raincoats and… backpacks.

That is the subject of The Futures Channel’s latest movie on the Internet, “Designing Backpacks.” The short documentary goes behind the scenes with industrial designer Chris Araujio who’s designing Columbia’s backpacks at their Portland, Oregon headquarters.

As something that students may take for granted, they might be surprised to learn that the backpacks they carry around school every day are the result of months of evolving design to get the bag just right. Backpacks have universal components: straps, zippers, handles, pockets. Designing these elements so the finished bag is comfortable and functional can be a challenge. “Solving problems is one of the key elements of design as well as having a pleasing thing to look at,” Araujio explains. “If you can tie the two of those things together, that’s pretty much a perfect design.”

“Designing Backpacks” is one of dozens of popular educational videos from The Futures Channel that show students that math is truly all around them. Whether it’s about a drummer who uses fractions or a skateboard designer who relies on decimals, The Futures Channel produces videos that provide a real world context that can make math and science come alive.

Nate Quarcelino is a Kentucky math teacher who watched the video about Chris Araujio and his work as a designer. He says it holds great potential for engaging students in math, but that it also promotes career awareness. “As I was watching the video ‘Designing Backpacks,’ I was in awe at the creativity that one has to have in order to come up with a design,” he says. “I would stress the fact that you don’t create something the first time you try. You have to create a lot of designs to get just one right! It really models real life situations in a creative and fun way.”

In the movie, Araujio explains how he can use his design skills to design just about anything, but it is his ability to be creative that has led to true innovation. He goes onto to stress that his skills as a designer depend on a variety of everyday math. “Math and geometry are extremely important to understand,” he says, “because you can’t design a great product without it working right. You can design the exterior and make it cool looking and everything, but it also has to function well.”

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