Reading Response – CH4 ‘You Are What You Carry’


In this chapter, Chipchase highlighted our observing people’s behaviour with their belongings give a great insight into their everyday lives and how they relate to their surrounding environment. From this, we get a glimpse into a culture’s needs (from items they carry), perception of safety (how they carry it), these can translate into deeper insights like understanding a culture’s fears, beliefs, hopes and values.

How you carry – Range of distribution

Range of distribution was the term used to compare the distance that people were comfortable with in letting physical objects stray when in public spaces. Range of distribution differs greatly across different cultures – Shanghai having short range of distribution as compared to Singapore with a high range of distribution.

Meili from Shanghai (the example being used in the reading), was clutching her bag very tightly no matter what she was doing and was visibly upset when she let down her guard for a mere moment due to a phone call. This shows that people in Shanghai are very cautious in their belongings, generally suspicious of others, we can also infer that pickpockets and thefts are prevalent. This reflects the state that society is in – when the book was written (2013), China was emerging economy and more volatile as compared to today which is more stable and prosperous. Hence, thefts and pickpockets were certainly a visible issue then in 2013. Chinese people also tend to look out a lot for themselves first, due to immense competition in the society and small pockets of observation like this reveal such information to an observant eye. Once again it is important for a UX designer to take these into account to know what is needed in a culture – looking how how people live their lives shows how people relate to others around them, it also more deeply infers how the society is like, their values etc.

As compared to Singapore, there is definitely a high range of distribution because we are very comfortable with leaving our belongings a distance away from us. For example, when ordering food, people leave their bags on the chairs to reserve the table. People are also constantly using their smartphones while walking on the streets, whereby such behaviour is not common in place with short range of distribution like Shanghai because the likelihood of it being stolen is high. Hence, Singaporeans are more casual with their belongings, because pickpockets and theft are very rare. This reflects Singapore society as one that is extremely safe country, but also infer that people take things for granted. Carelessness is not rare, it is not unusual to find someone forgetting his/her belonging in a public space, only to be reminded by the staff or a friend – I myself included.

In conclusion, range of distribution gives an insight into the safety level of the country, how this is a reflection of the state of society (developing, volatile vs affluent, comfortable) and also more deeply, the values of a culture too.

A designer can design a bag that caters to differing range of distribution. For example, when I was travelling in Europe, I was aware of the possibilities of pickpocketing in regions with many tourists like Spain and Italy. My backpack was excellent for that because it had a compartment at surface of the bag, but it was at the back. Hence, I placed my valuables in that compartment because even if someone opened my bag sneakily, my valuables will not be found. Such a bag will be useful in a country with short range of distribution, without needing someone to resort to a frontpack which is not intuitive.

More food for thought

What Chipchase might not have mentioned as deeply, was that within the same culture there are many variations with how people carry their bags which reflects of their personality and values too – different personas that can create good UX problems to solve. In my culture, Singapore, I see differing habits of my friends. Some people like to carry backpacks because of the many components that help them organize things. Their items also always tend to be in the same places, a mark of someone more organised and meticulous. It is more efficient to find things and conduct a ‘Point of reflection’ (Chipchase defined as mental checklist of things brought).

Meanwhile, some just dump all their items in a large handbag/totebag but this often results in people rummaging their bag to find an essential item e.g. a wallet before tapping into MRT. This represents a person who tends to be more careless, and through this observation – it is evidently a problem when people cannot find their things in their own bag, making a point of reflection end harder to execute. It is not efficient and hence, this is something worthwhile for designer to look into, how can they improve the user experience of using bags? How do you prevent situations like this where one’s bag is a blackhole? It is simply including more compartments? But for people who do not like to take time to sort items into compartments, how can the placement of compartments be easy for someone like that to organize their things?

Messy bag


Backpacks are constantly being innovated to improve user experience of people used it. Now, there are also detachable backpacks that adapts to a person’s situation, they can use the whole bag when they need to bring many things. But in a situation where the user wants to travel light, he/she can detach the bag and simply use the smaller compartment. Just a digital design where it is important for designs to be responsive from desktop screen to mobile screen, a smart and well-designed physical object can apply the same principle.

Detachable bag


Beyond surface observation, it helps to also picture the journey of this person, how did these items end up in their respective places, why? What is the story of this person? With that, wow can a UX designer translate these findings into effective design that cater to different groups of people, not just vastly across cultures but also to different personalities in society?

What you carry

What you carry is also an important factor to observe. Across every culture and social strata, there are essentials that are constant – like wallet, keys and phone. However, even these essentials manifest in different forms across different cultures. For example, in Scandinavian countries it is not rare to see people carrying no cash at all. Their wallet simply comes in a form of a card case with a credit card inside, or via mobile apps, which reflects a heavily cashless society. In Singapore, people carry a range of payment methods – cards and cash, even mobile apps because there are many modes of payment available and different places require different modes of payment. Hawker centres mostly use cash, and restaurants now promote mobile apps for payment due to benefits of promotion and cashback.


In conclusion, it is important to combine the findings of both how you carry, and what you carry so that one’s design can cater to different personas in a society, and also across cultures. Point of reflection is an important factor that a designer can always keep in mind, how does one make it efficient? And beyond the individual, how can service design in public spaces be utilised to help people in conducting such mental checks (e.g. Tokyo vending machines to check card fare).

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