by on 2013-01-31

How would you redesign the wallet?

author’s note: this post was originally written as a class assignment for Human Centered Design at SMU - one of the best courses I took in college - taught by the IDEO and Frog Design alum Kate Canales

Our first design project in Human Centered Design was to rethink the wallet. We went through a full design process in small groups trying to design the perfect wallet for our partner. We were charged with the task of breaking up a wallet into its elemental need and solve a basic problem of the user (our group partner) better than their wallet does.

My partner, ironically, didn’t bring his wallet. Upon further questioning, I discovered that he rarely needed his wallet on campus: he didn’t need his student ID card because he couldn’t swipe into any of the dorms and doesn’t subscribe to the outrageous rip off that is the Flex dollars system, he doesn’t need a driver’s license because he rides his bike over, and he doesn’t need cash or a credit card because he’s usually not on campus long enough to need to buy anything.

Every once in a while, though, he said he sometimes needs to buy food. This rarity didn’t justify the extra bulk of a wallet, and the risk of losing it.

My idea for him, therefore, was a non-bulky wallet that could attach to something he did bring to school every day: his iPhone!

I iterated through several designs of what a super slim iPhone wallet meant to hold one or two emergency bills would look like.

I was pretty dead-set on some version of this design. The problem that I was really caught up on, though, was the closing mechanism. Should it be a zipper? That’s still pretty bulky. Some kind of magnet? That may damage the iPhone. A slim pocket with no latch? Money could fall out.


On and on the CPU cycles of my brain ticked. I knew this was the solution, I just didn’t know quite how to implement it. On the day we were to present our ideas, Prof. Canales gave us an extra five minutes to sketch out another few ideas. This is what I scribbled down:

“Keychain!”, it turned out, was my partner’s favorite idea. I drew out a prototype:

And then made it:

the emergency cash keychain wallet

It ended up being one of the class favorites - I got a ton of great feedback on solving potential design problems with it (like making it look like something else so it doesn’t get recognized and stolen).

Will it win any design awards? Probably not. Will something like this ever actually come into existence? I’d doubt it. But it’s about the process: look at something established, something that looks like it’s already being done good enough, and take a step back to analyze the function that thing is performing. Is there a better way that you could solve the problem, as opposed to just making a fancier widget?