THE BRAINSTORM: The notion of unused space - within walls, under stairs, and atop radiators - was swimming in the back of his mind, because he was teaching an architecture class on it at Penn. Then: Lempieri was walking home through Bella Vista one day when he passed a college-age guy struggling beneath a split garbage bag of laundry on the way to the laundromat. Finally: The designer saw Glenn Ligon's "Skin Tight," an art installation comprising boxing bags stenciled with the logo, "Thuglife," at the Fabric Workshop Museum.
"At that moment," he says, "Everything jelled."
LET'S MOTIVATE: Most people, but especially college students, don't like to clean their rooms. How do you motivate them to do so? Lempieri was thinking about his own students and of himself in college and how much he hated doing laundry. And then there's that unclaimed space beneath the ceiling. Unlike baskets and hampers, which take up floor space, there's room in anyone's room for a hanging punch bag.
TESTING THE CONCEPT: Lempieri spent time at laundromats observing people's bags. He saw a lot of polyester ones with drawstrings that dug into carriers' hands. Others carried duffel bags, garbage bags, and shopping bags - all were awkward.
He asked a lot of questions. ("I tell my students," he says, "'If you're an industrial designer, you cannot be xenophobic.'") A few weeks spent chatting confirmed that existing laundry bags needed a redesign. People would like his idea that "puts a smile on a chore" and simultaneously gives users a way to work out their frustration. Of course it would have a strap that made it easy to carry.
THE TWEAKS: He enlarged the proportion of the bag based on observing typically large loads and worked vinyl into the bottom of the prototype to repel detergent spills he saw on laundromat floors.
Lempieri didn't have to look far to figure out how to make the product read immediately as a boxing bag. "I'm in Philadelphia, land of Rocky," he points out. "It's embedded in our culture." Still, he went to boxing gyms and took measurements of actual bags.
With the help of an intern, he prototyped a few versions, filling them and beating them up to test the concept. The more dirty clothes in the bag, the denser it becomes and the better it functions as a punch bag. He figured out how to recess the cap so the bag looks like a cylinder when it's hanging. He added to the authenticity by designing a D-ring and chain system up top and exposing the stitching.
THE RESULT: Punch Bag Laundry Bag came out last February, and more than 10,000 units have been sold around the world by Lempieri's distribution partner, Suck UK. Last year the Punch Bag won an award from Core77 in its soft goods category. In general, the most common reaction has been, "How come no one did this before?"
Jason Lempieri demonstrates his laundry punching bag - hamper, transporter, and workout. www.inquirer.com/laundry
Caroline Tiger works for Philadelphia design and innovation firm Bresslergroup. @Bresslergroup.