High School Bag Design

By Jennifer Szeto, December 31, 2008

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

Four eighty-minute classes


Due to the recent history of violent acts in American schools, many school districts across America have opted to implement rules that limit the use of large bags or backpacks by students. This decision is made in the hopes of preventing the concealment of weapons and also the carrying of disruptive devices like cell phones and iPods. This lesson should be engaging because students are asked to design a product that they or their peers would personally use. The goals of this lesson are to identify the needs of students, analyze the usefulness of various bag elements (long handles, multiple handles, zippers versus buttons, etc.) and become more conscious of the effect of design. Students will be responsible for 1) Creating ‘studies’ (drawings from observation) of actual bags; 2) Generating five solutions of original bag designs in sketch form; and 3) Developing further a chosen design which will be critiqued and polled to see how successful the design is with the intended client (their peers). 

National Standards

  Visual Arts Standard 1. Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes Standard 2. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art Standard 5.  Understands the characteristics and merits of one’s own artwork and the artwork of others

 Common Core Standards

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:

  • Identify what students need in order to learn
  • Distinguish between what students need and what students want in school
  • Examine the various parts of bags and analyze their usefulness and function
  • Recognize the effect of design on the consumer
  • Observe and draw bags from Observation using a Contour Line
  • Create five sketches of original bag designs
  • Choose the best design to further develop into a final series of orthographic contour line drawings
  • Assess the success of student designs by participating in a class critique and student poll


  • a variety of bags to look at and draw from (messenger bags, backpacks, pencil cases, lunch bags, etc.).  Bags with different parts (wooden handles, velcro, buttons, zippers, etc.) would be ideal.
  • computer with internet access and Microsoft PowerPoint to make a slideshow presentation of the history of bags (and containers)
  • a projector will be needed to display finished slideshow


  • pencils
  • erasers
  • white sketch paper
  • 9 x 12 white drawing paper
  • black Sharpie markers (thin and ultra thin)


  • Client:  The person or company for which designers may work
  • Line:  an element of design, refers to the path between two points
  • Shape: an elements of design, refers to a two-dimensional, (flat) figure or enclosed area Form: an Elements of Design, refers to a three-dimensional (usually geometric) figure or enclosed area
  • Contrast: a principal of design, refers to the arrangement of opposite elements (light vs. dark colors, rough vs. smooth textures, large vs. small shapes, etc.) in a piece so as to create visual interest, excitement and drama
  • Contour Line Drawing:  A careful and clean line drawing which includes the outline of the subject as well as the most important details
  • Design Process:  The process by which designers work, this process includes identifying and investigating a problem, imagining or generating solutions, developing those solutions further, executing a chosen solution and evaluating or assessing the success of that solution
  • Orthographic Drawing: A drawing that communicates the shape and size of an object through a series of related two-dimensional views.
  • Poll: A survey of the public or of a sample of public opinion to acquire information
  • Critique:  A time to look at and talk about (analyze) artwork or design


Initial prompt: Ask students to think about what the basic needs of a student are.  (Remind them that school is a place to learn, not socialize.)  Distinguish the difference between what students need and what students want.  Explain that for their next design project, their client will be themselves and their peers.  Move the discussion to how to design with a client in mind.  Ask questions like, “What interests my client?”  Be specific.  (Example: “What do young, thirteen to eighteen year old, urban American youths like?”) Teacher presentation and motivation: Before embarking on this project, it would advantageous to have a number of bags on hand for students to look at and draw from.   Creating a quick PowerPoint slideshow presentation on the history of bags and/or containers would be a great way of understanding that the problem of carrying specific things has been something humans have had to think about throughout history. Step-by-step process of the activity 1.  Place a real bag on each table (there should be no more than four students at each table).  Demonstrate a contour line drawing for students on the board.  Have students draw contour line drawings of the bag on their table.  Rotate the bags so that each student gets to study and observe and draw at least two different types of bags.  Ask students to pay special attention to details like zipper handles, flaps, and how parts of the bags are attached or connected (Are they sewn?  Do they overlap?), and their perception of form or three-dimensions (Do they see the top of the bag as well as the side? Is there a corner included in their drawing?). 2.  After students have drawn bags from observation, have students list or brainstorm at least ten different types of bags (messenger bags, clutch bags, backpacks, etc.). and list a variety of bag parts (buttons, straps, pockets, etc.) Explain that their assignment is to design a unique and original bag that fits the needs of a student.  (If size is an issue, as it is in my school – where students may carry bags no larger than 8 by 10 inches, then give them dimensions that they must work within.) 3.  Ask each student to examine their own bags and make a list of everything inside.  What’s necessary and what’s unnecessary?  Now ask the students to think about how they carry these bags.  How else could you transport the bag (by hand, over the shoulder, on wheels, etc.)? What must the bag endure (rain, snow, heavy use, etc.)?  As a class discuss these lists and findings. 4.  Each student is responsible for coming up with five different solutions in sketch form.  Changes in bag size, shape, placement of bag parts, and differences in surface design are acceptable ways to make them different. 5.  Next, students will choose their best solution to develop further and render into a final series of contour line drawings.  This series should be orthographic and include at least three different views of the bag (example: side view, front view and top view).  Final drawings should be in black and white only (no color) and drawn over with black Sharpie markers. Wrap-Up: 1.  Students will assess themselves by filling out a self-evaluation form. 2.  Students will hang up their final bag design drawings on the wall for critique. 3.  Students will discuss why they made their design decisions and how the product serves the client (the school’s constraints and the target audience).  Students will also discuss what make some designs more successful than others and why. 4.  Students may also discuss the importance of careful contour line drawing to describe the form and the importance of neatness for presentation purposes. 5.  In addition, a student poll can be taken evaluating whether or not the intended clients (the student body) would indeed purchase any of the bags.


1. What is the most successful aspect of your DESIGN project? 2.  If given more time, how might you change or work to improve your DESIGN? 3.  Please score your efforts using the guidebelow for each topic: 20-Extraordinary 17-Good 15-Average 13-Below Average 10-Poor
  • Completion of Requirements by the Deadline
  • Knowledge and Awareness of New Understandings (Key Concepts, Techniques, Vocabulary) Effort & Hard Work:  Student took his/her time & worked diligently, exhibits Personal Growth
  • Craftsmanship:  Careful and Skillful Work, all Materials were handled correctly and responsibly
  • Creativity and Originality:  Student worked through Ideas using the Design Process
  TOTAL SCORE:                 /100    

Enrichment Extension Activities

1.  Develop the Bag Designs further by adding the dimension of color.  Discuss the effect of color on design and on consumers.  Create three color ‘Comps’ of versions using Adobe Photoshop.  Scan students’ bag designs into the computer or take digital photographs of their designs.  Using the Paintbrush or Pencil tool, and Paintbucket or Gradient tools, have students experiment with the design elements of color and variety. 2.  Have students conduct research by asking them to go to a department store and investigate which bags sold more and why.  Have them interview both consumers and shop keepers or business owners.  Discuss their findings in class.    

Teacher Reflection

I taught a simplified version of this lesson to my ninth graders earlier this year.  Students were generally engaged throughout the process because they were their own client (and we all know that students at this age are generally quite self-absorbed!). Having students first do ‘studies’ or drawings of real bags from observation helped to remind students of details which came out in their final designs. It was wonderful to see the students voluntarily critique their own work and the work of others as they came up with their solutions.  From the final critique, it was apparent how much more conscious they had become in terms of being thoughtful consumers.    

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