Products We Like: The Pocket

The Pocket isn’t a new mobile device (although it’s kind of a cool name for one, right?). No, I’m talking about the sewn pieces of cloth you probably have on the sides of your trousers right now, or on the sides of your jacket. Pockets. It’s amazing to think there was ever a time when we didn’t have them, and yet, for most of human history, we did without.

I’m a fan of shows like PRI’s Design for the Real World which looks at things like teabags and typewriters and figures out how they came to be. And, like a lot of people, I’m a passionate fan of books like The Design of Everyday Things
and The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are. It’s important to remember that all the ordinary stuff around us was once extraordinary and new. Thus, the pocket.

Pockets are a great piece of “technology,” if I can use that term loosely. Pockets not only serve as impromptu gloves, they also allow us to carry many more things than we otherwise could, and safely. Early “pockets” were just bags that hung around the waist, tied to a belt. But those were too precarious and easily stolen, so a slit in clothing was made, and the bag was placed inside the clothing, next to the skin. Eventually, around the late 1700s, pockets began being sewn right into the clothes themselves, so that remembering and wearing the bag weren’t an issue. (Interestingly, one alternate future could have had pockets remaining inside clothing, as part of undergarments.) The BBC wrote a good Brief History of the Pocket.

The “technology” and subsequent (centuries of) innovations that led us to the pocket have long since faded into a distant memory. The pocket became transparent, expected. Which is what the best technologies do. Although the pocket (like most technologies) affected other technologies. It reverberates. Once pockets became a standard, men mostly stopped wearing tights and switched to trousers. We still design objects to “fit in a pocket.”

So the next time you put your pocket PC or mobile device into your pocket, remember too that the pocket itself was once an innovative product.