Up In The Air

Made by tzhu2

Cup holder for travelers

Created: February 12th, 2019


Context and Solution

During the ideation phase of this project, I found my routine at school a pretty tightly contained experience. Therefore, I had to reach back into my life before CMU, when I was working as a customer-facing product manager. My work required me to travel on a weekly basis, so I was spending a lot of time with my suitcase in airports. With my luggage in one hand, my purse or phone in the other, I was often left without a way to carry the coffee I desperately needed. That's where the idea for the suitcase cup holder came from.

After a few failed prototype versions, I ultimately created a drink holder that clips onto my suitcase handle and rests on the stems as extra support.


Ideation and Sketching

My moodboard helped bring my back into that traveling mindset and brainstorm product ideas. I selected images that both inspired the look of my product as well as the situations where I might use it. 

Being new to sketching ideas, I did my best to translate my idea onto paper. In my initial idea, I wanted to try a clip mechanism that could attach to the stem of my suitcase and hinged so that the cup would stay upright regardless of whether the suitcase was upright or at an angle. I designed a few different clip styles, including a ring style, a finger style, and a solid style. Additionally, as a plan B, I sketched a non-clip style that would instead hang around the stem.


Prototyping V1

In my first iteration, I tried the ring clip, which I created by laser cutting and then stacking three thinner rings on top of each other and gluing it to a bar that would act as the attachment to the stem. While perhaps my cleanest design aesthetically, it ended up shattering almost immediately as I tried to clip it on.


Prototyping V2

In my second iteration, taking some advice from my TAs to try a different form of clip that had a bit more give, I tried to make a clip that was instead, one piece with fingers that folded in on the sides. This too broke. :(


Prototyping v3

Largely back at square one, I landed on the final design after looking back into some of the images I had found and discarded from my moodboard. In particular, I noticed that a number of cup holders used a "hanging" mechanism rather than a clip-on, which got me thinking about how I could use the structure of the stem and handle frame of my suitcase to my advantage.

Though there was a dangerous night of me holding acrylic over my gas stove, I ultimately made something I was really happy with and, best of all, was functional!



I admit this project ended up being harder than I imagined! It was quite a challenge to work with acrylic, which I certainly overestimated its flexibility. Having the clips break really forced me to think about the material I was working with, its properties, and how I could use it to my advantage while minimizing the disadvantages.

I think if I were to continue this project, I would like to create a better frame for the cup holder, so that it was guaranteed to sit neatly on any carry-on sized suitcase. As of now, the dimensions are bespoke to my suitcase. Additionally, I would likely switch back to the clip-on model, which is easier to use and more aesthetically minimalist, but I would use metal this time in order to get more flexibility.

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24-672 Special Topics in DIY Design and Fabrication

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Offers students hands-on experience in DIY product design and fabrication processes. Students work individually or in small groups to design customized and personalized products of their own and bu...more


Cup holder for travelers