Design and development process


I am curious about the level of accuracy usually put into the drawings. In addition to having a drawing look good proportionally - how accurate do the drawings of the outsole need to be? I come from an eclectic background for footwear- I’ve handled a variety of lasts, do my own patterning as well as creating my own lasts – making processes…

When you are designing for outsoles, are you taking in consideration the accurate last shapes/geometries, adding allowances for upper and insole thicknesses before continuing to draw them? Or are you making something that ‘looks’ accurate proportionally that then gets sent to a technical desk later?

I am broadening my horizons from traditional shoe materials and constructions and want to include more technically oriented footwear into my portfolio and I need to get more background in other aspects (and types) of footwear. Any suggestions or input are greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Erick Wilcox

Me two, even a different pattern maker at the same factory will result in a different shoe. I like working with the same pattern maker as much as possible so we get kind of a familiarity.

I’d say I might do my initial sketches without a last, but if I have to write a spec for an outsole, then yes, I’d require the last. I’m not a super accurate technician whenit comes to doing the outsole drawings - I’m self taught, from studying blueprints that I borrowed from factories. What you say is true though - often you draw it as accurate as you can and then a technician makes the blueprint.

Shoenista, thanks for your comments. The continuation of my question would be - how often do you have to write specs, and was it something that you were allowed to learn on the job?

My original question stems from knowing that the last will effect so many things, and that there are also an almost infinite variety of features on lasts. Something that I know to be an important feature on lasts is the greater or lesser degree of swing, which can immensely change the appearance of the outsole- not to mention who it will fit.

Lasts are a particular interest of mine. I would be interested in finding out what kind of experiences people have had in the industry with last development, i.e. how common is it for a company to do last development in house?


I learnt last development on the job too - a colleague had worked at Clarks, she taught me - they are really great at training designers there - she also taught me the correct way to write a heel spec. Despite having a degree in footwear design - there really wasn’t any teaching of how to write specs or develop a last, although we went into great detail on pattern cuting, learning even how to do width fittings and we had to sit a pattern cutting exam.

I remember Clarks having last development and outsole development in house, but that was when they still had a factory on site, I don’t think they have this any more. In my experience, people tend to use last makers rather than do it in house as it is such a precise art, but often a technologist will check the fit of any new lasts you develop and pass any comments regarding fit back to the last maker.

I don’t really do that much last development but when I do I like to work with the same last maker, because he understands my scribbles and is a bit of a mind reader!

AS for writing specs, I have to do this in 90% of cases. But I have one client at the moment who mails me a last and once we have agreed the design I send it back taped up with the design on, ready for their pattern cutter. Again spec writing proper was learned on the job.

Typically, I will specify an outsole/assembly with a 2D tech drawing done in illustrator for the outsole supplier. I will base the drawing off the paper last bottom template so that it is generally in proportion and as accurate as possible. All views, thicknesses, sections and dimensions are shown, except ones which are based on the last such as lasat bottom curve, top/net lines, toespring, heelspring, toe curve, heel curve, stick length and widths. This way, the design can be accurately adapted to the actual last info and appropriately graded for different sizes.

The trick I find is to provide as much info as possible while avoiding redundant dimensions. For example, if you spec the thickness of the outsole, and the thickness of the midsole, you dont provide the total thickness of the two combined.

Once my drawing is received by the outsole supplier, they redo the tech package in 2D for my confirmation adjusted to the last dimensions and then go onto 3D CAD and a CNC’d model.

my tech drawing would be something like this-


If possible, see if the factory has a blueprint on that last. This will give you accurate offsets and sections to start from.


Thank you, that is very interesting and informative. I especially liked to see how the different varieties of lug are displayed.


I’ve never worked in a situation with an exchange between a factory (that I was involved with anyway). Since I’ve mostly made my own designs, and in leather, I have never been in a situation where there would have been a last blueprint- That would be the kind of thing I’m interested in finding out.



Got you. That’s cool, must be quite something to build your own designs!

I would try tracing the bottom net then and slicing a last up to trace accurate sections from.


I’ve been digesting your comment about cutting a last - makes sense as a way to find the bottom radius. I assume from “bottom net” you mean the last bottom shape?

I love making my own designs, but it often feels like I’m reinventing the wheel- especially when I’m working on my own lasts.


May I ask where you studied? I was looking at the program at Leicester College - Some of my students have expressed interest in it, and an acquaintance in the UK had great things to say about it, but I wonder how much time they give to lasts. It sounds like I would very much like to meet your colleague that trained you.


I don’t know many who went to Leicester College, so I’m not sure if they devote that much time to lasts. In some ways, it’s a dying art. My friend is currently on maternity leave, but anyone who has designed at Clarks, I reckon will have experience of developing lasts.

The best way to do it, IMO is go to the last makers, and ask him what he needs from you, in order to do the development.

It’s not difficult, once you get into it. Outsole development, now that’s difficult. :laughing:

Yes, the bottom shape… have you ever poured plaster into a shoe with a shape you like, cut it off, and used that as a starting point for a last, it’s a good way to go and not start totally from nothing…

What YO just stated is the way I tend to go. Most of my stuff I am involved in is bespoke and for 1 athlete at a time for any sport.

I tend to combine fit and aesthetic by

  1. scan and hand measure the athletes foot
  2. look at existing footwear in the market that you like the shape of. proabaly be a mixture of shoes.

I then use dentist wax to take moulds of the shoes and file to a shape i like. I then give this to my last maker who sorts out all the finer details and makes to a size 9 UK

I then digitise the last and marry the footscan, then electronically pull the points of the last to my required fit and the direct mill a last

This is obviously a more complexed route but if you can find a hand shoe maker in your area he/she will be able to show you how to measure feet by hand (it is easy once you know how to do it)

I then use the electronic last as the basis to design on…pretty much identical what Richard has shown. I would probably need to go into CAD as my clients don’t understand 2D renders - we then build 3D models that explode to reference material set up.

Obviously if your mass market there is not much need or point for such lengths as your work remains internal and people understand and relate to the 2D stuff

Bespoke and Yo,

I’ve been digesting… what 3D programs are your preferences?

I’m already fairly versed in the measurement process, though I’ve found that often measurements and fit aren’t always equal- this is something that I didn’t start trying to address until somewhat recently. When one is designing using stock lasts, it’s easy to go “okay, this looks like a cool last shape” and make a shoe on it and call it good, but when you’re starting from scratch, you realize that there are subtle shapes on a last that can make a shoe unwearable, even if it looks correct and the shoe is well built. There are different shapes to different parts depending on what type of footwear is involved- beyond the common attributes, such as how high the heel is, toe-spring, etc and etc… why? These are the things I think about, and cannot find information about.

I think a lot of this stuff is lost once the shoe has been de-lasted- depending on different factors such as: how heavy the board is and flexibility of the sole - so I am somewhat dubious of getting accurate information from casting (though, I am actually going to try it). I imagine that the effects are still there, even if there are less visual cues to them. Looking at fashion footwear- there are finishing steps taken after the last has been removed that basically undo some of the upper shaping created by the last, where the volumes are still there, but displaced for a nice appearance.

I could go on with things that I think I know or don’t and this is part of what fascinates. I was hoping that there was more communication between lastmakers and the designers working on sports shoes. Comments?


Hi Rio,

You flag up some interesting points.

With measurement the key for me is getting the foot as flat as possible in the shoe (from a foot to insock contact perspective) Rellying on hand data is specifically tricky for me working with elite athletes becuase I have to rely on their verbal feedback. If I have electronic data that is purely a template for fit (not the final solution) then I can show the athlete that the shoe fits them with overlays etc installing confidence in them

I have been working on fit for about 7 years now and i have a logistic that works for me in the sports i work in. The problem I encounter is with athletes who have many international vs domestic comps as factors of temperature, travel etc effect fit coupled with injury.

A sock alone can alter the fit of the shoe, so keepeing as many elements constant is important.

Another problem I encounter is Athlete wants vs needs. Two hugely different things and getting the balance spot on so that the needs (these can come from up to six sources in the form of medical, mangerial, sponsor etc) are not impeaded by the wants.

The real key is have a great last maker who understands what it is you are looking to achieve with both fit and form.

Different shapes and forms are down to fashion and function as different sports have different needs and manufacturers have different visual directions. And so on… (an Adi size 8 can be different to a Nike)

I would not say casting the foot is that accurate as you can not get any load onto (maybe semi weightbearing) and you also need to usually cast to the skin. The cast also can change shape when pulled from the foot. Podiatrists use casting techniques however they only need to capture a portion of the foot

simple carbon pad traces and hand measure would do you fine however they are only as good as the person taking them and then the last maker interpretating them.

Damn, being in the fashion footwear side of things, I never realized that this MUCH went into the last. Seems like a lot…but good stuff here and lots to learn. I thought I remembered hearing that Jordan for the most part stuck with an athletic last that worked for them over several years. Though, I’m sure it does change.