Footwear as Industrial Design?

I was kind of wondering how footwear became industrial design… Isn’t it fashion? I don’t really have a problem with it, but this has always confounded me…

I think it’s only recently been seen as id because sneaker brands employ id graduate designers. Nike was probably the first company to do this over 15 years ago. When I worked for Pentland in the 1990’s they employed no ID trained designers at all. Everyone had a footwear degree. Most footwear companies outside of athletic footwear would prefer a fashion or footwear design graduate, due to the element of trend forecasting, storyboard making, experience working with fashion colour and the need to understand pattern cutting. Also the way it’s constructed, it’s not quite the same as garment construction, but it has a lot more in common with garment construction than it does with any id type manufacture. So yes, I’d say aside from Athletic (which doesn’t really pay attention to trend to the same extent), it is fashion.

i dont think footwear “became” industrial design, rather that the skills need to design the footwear were best suited to those with ID backgrounds. In particular, I’m speaking about performance/athletic footwear, in which the majority of designers (at least those i’ve met) do have a BID. In more traditional fashion footwear (ie. heels and such), there are still lots of traditionally trained footwear designers (though this is changing, i believe).

Performance/athletic footwear is very similar to other products that IDers work on. Multiple parts, some injection molded, complex functional requirements, high-tech (and very low tech) manufacturing methods, consideration of ergonomic and biometric properties of the user…all this is very much in the realm of ID, with the added “fashion” aspects (and even some of these are very ID appropriate), of lifestyle, cultural relevancy, colors, materials, quickness to market, etc.

Hope this helps answer you question.


i agree with both points made above.

Although i am very new to the industry i can account for what goes on in my building, which is primarily a brownshoe/boot company, but in the last 3 years they have made it a point to have an ID intern each summer, and the last 3 including myself have gotten hired, which brings the number of ID people in the building to well… at least 3 but no more than 5.

Working for more of a fashion/casual brand i can say that the amount of time put into color study, trends, and details such as leather burnishing and the infinite combinations of last characteristics was something i was not as prepared for as i should have been (and would have been if i were a fashion/footwear major), but the skills i had as an ID major have made up for it, and i have been able to grasp those previously noted skills pretty well.

buy yea it is an interesting question, most people that i talk to that know a little about ID always wonder how ID majors end up doing shoes as well.

If you saw the tooling drawings for a performance shoe you wouldn’t ask this question…

if you saw the tooling drawings for an Umbra trash can or Nambe vase, you might ask if that was Industrial Design or Fashion?

As someone who has done Footwear, Toasters, Watches, Eyewear, medical divices, toys… I can tell you first hand that shoes are more complicated many other things to design.

Well I obviously have never done footwear. But thanks for the answer I have really always wondered. Makes a lot of sense it kind of lies on the border between both I guess :slight_smile:

Almost right on the timing of ID people coming in to footwear.

I started at Nike in Feb, 1982 with my newly minted ID degree. I don’t know of any ID women before that in any footwear company. If anyone knows of any, I would love to know. If not that would make me a first.

There were a couple of ID men there before that. Bill Peterson and Bruce Kilgore had been there for a couple of years. Dan Richard joined a couple of months before I did. Bruce headed up the very small design department that included a couple of engineers and some creative athletes. Bill was just forming the original advanced concept group. Dan and I were the beginning of that. We had no idea how far footwear and design could go at the time. We just made it up as we went along.

I would say it took about 15 years before the rest of the industrial design world gave footwear designers much respect. There are still those that don’t. I’ve done lots of other products, and I still think footwear is the most challenging and interesting.

The stories of that time are endless.

WOW, that must have been awesome. Bruce is doing his thing, I see him around and ask his advice on things.

Any stories you want to share?

How long did you stay?

I’ll have to think of some choice stories. There are lots I can’t tell over the internet. Most surrounding the idea that we were all well under 25 (except Geoff Johnson, who at about 30 was considered the attractive older man)

As far as design and development go, we were in Exeter New Hampshire and everybody else was in Beaverton Oregon. We were left to dream up shoes on our own. There were never any briefs or any formal processes. We had a small sample factory in the building, so the designers would have to make friends with the pattern men and the stitchers to get shoes made. We would have to interupt their regular work to do our samples. Mostly the patternmen would roll their eyes and tell us why things couldn’t be done. We were young enough and stupid enough to sit there and argue with them until they would at least make a sample just to shut us up. Sometimes the stupid ideas worked anyway. That was exciting.

Just to make things easier, we would do some of the sampling ourselves, like the cutting. You learn alot by being hands on. I wish the designers I work with now could have that experience. Too much time behind a computer screen…

Thanks for asking. I have to go back to my rocking chair now.

I just finished reading “SWOOSH: the unauthorized story of Nike and the men who played there.” Those must have been some pretty exciting times.