My problem is....

I see lots of play with graphics, but nothing in context. Where’s the user in shoe design? Even a basketball beside a basketball shoe sketch will put it in context showing its scale and helps the viewer to relate to the design easily. Is it so hard?!

We design objects in context, the context being the user using the product in an environment/situation, but the percentage of shoe sketches that show the context that I have seen is unexpectingly low.

To me, my context is always the same. It’s the user, not the product. It helps me to stop becoming an egoistic designer and from being too attached to my own designs. It also helps in a team situation, which is what’s always the case.

So what’s so hard about it? Can’t sketch a hand or people? Look for photo online, scan and image, or ask a friend to pose and take a quick digi photo and trace it! In the mean time, learn to draw people. Syd Mead said the human figure is the most difficult thing in the world to draw. If you can do it, you can draw anything. I think it goes more than that. It’s about knowing your context well enough before designing something that caters for it, and I think it becomes even more important when the product is a wearable design.

Here’s my take:

Just something else to add.

The head of GM Advance Design studio gave a speech, he said that they will always put the 1:1 scale clay model outdoor and stand at a distance to evaluate the proportion and such, because you will never be able to truely define a design with just drawings, cad model or even a scale model. They once did a car in full scale, but because it was cold out, they didn’t put it outdoor and look at it at a distance before approving it. It looked fine in the room, but ended up to be fugly when you see it from a normal situation.

And even before making a physical model, showing the sketch in context is extremely important in expressing the emotion of the design.

(ps. I like to have fun with my sketches if it’s not deliverables. Makes work a lot less dreadful. and if your co-workers spot it, it makes everyone’s day a better one)

Me too. Unfotunately you are paid to present and develop deliverable concepts in a way people understand. Fun via sketching is a bi-product of that process.

I have lots of ideation with people wearing and using footwear like you do above; and when I started (ahem, back in the day,…), it was a requirement to present a 3/4 rendering of a design from mid ankle down. But as timelines got shorter and product lines got longer side views became “easier to read”…

go figure. Good sketch BTW…

I understand what you are saying. If there is a specific requirement, I will fulfil it. I am talking about developmental sketches, sketches where you let your emotion towards your design express itself. To me, a product is best presented/represented when it’s fulfilling its duty.

Here’s another example.

Object VS Emotion

I sketched the person before I derived in the design at the bottom because I want to confirm what the is emotion that I was trying to express. If I only showed the design sketch, you probably won’t feel what I was trying to express because the design itself doesn’t really speak the emotion.

Final Design vs Product in context

In this case, if I didn’t p-shop the final products onto those people images, the final design doesn’t mean anything. This project focused on creating a design according to an architype. If I only showed the product, it would have not meant nearly as much.

Now try this:



M-cow: what are you getting at? you think because we dont draw people wearing our shoes we are lacking in the design? or we are not skilled at drawing…who says you have to add all that fluff around your design. to me your sketch does nothing but looks like a quick observation drawing. Maybe this would be good for a mood board but I wouldn’t present this to other shoe designers at work. Because if you look at your shoe it lacks detail, and I think is not worth showing because it doesnt give me a good idea of what your design is. I would get a better understanding from a top down, profile and outsole shot. Right now it looks like you are just giving us an expression of playing ball and the movement in it ( looks like from a comic book) rather than a design of a shoe.

I think the context is not that difficult with shoes. if I tell you this is a basketball shoe/ before I even show you a picture of a design or people playing with the shoes on you know what basketball is an its played on a court and its indoor or outdoor. Why do I need to sit there and draw you a basketball court and have my shoe in it to make it justified as a basketball shoe. the shoe should come from inspirations and function. showing people wearing shoes is not needed to design a shoe/ unless its some totally new way we wear it or etc.

I think for you and your examples you have a headphone or other products that need more explaining in how it will perform and put into context so it makes sense/ but you cant compare a headphone to a shoe. In my mind/ and how you would present the two or atleast to the degree you have to us.

and what you are saying with context/ maybe you mean designing for a customer in mind. so this is many times all written out or presented with the demographics.

to me it seems like you have something you want to prove to us…

“can’t sketch a hand” what does this have to do with anything? I know many designers that have creative ideas but cant sketch as well. - I dont think u need to be here trying to preach to people to DRAW PEOPLE- like as if you are our freshman drawing teacher.

(showing ipods and other gadgets and how they would be performed and usage is different then a shoe-in some cases in shoes you will show usage details if in the design you have added somethings and wanted to demonstrate how it would function- like a new type of strapping system…)

nice sketches- Have you ever done any shoe projects?


cow has a long love/hate with shoe design he needs to come to terms with.

Attitude aside he makes some good points, but also misses many. In a professional environment we often put together comprehensive presentations outlining the market opportunity, who the consumer is, and what problems the shoe solves, the actual shoe rendering becomes an obvious answer to the equation you have been building in the presentation. We often do a simple side view for the sales types who have difficulty reading much else for these final renderings. That said, a lot of shoe designers do more contextual sketches, just because you didn’t see it here, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen!

Exactly it becomes apart of the presentation. But I havent heard of designers sketching people to present in the presentation on who the consumer is/ etc.

maybe I am just havent been in the biz long enough or at these companies who do this…

I think also that it is hard to judge what the professionals do in a field based off of what you see here on core/ footwear section. because aside from a handful of the Professionals that post there process or sketches. everything else is student work and that should be looked at in that context.


I expected this kind of reply anyways, but I don’t understand why aren’t you guys(you know who you are) taking a step back and think about why do I have so many issues with shoe design? what do you have to lose by doing that? If after some thoughts you still think I am wrong, ok, I am stupid. But if you inspire something good for yourself, whether it’s directly or indirectly from my remarks, you own it! If I cared about me looking bad in this forum, I wouldn’t have made the post, so save yourself some trouble please. However I do appreciate your explanations on why you think I am wrong. I am always ignorant, so is everyone.

There are good shoe designs and I am benefitting from it. There are also bad ones which I, as someone involved in design, would love to point them out. I can sugar coat all my thoughts but is that what you want to hear?

So showing my own work is “trying to prove something”? Prove what? How many people on this board are willing to post something of theirs? It’s probably hard to pull out something non-confidential unless they spend time to do it outside of their work schedule. Thanks to Yo for his constant input of sketches.

Sketching a design in context isn’t just about proving to the others. At least in my case, I use them to confirm my idea. I don’t sing well, I’m not a good story teller, nor do I act. I draw, and I use the tool that I am most familar with to convey my idea. If this idea involves a specific emotion, I draw it out.

I guess I didn’t make my point clear. This doesn’t just pertain to shoe design, but I posted it here because that’s the area in product design where I least see sketches in context. As a designer I am frustrated when I see things that can be more idealistic than what it is.

There are things you picked based on the sketch I posted. I’ll skip those.

"I dont think u need to be here trying to preach to people to DRAW PEOPLE- like as if you are our freshman drawing teacher. "

Next time when Syd Mead gives a speech near your area, please be sure to go and tell him to STFU.

"o this is many times all written out or presented with the demographics. "

sorry I sucked at Math(actually not really), so the concept of numbers and text doesn’t do it for me. I let the marketing folks play with that.

Tons of posts in the transportation forum critising car designs. Why don’t you go ask those people if they have ever done a car project? Why do I have to be an expert to critize something? How many people who hate Bush are political experts? I don’t wait for experts to tell me what to think.

Seriously, you’ve made your profession sound so holy and untouchable that it’s scary.

There are always good reasons why people do things the way it’s always been done, but it doesn’t means it’s the best way either.

no doubt, i totally understand your point mcow, i think especially for some it would really help and would bring a higher level of understanding that these shoes are for feet. or the flipside, some thing do rot require that type of user scenarioor situational illustration because its context is almost immediately understood.

i personally love that stuff (dope work btw) it adds life if can make a dynamic presentation, i certainly would not knock anyone for rot doing so though…

everyone is entitled to there own opinions. but just like you have yours as do I.

I wasn’t talking about Syd Mead was talking to you and your stabs at shoes designers and how you feel they dont draw hands or people because you think we cant? as for the speech I would go an listen/ take some notes.

I think being an expert/ or someone of more knowledge in a area of study/ work makes your statements or opinions maybe more vaild. I think this is why you would listen to Syd Mead or any other pro in there field because they can offer I think a more thorough or accurate answer/ opinion. But at the same time I think feed back an opinions from less of an expert is certainly valid too.

I just had asked if you had done a shoe project because maybe you could have posted and helped showed us how it is done/ or how you think it should be done. and again many times when we do projects there is many things that go into making the product/ designs that are not shown.

never said anything was the best or worst. and I am not sure if I have made anything “holy” as well. But you may read into it in any way you wish, and take from it and have your own opinions. I am not 100% sure what you are meaning by “untouchable” but if you are having some issues with what you are seeing posted here, maybe 1 step in a positive direction would be to post comments on people’s work and how it could be pushed, and second would be to do some footwear projects and post so that many of us can learn from what you have to offer.

no need to argue an go back an forth on this topic. I think it’s fair you have made your opinion made and so have I an a couple others. Now I think its time to start doing an if you feel as tho there is a problem, then do what I am sure you do best an problem solve.


  • I try an post sketches too from time to time

cow i think your biggest problem is how you presented this topic; your idea is not bad but don’t be so agressive about it.

have you ever worked for a real footwear design studio?

from my experience (working in fashion footwear design studios) there is very little time during one day and whatever you’re doing you’re always under pressure…and usually you do alot more than just sit there looking pretty while you sketch all day. so personally while you’re drawing your human figures or whatever i would rather spend that time adding more possible styles to my collection or sorting out other problems/tasks.

my sketches are always done for clients that i have worked for in the past and clients that know exactly who their target is and therefore there is absolutely no need for me to “show” them who would be wearing their shoes…it would seriously be a waste of time and they would probably think that i have far too much time on my hands and that they are over paying me. if i was to start working for a client that didn’t know who they’re target was, that asked me to give them as much input as possible etc then yeah i’ll go out of my way to draw all the stuff you said we should be drawing.

out of 40 sketches that i may present to my boss/client probably a good 50% may be cancelled…so what’s the point of making the sketches pretty just to have them say no to them.

your sketches are really cool and yes just looking at them i know clearly what the product is for…but doing it for a shoe??? makes no sense to me. if you’re presenting a product that just showing the product is hard to understand then yes show us where is goes, how it’s used…the emotions you talk about.

the ipod ads you put up…they’re ADS not sketches!! some marketing and you’ll know why they are the way they are.

Next time when Syd Mead gives a speech near your area, please be sure to go and tell him to STFU.

syd mead came to town awhile back, his main point was adding context, scale, and giving people a reference to “understand” his futurist designs. one of things he said was he would “throw in an exotic animal” for this purpose…

in my BRIEF experience what jelana says is very true, the user is very defined and everything is needed yesterday. at the same time a sketch like this is more for yourself it can kind of keep you on topic while being a little diversionary, and i agree that it can makes the day a little more fun when you peak ofver your co-workers should and they are doing/have done on of these type of sketches…

cow, maybe you should try decaf…

I don’t take coffee, maybe that’s my real problem.

Sorry if my post is perceived with the impression of bad attitude. Again, I was not just pointing at shoe design on the topic of putting context into sketches, but used it as an example. I am also not saying that you need to put people in ALL your sketches. There are sketches for different purposes. I was sketching mechanical parts yesterday so that the engineer understands what we are talking about, therefore a paramatric style 3/4 view was more suitable for this purpose. Then I was sketching proposals and details a few days ago where showing the mechanism is simply not enough, therefore I added the presence of the hand interacting with the physical interface to show how it is to be used.

For a shoe, yes one may think there is limited ways you can interact with it. Maybe because I am not a “shoe guy” and therefore I tend to see something else. Your feet are in the shoes all the time while you are using it. How would the overall picture be in the case of high heel? Track? Basketball? Work boot? etc. And yes it is more for yourself, but looking at most of those student sketches, very few are doing it. In a student project, who are you working for? I guess what I am trying to say is, instead of fully imersing in the design of the product, one should pull themselves back and be reminded of what the real objective is. This is also an observation I have made. Many designers are overly stressed about meeting performance requirements, timeline, dealing with engineers and marketing folks that what they deliver ended up to be for the cause of satisfying these distractions. Then they lose interest in their job and wonder why their lives suck. I know what my objective of design is and who I design for, which becomes the motivation to take on those less desirable issues because I know there is something to look forwards to beyond those issues.

Granted that there are more ways to remind yourself your motivation than one. I personally prefer to inject it into the tiniest event of my daily work.

I’ll try to add smilies to my posts next time.

some interesting discussions here.

From my perspective, putting aside any real/percieved agressiveness or personal issues, I think the topic of sketching, presentation and effective communication is a good one.

In my own experience, back in school projects and some of my first consultancy projects, I was always the one who did the “extra” mood boards, added the context drawings of the scene, did the fancy animated presentations, etc. Sometimes it was a case of "let’s draw a car on this board showing a vacuum clearner design beacuse it is cool to draw a car and it is “inspired” by it, and in other cases it was for sure the sizzle covering the lack of steak. Most of time however, i would like to think the designs themselves were solid and the extras were just icing on top.

For me, this worked. I always got great feedback on my projects, and presentations, and usually had the top marks in class.

Once i started to become more established in the work world, and in the shoe industry specifically however, my approach started to change. Now, especially in my position as Footwear Dept. manager, given that I dont have too much time to sit around and sketch for fun all day, I believe very much in efficiency in the design process. I usually sketch side view. I usally do very little “inspiration” sketches, I mostly draw on scrap paper with a ballpoint pen, and I would say 85% of the drawings I do become a shoe that sells.

Is this as interesting to show in my portfolio as pages and pages of exploration, PS renderings, etc?? Maybe not, but ultimately this is a business. From my own perspective, and my consideration when hiring designers there is something to be said in addition to creativity and exploration for not wasting time.

Still I spend extra time these days on icing. But now its usually competitor analysis, sales figures and stats to back up a concept, and for fun sometimes…a sketch!

Personally I believe a good designer understands the context, the problems, the technical issues, etc. without having to draw a hand opening a handle, without illustrating the famous flying arrows showing use cycle, without drawing a hip hop basketball player hanging on the court.

just my $0.02 worth.


Good points R.

Makes sense, with something like the iPod, showing scale is important, with out human relationship it could be any size from a micro chip to a skyscraper.

A shoe on the other hand has a direct relationship to the body. It is the form of a foot (in general). Showing it on the body is nice, but probably unnecessary. My old boss used to call sketches like that “design masturbation”, sure it feels good, but what is it for really?

Cow, your sketch is pretty decent, but it doesn’t show off the footwear design at all. Maybe plow down some examples for us that also communicate the design?

When I designed (proper as opposed to fashion) athletic footwear for a living I spent A LOT of time with athletes, or in the biomechanics lab,getting my ear melted off by a scientist. :laughing: Hell I once spent ten hours at Lords Cricket ground watching young kids in the practise nets whilst listening to a retired pro complain about stress fractures.
THEN when I worked in fashion, I designed a mad fetishy clubbing shoe out of polycarbonate, but built it on an orthapedic last so the wearer could rave all night in it. The hours we used to spend in nightclubs checking what people were wearing,speaking to them etc…Just a few examples but you get the jist…

SO, all I am saying is if I never understood the end use - I don’t think I’d ever have got anywhere, I just don’t feel the need to illustrate it. I now work mainly in fast fashion - I have to design upwards of 300 styles a season, I don’t have time to mess about drawing the end user - coz I already know who he/she is. It’s my job. :sunglasses: As for making a model - my samples take only about two weeks - is that good enough for ya? I don’t do outsole maquettes that often coz I’m now pretty adept at reading and amending the blueprints. WE usually go straight to metal.

I’d be afraid to critique you if you were caffinated :stuck_out_tongue:

For me and a lot of others design has ceased to be a lifestyle, its now a means to an end. Most designers hit that point sometime in their professional lives, some don’t. For those that do, design ceases to be the end all be all rasion d’etre but it doesn’ t mean that we lose our motivation or our lives suck. It means we have changed from the idealistic “design must change the world” extrovert scholar we once werre to a more reasoned and internalized “walk softly and carry a big stick” professional who delivers the goods.

Granted there can be a balance of both; I made the decison a while ago to internalize my emotional connection with the product; its still there, you have to be cool enough to recognize it IMHO (and only if you recognize it or on a need to know basis, will I tip my hand.) You start to hedge your bets and design what you know will selll because thats what makes you good. Sounds terrible? Not really considering its easier to push the envelope when you know the envelope’s exact limits. That’s not selling out, that’s hitting your stride as a designer.

as a PLM said to me once:" Does the floating arrow come with the shoe?!" To which I had no witty response…

what richard says about school projects is so true, i use to litterally spend weeks working on them and believe me they had more then just the context in them.

i personally don’t need to make my days more fun by adding context etc. it would probably stress me out more.

I’d have to agree with Jelena, Yo, + Shoenista on this one. Time is precious. I had a teacher once tell me to not waste time doing a bunch of pencil wagging (trying to do some nice cross-hatching).

-When most clients come to a designer, they have already done market research, etc… and THEY are telling US who the end user is and their lifestyle. They’ll have photos, etc… Then they give us 10% less time than we need to design the product.

-During school, and for competitions, etc where the design is all coming from you, then you have to do those usage drawings or collages or whatever to explain the design to everyone else who is new to it. In the business world, it’s normally opposite, and we’re the ones that are new to it and have to get up to speed with a product area quickly and design for it. Time is essential.
-When you’re working in-house for people that manufacture their own goods, they already know their users and they normally have to put out work with less frills than a consultant. Like some said, quick pen work, then get to cad or real samples, no photoshop, etc. People in the biz that know the know don’t need to see all the bells+whistles to make fast critical decisions.

Doing those in-use drawings, etc…is valuable when you are presenting a brand new idea to people as part of convincing them to pursue that area or to explain your brand new concept, when they don’t know what you are about to come to them with. So it’s good for school, competitions, concept work, portfolios, etc… In the biz world, other marketing and biz types come up with those users, etc and we just focus on the product itself. And any time we spend trying to get leg proportions to match the torso, we could be getting the line proportions correct on the products form. Clients don’t want to pay me for the time it takes to draw those other things. When they get the final product, they’ll have art directors control the photoshoot to convey stuff to the public. Me doing those things would just be re-telling them things they already know except that it takes billable time to do it and my company loses money from the time spent.

I used to do those drawings in school as most of us have. I graduated in 97 and in my almost 10 years working inhouse + consulting, I’ve never once had to do a usage drawing, as well as every other designer that worked in those places. The only ones that do are the interns because they’re also being tested on how well they can tell a story, understand the context of the design, keeping them busy because they don’t have the experience to do the other refined stuff yet, or for an extra wow factor for the client that we normally wouldn’t have time to do because it’s considered extra. The most I’ve ever had to do were arrows for moving parts in case I had to hand a sketch off to somebody and leave. And I once did a product that interacted with a car-headrest, so I drew the bottom line of the headrest, the 2 posts, and the top shoulder line of the seat back, strictly what’s necessary. The straps would look weird just floating in a loop in space, so for that situation, some context was necessary. If you’re doing something that’s strange and you need to put something next to it for a scale reference, that’s okay.

A had a design boss put it to me this way…you want to put down the least amount as possible to get your point across to the person you’re showing, anything else is wasting time and cuts into the budget. That’s why we learn to draw without erasing (erasing away money), we render with markers instead of watercolor or gouache.
And nowadays, sketching and rendering on tablets instead of sheets of paper and scanning.

This is exactly the point. I do think however that the key to any design drawing, presentation, etc. is communication. It all depends to whom you are communicating and what you are trying to get across. Communicating with a mold shop, communicating to a factory, communicating to a customer, communicating to a salesperson all require different tools.

Sometimes this communication requires drawings, photos or context, but sometimes it doesnt. From what i have seen in my own growth as a designer-manager, and in other consultants I have used and designers I have worked with is that the appropriateness of communication tools can vary.

Most fresh out of school students, or designers not experienced in working a certain field (footwear) for example often spend time trying to communicate the wrong thing. A factory for example needs to know details and how the construction works (which part is an overlay for example) but could care less about the market.
A sales person couldn’t care less about double stitching or what kind of collar foam is used but wants to know how it will look on the shelf or the price.

…and not to mention the difficulties with working with factory partners who dont speak english as a first language.

This entire discussion about sketching people or context I think is irrelevant. More interesting I think is the misconception that great sketches and renderings have anything to with good design. I dont know how many times I have seen student portfolios, with renderings I could never have the ability to do, but with absolutely crap thinking going on.

Not to pick on a group of designers, but this is really the case for the most part I believe in transportation design, more than anywhere else. I think we’ve all seen awsome drawings in Auto & Design magazines of some crappy Fiat or other car that looks great on the drawing but is a complete potatoe in real life (of course this also happens in other fields too).