Hard to believe, but the time has finally come for my senior thesis project. Definitely wanted to post the progress up here and get as much feedback as possible to take my project to the next level.

I have chosen the area of toddler footwear, which has interested me for quite some time now, and which I also think has some great opportunity for some exploration and design.

Design Problem Statement: To design a toddler shoe for children who are learning how to walk, which also stresses ultra user-friendliness for the parent-consumer, at a reasonable price point.

It’s about 2.5 weeks into the project (first week was researching and choosing topics), and these are the presentation boards that I presented last week for the first concept review of the semester. I am still waiting on some more questionnaire results (see bottom of post); the ones I have gotten back so far are really interesting…will post them as soon as I can.

Based on the first review from last week, the biggest problem so far is looking at the growth rate of kids’ feet during this age…parents are buying shoes like crazy to keep up. There are a couple possibilities to explore…like material choices (stretchy, etc.) or some kind of footwear exchange system, and so on. My next step is looking at the child’s foot structure at these ages - pictures and drawings are proving hard to find. This week is also the beginning of actual sketch exploration phases too, which is exciting.

Be careful with those “good” and “bad” markets. They’re geared towards different people, what’s good for one is bad for another and vice versa, very subjective terms that I’m sure someone would have a field day with during your crit.


Visually a nice presentation, but I also question a few things.

  1. Agreed that the “good” and “bad” terms are very subjective…don’t mean much.

  2. I’m not sure, but I believe the examples you are using for the “bad” are for an older kid, not toddlers. As you can see, they have a built up midsole,outsole, where as the “good” examples are all flexible and have only a soft leather outsole. I think this is a key difference in shoes for different ages and walking/crawing abilities. For sure check this out…

  3. Overall, I’m not sure about your Asics inspiration and how that fits with any of your previous analysis. Why is some monster looking shoe any better than a Jordan looking one? They are just different aesthetics…

  4. In general, after reading through all your material it somewhat feels like a product looking for a problem. You haven’t really addressed any key underlying problem you are looking to solve other than what you find personally visually interesting. You touch on some technical/performance issues a bit (breathability, flexibility, etc.), but it doesn’t seem directed towards any main problem that defines your project.

I’d suggest that you’d get a much stronger project overall if it was more keyed into a main problem uncovered in research as opposed to a styling exercise (which is not really deep enough for a major project, IMHO). Check out some pediatric medical journals perhaps…what are the findings in how toddlers’ footwear impacts walking ability? foot problems? injuries?

Just my 0.02$ worth.


Thanks for the feedback guys.

  1. As for the “bad” and “good,” I was gearing that towards the ideal features for toddlers…so that first market is bad in terms of those features, and that second market is good. I see how this can be misleading and subjective now, and I will definitely go ahead change that.

  2. I looked into it…and those examples in the “bad” section are labeled as toddler shoes in the sources that I have gotten them from (zappos, etc)

  3. The Asics shoe is a source of inspiration based off of some of the results of the questionnaires I have distributed so far (which I will post soon). A majority of the parents stress that their kids want the gimmicky, glittery details on their shoes, and if thats not present, it makes it that much harder for the parents to get the shoes on their kid’s feet successfully. I was looking at the asics shoe and was wondering how that design sense could translate into a more functional, successful toddler shoe? Maybe where a line of characters begins to build a more iconic brand image and creates an emotional connection with the user?

Taking a step back and looking at this again, I’m thinking that the dual-user scenario (parents + kids) is making it difficult for me to focus on one main problem that defines this project…there seems to be a lot of problems that I am trying to solve for both those users, which is just taking away from the main focus of the project.

As far as walking goes, the problems that keep coming up in my research are things like walking bow-legged, or also pigeon-toed in the early stages, which causes concern for the parents. The other main problems that are fighting with this are:

  1. Parent-child interaction with the footwear: How do the parents get the shoes on/off? How do they get the kids to want to wear the shoes? How can the shoes promote a positive learning experience?

  2. Footwear Replacement: like I mentioned earlier, children’s feet are growing very rapidly at these ages, causing parents to buy new shoes like crazy, costing them a lot of money in the long run.

Like I said, I think it is evident that I may have started out trying to solve too many issues at once. I’m wondering if the walking issue should be my main focus after all? Or if one of the other issues should shift into the main focus? Let me know what you guys think…

Check out

Thanks for the link Kershaw.

So here are a couple questionnaires that I just got back in my email. I’m thinking I may not tackle the walking aspect after all…I am finding that shoes are being worn for outside purposes mostly (for protection), and barefoot walking inside the house is highly encouraged for natural foot development.

I’m thinking of a possible two-part system, where there is a house-shoe type component (like a slipper sock) and a “chassis” component for outdoor use…and seeing how these can interact and play into the parent-child interaction in terms of user friendliness and learning experience, etc.

like this?

I didn’t read all the surveys, but would just like to caution you that surveys can often be misleading… in general people like what they know and don’t know what they like and very rarely can offer any new insight. It’s a start though, and better than making assumptions, but with such a small sample group and possible leading questions, make sure you don’t rely on them for all your research…

You’d be best to find more conclusive research in journals, or do some of your own observations (view a nursery school, toddler group, friend’s kid, etc.)


I think Rich has a good point. Hang out at a kids footlocker or shoe section at retail and take some notes on the interaction and shopping process there. Could give you some good insight as well. Good luck with it!


Cool…thanks guys. I am definitely keeping that in mind with these surveys. Having also handed them out to several faculty members here in the department, I am keeping in mind that they are indeed designers, and I will be getting a different result from them when compared to the regular parents…which will be interesting to compare in the end i think.

I have been doing quite a bit of reading in this area, and have found some good information that is pushing me towards the two-part system i had mentioned…where an inner sock/bootie can allow safe barefoot walking around the house for the large majority of the time, and an outer shell, or “chassis” can be utilized for safe outdoor walking when necessary.

Here are some of the key findings that i’ve come across in my readings:

–Children with the healthiest and most supple feet are those who habitually go barefoot…studies of developing nations show that non-shoe-wearers have better flexibility and mobility, stronger feet, fewer deformities, and less complaints than those who wear shoes regularly.

–A high proportion of the world’s population walks barefoot most of the time, and the average person who walks barefoot has much healthier feet than the average person who wears shoes.

–The barefoot walker receives a continuous stream of information about the ground and about his own relationship to it, while a shod foot sleeps inside an unchanging environment. Sensations that are not used or listened to become decayed and atrophy.

–The majority of foot damage is preventable if parents take proper care of their children’s feet by allowing them to grow naturally - barefoot.

–A cross-sectional study suggests that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal or a high medial longitudinal arch. The susceptibility for flat foot among children who wear shoes is most evident if there is associated ligament laxity. We suggest that children should be encouraged to play unshod and that slippers and sandals are less harmful than closed-toe shoes.

–A baby who has just learned to walk takes around 176 steps a minute.

–Children’s feet can sweat up to half a pint of perspiration a day.

–Children take even more steps than adults each day - more than 18,000.

The comment in one survey about kids not knowing right from left? Ehh ehh?

Also a two part system might be cool but make sure to talk to some frazzled parents about whether they see a benefit in doubling the pieces involved in foot covering. My guess is that the added hassle of having four pieces to keep track of might outweigh the benefits.

Whats Phil going with for his thesis?

hey alex…haha…yea, i was really interested when i saw that comment too. I see what you’re saying with the four pieces…part of the design will be exploring loss-prevention aspects as well (that same questionnaire with that comment incorporated a blue-tooth component to make the phone beep if the kids go out of range haha, which inspired me to think about a quick-find option too) Phil is basically doing the opposite of my project, looking at work boots for asphalt paving.

So I was thinking about this system and did these quick sketches…

I’m exploring how these two components can really interact with eachother in a way to enhance the child and parent experience with the footwear. So here’s a rundown of what was going through my head:

–Simple inner bootie/sock with a grip configuration that allows safe shoe-less walking around the house environment…on all surfaces like hardwood floors, tile, etc. I definitely want the grips to be as minimal as possible so that they don’t compromise the natural feel for the ground, especially when placed in the outer shell/chassis.

–Adding subtle characteristic details to the bootie (like the eye detail on heel) so that it creates a unique interaction with the outer chassis…so the chassis is a “character” like a dinosaur, fish, etc…and when the bootie and chassis are together, this character “comes to life” so to speak…so like the eye on the bootie corresponds to the negative area on the chassis, which is also beneficial because i see this functioning as a “visual fit system” for the parent, indicating that the footwear is on correctly and the fit is right, which is often difficult. Also thinking that the bootie can be easily reversible, offering a different aesthetic for the kids to choose…giving them the independence and creativity that a lot of the parents have been hitting on in the questionnaires.

–Finally, looking at the bigger picture in terms of footwear replacement as kids feet grow rapidly at these ages: exploring the idea of having this footwear system be purchased in a “pack”…where the parents go to the store, buy this system which will include the inner bootie sock, the outer chassis(in increasing sizes), and extra bootie socks (which can also be purchased separately). So for example the pack contains chassis sizes 1 through 4 in increasing increments, and the “character” of the shoe matures as the size increases, allowing the footwear to “grow” with the kid, making it more dynamic and creating an emotional connection. This will also save the parents the time and money of going back and forth to the store in the long run.

Overall, also thinking about how this can influence that actual process of how parents get the shoes on the kids feet…this can open new doors and make this “chore” a more interactive, fun experience for both.

Curious for some feedback, questions, comments etc…

It isn’t that constructive criticism, but I love the characterisation with the eyes and the mouth, super clever and functionnal.

Thanks…yea, i’m looking at having that “mouth” be an elastic gusset for functional entry/exit purposes, and so that the shoe is “eating” the kid’s foot so to speak, in a playful, interactive manner. I have a presentation today, so i’ll be getting feedback there as well.

I came across these guys in some more market research too…sort of a sock/shoe hybrid:

I dunno how I feel about the shoe eating the kids foot. Might scare the bejesus out of the kid, and give him a complex for life…

For the sock thing,have you seen those (adult) socks that have a sort of rubberized print tread on the bottom? Usually something kinda cheesy like paw prints or something.


R - Yea, i think i’ve seen those around somewhere. People have also been referencing the Vibram Five Fingers when they see this concept as well.

Feedback was good from the presentation this afternoon…everyone took quite a bit of interest in the form and function within the interaction of the concept so far, and they aren’t really concerned with the “foot eating” action haha. However, the one comment deals with the gender of the child, as this concept seems to be geared more naturally towards boys rather than girls. So, I’ve been asked how this concept can be related to that female market…whether it be a chacterization change, material change, etc.

Rich- Just a heads up- “Cheesy” usually translates as cool in the world of toddlers :wink:


Tony - thats exactly what one of my professor keeps stressing everytime I talk to him haha…

I’ve been getting more questionnaires back in the meantime…here are the parent’s designs. The first 2 are from my profesors in the department (yes, that first design is a high heel), and the third from a mother that did one for me - which is very interesting to see how she is considering form and function with the flowers.

I have also found these guys, called Pip Squeakers…they are toddler shoes with an air bladder in the sole, so that the shoes squeak with every step, exactly as a dog toy would. My niece actually has these…and while they are very functional for the parents, since they can tell where their kid is at all times, it is a love/hate relationship. My brother and his wife had to take the shoes away and hide them because the squeaking was driving them crazy after 5 minutes of use. However, it’s tough because the kids absolutely love them.

did your professor see this?


i don’t deal with kids even on monthly basis, so i have no idea what true needs in kids’ footwear are, but i would love to see a kid related project that a) doesn’t gender stereotype from infancy, b) doesn’t trun the product into a monster/animal.

Some exploration of the inner sock: