what are the prerequisites of a good footwear designer...

Not really, Nike advanced design was one of our clients at Evo, we did a lot of blue sky, concept stuff. But no real shoes. For me though it is not about being a shoe designer, it’s about being a designer. And if you apply the creative process you can design anything.

I had a couple of freinds in the industry that helped get some interviews but that was it really.

Why I love shoes is that for me it is a nexus of so many types of design. I also love that there is such a wide array of competition in the feild that it keeps designers one upping each other. Also, the fact that when most people by a pair of shoes, they slow down, shop arround, find a pair that fits their personality, mood, or functional needs. You don’t get any of that to that level doing toasters.

Thanks for the comments. Any advice as far as getting a head hunter is concerned?

nippodesiinc: How can I soak in all the development stuff? Could I have learned that at new balance? New Balance no longer seems like an option anyhow. I’m going into my senior year of college.

dont count too much on head hunters because all they he is their interest in mind. when you get laid off they dont even care.

you can still try new balance. they are great for takeing people in. also try tons of shoe company on the east coasst. as for getting in to development is not hard. just takes time and travel. first get into design and work your self to more developmengt.
for me i was forced into it because no one elese can cover the work load so i pickedit up. and there are tons to learn…for example designers always want tons of patterns and colors and complaitcated design…but you have to think there are like 50 workers putting your shoes together and the more you add on the more labor it gets. developer sometime keep designers in check or they are the ones that solve designer’s problems.

learning development is a must … because everyone designer can draw cool stuff but it takes a real designer w/ development abaility to know if it is makeable or saleable.

my best suggestion for getting a footwear job is work on your portfolio and do as much as possible to learn industry development kinds of things in forums like this one and net development resources. ask lots of questions!

if you can approach a footwear brand with lots of passion and some shoe drawings and concepts even though you have no experience, you will look like a winner.

as well, i would really recommend looking for a smaller brand for your first job. not because the job might be easier to get, but beacuse you will quickly get more experience there in a short time than you will ever get at a big company. in my first year in the industry working for a small brand i did 5 designs, an outsole and 3 trips to asia for development. i trruly believe nothing could have taught me more, quicker!

as for headhunters, i think there is no harm in trying some out. there is no cost to you, and often job in the footwear industry aren’t posted publicly but shopped around inside the industry through headhunters the like, first. it cant hurt! also of course try your own contacts, and spread the word around you are looking… you might have a friend of a friend you dont even know about!

i’ve got more about the process nacho commented on on my site, first pullover.

best of luck,


PS. yo made a great comment about footwear design vs. design. really, never underestimate the power of being just a great designer to get you in the door. i would rather hire a smart designer who is grat at problem solving, with no experience than a shoe guy who doesnt think, anyday!

I agree with the designer comment- but to also check out other forms of design like interior design ( colorways )- archetecture (form-color- texture)- mechanics- I look at engines an alot of mechanic for inspiraction- etc. alot of things around you or in other fields of design can help influence your or help you solve a problem that you might have came across.

well said. inspiration can come from anything. personally i find some of the best ideas come from looking at things other than shoes and when im not thinking about shoes.

any type of designer should look around themselves at as much as possible with a critical and open mind. i think it is super important for all designers and anyone involved in design and development to be aware of new products, ideas, etc. in as many fields as posisble. i remember once meeting a designer in an interview and i was so surprised to hear they didnt read any magazines or surf the net! not that mags/net are the only source for new stuff, but it is impossible to design in a vacuum!


foot fetish?

to get insperation can be anywhere. i find that i get tons of magazine and cut out the stuff i like and put them on the board to do a trend board is the best way. also put together a catalog of material and color together. i always get the latest or used pentone book and pick out the tp colors i need to use for differnt combination for different catagory and then i do the same with material. (the best way to get material sample is track down on the web of material supplier and ask the sale person for sample books. they will be more then ahppy to provide)
that way you can get the best development resource.

as for small companies. there are tons of lincese and tradeing company on the west cost and east cost that does large volume stuff that will need new designers all the time. but working there is very different then at a large brand place. most likely you will modify other designs but it is a start and in there your development learning with be huge. many times i laugh at my self when i see a old dude wearing a cheap shoe that i had to do with. it is not preety but it is a good experance. and you will have the resources later that you can use to produce your own brand name if you want. and you will learn the real deal with shoe bussiness.

also a very important point for designers
(if your design dont get marketed or produced because you design what you want then dont even think about doing design at all. in shoe design you will work to other people’s tast or mass market taste, in th US the most color you will use is very basic and simple because that is what people want. and simpler design always sales the most in US market. if you dont listen and see and do what the market want then you will be the first to be laid off)
you can be a trend setter but most likely that wont be realized to the main stream till way later. i see a lot of senior designer fall into this trap and conflic with branding and market guy…and always it is the designer that will loose the fight (hince either leave or laid off) and the company use their forward designs maybe a year or so later. (this does not apply to nike or large brand company but for most other companies they only look what is ahead for the next few month they rarly see 1 year or more in advance so best if you stick with what they want and later bring your forward idea slowly into the mix)
but if you work in fashion shoes (very cut thorat bussiness by the way…almost lost my life there) then it is different. if you want to start in this it is a good work out. they will work you to the bone and has very short turnaround time. it makes me cry when they sell the stuff at over 300 bucks and i know it only cost like 3 bucks to make…man freaking lv foam sandel for 280…i cry so much…good for lv…makes me think i am in the wrong bussiness.

some good points being discussed. great to hear different perspectives from people in the indsutry with different backgrounds.

i jsut wanted to clarify what i said about workign for smaller companies, further to nachos comments. while sure, there are licensee companies and trading companies doing things that might not be much fun (copies and sticking logos on stick stuff), what i actually meant was to pursue soemthing with a smaller brand.

in a smaller brand you will get the opportunity to do more than you will ever get to do at a larger brand, although of course there might be as much resources for fancy CAD, testing or first class tickets to asia.

on the other hand, i disagree with nachos comments about smaller brands re: innovation. I think however that smaller brands often can be leaders in design and innovation becuase it is easier to take risks, and often companies of a smaller size are privately owned and dont have to answer to shareholders. in addition there will invariably be less heirarchy and politics in a more flat organization.

in my company for example, hummel international there are only 3 of us in the footwear design dept. and as Product manager I answer directly to the CEO. No going through marketing, slaes, etc. for sign off, only for input.

In this type of organization, I have lots of freedom to explore and lead by design. As an example we’ve just put out a new performance football boot, in gold croc skin with dress shoe style. something i doubt nike would EVER come to market with becuase of the higher risk with more investment and market to cover…

indeed his comments about “comemrcial” work are ture, and that ultimately the designer is designing for someone other than him/herself (90% of the time, at least). this is important in any design field and especially footwear.

still, my overall point in my post was just to respond to the initial topic about prerequisits for fotowear designers and how to get as much experience as possible.


first pullover
footwear design/development blog

the comments have been helpful. thanks

i hope all this info dont scare the newbies. yes small company might have a lot of freedom…but these days it is very hard to find becuase there are so many competation out there and they really watch the money tightly.
most likely you will wind up in a more flat and rigid company once in your carrer so be prepared…but it is not all bad. yes you can fly first class…i dont do it any more because i need to save money and i take the miliage and rack up for free trip to anywhere i want to go…hehe
alo if it is your first time to china. the factory owner will treat you like a king. but becarefull and mindfull of what they want from you. but they will shower you with girls and ktv and be prepared to do some drinking (many time hot girls knock on my hotel room and want to have fun…present from the factory). even if you dont speak chinese (it is also good if you pick up a few pharses) you can use sign lagunge or draw. also they are very willing to learn design and development stuff from you too even if you are a newbie…just dont gave out too much info.

dont be afriad of other cultures…you will really need to have a open mind and how other people do things and understanding othe cultures and operations in order to travel to the factory and have succesfull development runs…or elese you will be another one of tight ass gou low (forigners) and the factory will try to cheat you in every turn of development.

one thing for sure…one time one of my designer/developer beat everybody from the factory even the owner in drinking. got every one shitfaced. and after that i had the lowest rates in production and development and got tons of respect from the factory…even to this day they still ask about him.

so for the newbies…be happy and enjoy but also watch your back, be safe and pay attension to details and pick up as much as you can in development. you will need all these info.

…if all of that sounds a little bit like a sene from the movie animal house (except in china with a bunch of shoes) you have a good picture of things. I think the biggest benifits to large companies are the ability for upward mobility (not flat structures) and the ability to negotiate on pricing (get more stuff into your shoe at a lower cost because of the quantities)… not to mention I get the business class ticket and the miles…

yea of course it is great. yes price drops of course with size of orders but if you are doing small runs and need the price low. respect and favers is much needed to get them to produce it. the lowest run i have done is 200 on 1 style the hieghest is like 1 mill over 6 month on 1 style. for 1 mill order that is huge…actually wallmart and payless will be bigger.
the number is mind boggleing.
travel is all good…i have so many miles i use it to send my sister and my parents on vaca. but one draw back is it takes a toll on your body big time.
when i come back to the states it takes me a week to get over time lag…man i am getting old…

good comments all around.

indeed as anyone new to the industry must be thinking, the shoe business is quite unique, and can be very rewarding both personally and professionally.

I dont know about you YO (you mentioned you did products before), but I know I would never go back to ID/product design. come to think of it i know lots of ID people who went to into footwear, but nobody from footwear who has go into ID…

first pullover
fotowear development/design blog

I still do a lot of product and some trans/auto, freelance. IMO, consumer products are easier. I did some phones recently, once you look into all of the parameters you can really only connect the dots in so many ways and suplement that with some consumer research, colors/finishes, and some ideas for new features. A shoe, as a dymanmic object, is harder to design, at least for me, and so more rewarding.

acutally i go both ways…haha…kinda sick bi joke.
i do shoes alot but i also do 3c and transportation products too. i think it can be applied to all thing. shoe design process is basically the same as any other products. you still goto do tons of research before you begain.

shoes are my bread and butter work and bussiness but other products are my iceing on the cake.