What exactly is footwear design?

Yes I don’t know anything. I have seen students in my school work on shoes. In fact, I think one of them eventually got a job at Nike. However, all I see is sketches and renderings, and models that only depict the exterior design of the shoe. Often, there is only model for one side of the shoe.

So what exactly is shoe design? To be specific, what aspects of a shoe are you involved in? Exterior? Interior? Technology? Ergonomics?

Exterior is definitely something done by ID designers. However, footwear design is so unique, that I suppose there must be the technology to drive the project, then the interior and ergonomics and finally the exterior to wrap it up, so I assume it’s an entirely “inside to outside” kind of process.

So when, where and how and what does an ID designer get involved in a shoe developing process?

Good question guy.

It is unique in that it combines two very different worlds, injection molded tooling, and soft goods.

The models you guys do at CCS for shoes are not at all like the ones we do inhouse. Jason Mayden and Armi Shin both got placed here at Nike, and another cat got in @ Reebok.

We do it all. We work on the new technologies up front, in advance. Design the uppers to match, work to get each global region the product they need, and try to push the fundtional envelope and aesthetic direction. If you really want to check it out, intern.

All I can say is it’s nothing like I thought. We have a pretty high level of control over the product, and the tight timelines lets you see the fruits of your labor quickly. Every line you put down will alter the way the shoe phsically feels, so It takes like 10 shoes or so to really get a feel for what you are doing. At least that’s what it took me.

Few industries can you work on product that is so visible and yet so designed by one person. I like to think my stuff is pretty good, but there has been a lot done in shoes and there will continue to be even more.

It is a real challenge to balance the worleds of market demand, functional innovation, aesthetic beauty, and physical reality. We don’t always get all four points as you have noted in other posts.

Ok so your reply says a lot about meeting the culture demands for specific society. What about the “physical design” process? I mean you do the exterior. What about the interior, where the foot meets the shoe? When does the designer come in? Who determines the soe pattern? What decides the material, texture and even the shape?

To me, I will imagine that a pair of shoe probably has 80% engineering and ergonomics and 20% or less on the exterior design. Than again, the exterior must be heavily influenced by what’s underneath.

I am asking this because my interest in product design has shifted from “coolness” to the process of the actual development. Every kind of product has different weightage and process. A consumer product may have a lot of marketing and styling, and perhaps ergonomics, and little on engineering, whereas an industrial grade product will have heavy emphasis on engineering and ergonomics and less on styling. The order of process is different too. And that’s what I am curious about.

And also, how often is the project market driven, how often is it technology driven?

Do you see it more like a fashion industry, or a product industry?

still don’t get it?

jeez I’m spelling it out young one. Let me take another crack.

It sincerely varries from place to place, BUT where I work it goes, in general, one of three ways.

1)st the proper way. There are three product seasons at our company, with multiple product launch dates for each. So marketing takes a look at how the previous, let’s say fall, line up sold, which products they are going to carry over unchanged, which need to be replaced, and perhaps they figure out there are a few holes in the lineup. Then they write a brief (either sometimes by themselves, usually at least consulting a design director, or sometimes in total partnership with a designer), this brief may contain as little as the price of the shoe, what height (high top, low, mid?) and what it is intended to do (light weight trainer for high school kids on JV team) or much more based on the market and competition. Design then figures out what the hell that means, and doesn’t really look at it much moving forward. Using the rough guidlines of the brief we then try to solve problems for the intended consumer, for a football training shoe you’ll need indoor and outdoor traction (gym and feild), flexability in the forefoot for running laps and sprints, lots of ankle support for hitting into other guys and lifting weights, and it should be relatively light. How do you do all these things better than the current shoes on the market and meet the seeming contradictory goals, is your problem. You will be designing the shoe inside and out though. Usually after a month or so of experimenting: sketch explorations, mock ups with modelmakers, pattern designers, and sample sewers, you develop a technical package to send to Asia. Your developer sends the package over, a few weeks later samples come in and you review them with your developer and marketing person. From here you will be revising the pattern in detail, inside and out, and probably refining the tooling (foam and rubber). Now do this 3-4 more times before production while coming up with new ideas every 4 months for more shoes, and revising the previous seans stuff… and 16 months later you have a shoe!

  1. the improper but relatively common way. You’ve been designing shoes for a few seasons, and you have an idea for a shoe that is way better than anything that has been briefed by marketing. You draw it up and show it to your design director. He likes it and allows you to have samples made. You both show the samples to marketing and they green light it and it rolls into the line.

3)the third way is that the advanced design group (also full if IDers) develops a new way to do something, you, your director, or marketing check it out, go back to 1 or 2.

Does that clear it up yet? Let me know.

Hey guys thanks for invaluable questions and answers.
I’m currently studying in Pratt, and before this semester,
we had study with a professor who worked in Puma.
The process of design the shoes were somewhat different
from what you described only because it was gear toward to
the sketching and model makings.
I was also very curios about the real world shoe manufacture
process, and now I get the sense what is going on.

Currently I’m making my own shoe portfolio for the future
job placement, but I’m repeating the sketching and model
making process as before. Am I doing it right? Or other
future designers have better way to pusue the better way to
make the shoefoio?

When you went to interview with Nike at first, what kind of portfolio
did you bring? In your other post, you said you had two core portfolio
along with multi process books. Are those all about shoes or everything
including ID in general? What Nike looking for interms of hiring a designer?
Obviously the talent, but what else? Do they talk about the person’s
education background-schools and degrees, previous shoe design experience, characteristic, looks, how the person dressed, age and their sex as well??

Ok, so ID designers will have to be “shoe engineers” as well? You said design inside out, but who designs the inside? That leads to the question of how much of a shoe is ID’s part?

Yeah I know an internship will answer all my questions, but I am less of a fashion guy, don’t have a good sense of what’s cool.

I wouldnt be scared off because of your sense of whts cool. everyone’s sense of cool is soo different. I know some shoe designers where i work at and they are like 45, and i know fo sure they dont think alot of what i do is cool to them, and that is everything from the way you dress your hair to the music you listen to. dont be intimidated by coolness it can be a false sense of reality. An internship is a great thing in many ways.

What makes something cool?

Dylan Williams,
Excecutive Planning Director
Grey London

“Standing for something help makes you cool. But I would argue a couple more things. Firstly, something that future-proofs your ‘cool’. That prevents ‘cool’ from becoming ‘cult’. In a word- energy. The energy that drives you on to keep making what you stand for manifest in a series of cool and fresh ways…And I’d say you need standards in order to be cool. You need the pig-headed determination to do everything as well as it can possibly be done. …So for me, three things make something cool. Belief, energy and standards. We can decide to fill the world with meaningless, one-off crap. Or we can fill it with a stream of top notch culturally significant things. Now what would be most cool?”

Well, what I mean is I don’t like to define a design with aesthetics. I like to define aesthetics with what’s beneath it, like performance products that needs serious ergonomic and engineering resolution. I am not denying shoes being non-ergonomic or engineering based. In fact, that’s why I asked those questions. However I see shoes design much like car design, with a lot of it to do with the aesthetics. And I even see much of it being just graphical. That’s why I say I am not too interested in this particular part of the design. Tell me that I am wrong.

Let me say a few things on your “questions”:

  1. I wouldn’t enter into situations in which you ask people a question but allready have your mind made up. I was the same way when I was your age, it closed a lot of doors. I’m much younger in my thinking now.

  2. as I’ve tried to explain, there is a high level of functionality in footwear if you care to explore it. It is a unique field that requires you to do it to understand it. It is not like designing a molded shell for a piece of consumer electronics which really is styling as long as you can fit the guts. The foot is dynamic, in diverse environments, and is a sensitive part of the body. If you can’t see that footwear design is more than graphic treatments…

  3. often there are no engineers in footwear. There are developers that act as laisons between design and the factory development team, there there is likely a tooling engineer and a patern engineer, but it is up to the designer to design what (s)he wants out of the product INSIDE and out. If a desiner neglects the inside, the patteern engineer will make something up, but most of the guys I know including myself design every little piece, the underside of the sockliner insert, the back of the tounge, the inside of the heel foxing, to do something. For me it is important to design the foam package in the lining and even the last(foot form) the shoe is put on while it is being made. These things effect the shoe greatly in fit, function, and appearance.

  4. beyond that the “cultural demands” you talked about are important in every product in both visual and function. if people didn’t want to carry their music around in a huge library the i pod wouldn’t have sold, cultural relevance. If it wasn’t so easy to use they wouldn’t have recomended it to their friends, I site the Rio, again cultural relvance. And if it didn’t look so intruiging no one would have wandered into the apple store to buy one, you guessed it, cultural relevance. You can’t sell a product if you can’t convince someone it’s worth a closer look.

I’m sorry if I got a little harsh, but the tone of your posts have become somewhat accusatory. Can’t we just have a conversation whithout the heraldo dramatics? Read the post carefully this time before you fire off a hasty response. I think the answers are there to your questions in the collective posts.

So in sumation, as you asked to be told, you are wrong.

I never meant to be rude, but if you feel my response was harsh, I appologise.

I did get the answers this time though. I thought there will be another of footwear ergonomics expert to do the “inside” of the shoe.
Thanx for your patience.


Immage is not the only thing- it is everything.

No one buys ugly shit

No one wears ugly clothes

No one goes out with an ugly girl/guy

No one drives ugly cars

If you do, you are pretty much ugly.


your post isnt entirely true. beauty is something personal to you. Image is everything??? well it is an aspect but not the whole. I have seen many people wearing ugly clothes and driving ugly cars (this is my opion of there things) , but hey i am sure they just didnt know that it was ugly.

do you kind of get what i am saying?

also I dont undertand how this really is adding to the conversation in a postive manner.

thank you

i think what molested cow is asking about in terms of the interior of a shoe and ergonomics is the actual last of the shoe. yo can probably explain it better but i will try to explain, every shoe has a certain last–or foot print–it is built around, a dress shoe has a difflerent last than a running shoe which has a different last from a basketball shoe, in most cases, which accomodates a range of foot types. to some extent i have found that these things can be neglected because of the cushioning technologies, we all know what a foot looks like and how it works, and saving deformities most people walk/run the same way generally, plus if you ever have looked at a woman wearing high heel shoe or a man wearing those italian pointy-toed joints you know that people do make some compromises for style.

i know i am bbut a lowly student, but for a designer to say:

However I see shoes design much like car design, with a lot of it to do with the aesthetics. And I even see much of it being just graphical. That’s why I say I am not too interested in this particular part of the design.

is kind of offputting, i know design is about solving problems, aesthetics is really what you are paid to do right? just like a product designer would work with an engineer–so does the car designer, shoes just like cars are engineered for performance as well as ergonomics. it is just that in those markets styling is what really drives consumers. i have seen shoe designers use a physical model of a foot with topographic map of support points on it. i never understood why there is this sort of animosity/frowning upon between product & trans guys…

molested cow you should do some research on shoes i am sure once you do you fall in love with footwear, i mean they have shoes for activity and even divisions within those activities, like

different basketball shoes for big men, guards, cushioning, lateral movement.

different running shoes for sprinters, long distance runners, etc.

hiking boots for cold climates, hot climates, both, watertight, walking

i mean the list could go on and on, i am myself an aspiring designer and a self confessed sneakerhead who would love to be involved with shoes. so i pride myself on trying to acquire as much knowledge about shoes as i can, so if you got some tips/tidbits for me i would be very grateful.

That is a pretty acurate post.

The last (footform) drives the shape of the shoe. Some companies lasts are highly confidential and based on lots of testing (Nike). Some companies allow their designers to modify lasts at will based on aesthetic (Desiel).

There is a lot of segmentation in footwear design. If a designer is developing a product for a Point Guard in BBall, it is up to him/her to do the research and find out what would tranform that shoe from a styling exercise to a functional piece of equipment with style.

For a guy not that interested in footwear design, he sure posts a lot about it in various threads.

All of Yo’s info is invaluable, here, perhaps he should take this info and produce an article for the core77 mainpage. I have appreciated this forum very much both as a venue for design discussion and learning about the field of footwear.

Speaking philosophically, and as an architect, which decrees a certain degree of “b.s.”, I will interject as an aspiring all around designer; and not in the way that Micheal Graves is.

First Design is design, and combined with an understanding of the human body; which is as essential to good arch as it is to footwear, fashion, ID, etc, it isabout interfacing. THis interfacing as it happens in softgoods, footwear and architecture is a matter of envelope. There are Macro and Micro aspects to the envelope, but speaking broadly, the Macro design of Space envelopment, and the Micro of bodily envelopment are only distinguished by varying degrees of scale. The uniqueness of footwear is that it is not unlike automobile design. It is an action related design, and though an action we often take for granted, it is a beautifully basic one which non whould wish to do without. Shoes are a design object enjoyed by nearly everyone, and while taste varies, there is a prevailing, if unexplainable popularity (in what would be deamed good design on this board) within American popular culture. Very few things that appeal to designers are as attractive to the masses, the non-design concious.

  • Speaking as one who often enjoys going without shoes, and regularly flip-flop wearing; who non the less enjoys shoes as a meeting between neccessity and design, an architetcure that can be walked in, if you will.

all of yo’s info is invaluable? this is a pretty broad statement, I think, but each of us is entitled to our own opinions. I have found Yo’s and alot of the other professionals (and students and etc…) very helpful, but like all things you have to filter through and take what is needed for you.

as a footwear designer I get inspired alot by architecture, i am wondering what types of shoes you like…I am glad you enjoy this area of the forum i also come here to seek info and find interesting posts. (also usually the beef and egos-dont come to this section too much)

welcome to the boards-

Good call Mark,
Its funny conversing over Im and the forum at the same time…hahaha.
Seems like Yo has some experience, that whether good or bad is being said, and promotes thought in the forum. I will continue to disagree here, but hope no-one takes it the wrong way. I am a pretty relaxed fellow and certainly dont want to make anyone mad with my design thought. And arch school tends to make good people disagreeable

WOW. all i have to say is, “thank God i found this forum!”. i have learned more from this thread than i could have ever learned at 1 semester of college. thanks MCow for asking and thanks to YO and the other ladies and gentlemen “in the know” for dropping the knowledge.