what makes a good (footwear) designer???

i know this question has likely been brought up before on these forums but i hope peoples will still chime in with there feelings on the matter…feel free to be general or specific, like what makes one a successful designer? is it creating high seeling shoes? is it internal acclaim?(probably not the right word but i hope the meaning is understood) mixture of the two? having strong concepts/ideas?

what advice would you give to those aspiring to get in??? things to work on? most important skills? it be really appreciated to get some good words from the wise…

what makes a successful footwear designer?

I am not sure what is a successful footwear designer, first to mind for me is Tinker. But That is mainly athletics and not looking at the full spectrum. I think success varies from person to person an area of footwear your in whether it being athletics or dress. You mentioned selling shoes, strong concepts/ ideas. are these ways to measure the success of a designer in some ways yes. But many time the shoes that sell a large amount of orders are the ones that you design an least like. In my situations, I have found because we are designing for a target market we have to keep this in mind that no matter how much I love it, it doesn’t matter, It has to be liked by thousands of others, and many times this means…what I have heard called, “dumming it down”… so even to judge a designer based off what has made orders is not always going to show his or her full range of skills. But I think its a great challenge to be able to design a shoe that is like a payless or more basic large orders shoes because you are having so many restrictions on cost, target market, etc, that it challenges you.

I think being able to think and come up with creative ideas will always put you in a situation to be successful. But I think many traits also go into being successful:

understanding how to work in teams
communication skills
work ethic
attitude (being open to new/ other ideas-to grow)
understanding the business aspects
always learning/ exploring
the list goes on…

advice to inspire those to come in:

just being on core seeking info from other students/ pros great start
use these forums as a tool/ aid along with school. its like the old saying you get out of it what you put in…the more sketches projects , questions you post the more these things will be worked out an progress will occur.

Dont blame anyone, no one is to blame, not the teachers at your school, or your class assignments or whatever… If you want to design shoes then do it. You don’t have to get an assignment in class to get started on this. What I did my freshman year of college that got me actually into shoe design: to design a shoe/ sandal that could hold your weight. trick is could only be made out of xerox paper, no glue, nails, wood, tape nothing but paper and it has to hold your weight an you walk in it across the room. Try this maybe this will spark some ideas to how you come to designing other types of shoes. Also I would purchase shoes at footlocker when they would go on-sale, for like 39.99. I would take them home an re-design them. these are just some ways to get you thinking about shoes outside of class an school meaning you have to do the leg work an put in the effort.

Sketch, and sketch some more, but for me I am not worried about how purdy a sketch is, If I wanted to make my sketches purdy I would go into illustration or fine art. I think we get too involved in what the way it looks an not as much focused on the idea of concepts behind them. Dont get me wrong, I think the sketches should be in proportion, an all thst good stuff but to me they are for your use an to brain storm ideas. They should be able to communicate your ideas as well.

begin to talk with, learn from people’s work you admire, try and contact them, ask them personally how they do there work or did things to get where they are. build relationships. For me some things over these past couple years that has really been a back bone for me is the great friendships I have developed with men an women in this industry an how they have motivated me an been there for me. But I respect them an I think like all things in life we treat with respect an we get that back, being modest an working hard also been told numerous times is the way to go.

have goals in your mind of where you would like to be an what types of shoes you would like to design, and then also have other options. It has taken me now over 3 yrs to get into athletics. Went from motorcycle boots to men’s construction boots, hiking books, to dress casual an so forth. What I am getting at is if you love to do basketball shoes an you dont get into adidas or nike or new balance or and1 or whatever there still is footwear design in other areas than athletics. I will tell you that you can learn so many things from doing dress an casual shoes. Be open to try out other areas of the field, you never know you might end up liking it more.

don’t wait until your senior yr to start all this- I would start as a freshman in college to put a portfolio together an try an get some internships an then maybe by your junior yr. work on some freelance work, by your senior yr you will probably some product on the shelves and a pretty solid portfolio and contact list to be able to have options for a job.

Will have more to write - 6am finally getting to go pass out now for a couple hrs until work all day. but feel free to contact me anytime, email me, IM me whatever an can talk shyt out.

be easy


whoa thanks mm, i wondering what things you feel you left out…because that is much to digest there, exactly the type of response i was hoping for though

i guess i am trying to get some type of guage of measurement…athletic footwear is what i am interested in but in the larger sense i do wonder how or what it is the way people understand one to be a good designer…is just simply being able to effectively communicate your idea?

In my game, it’s purely and simply - ‘does your product sell?’ If you are freelance and the answer is no, then, quite simply put, you’re f*cked. If you work as part of a team, this isn’t so much an issue - it can take you a few years on the job before you really learn what makes a winner anyway.

I don’t think you have to be a fantastic artist, so long as you get your ideas accross. Proportion is important, but cheat if you can’t get it right - I’m often tracing over shoe photos to save time getting the shape right. The factory will thank you for it! As said before it’s not a fine art competition.

Also I think versatility helps. I started in Athletic footwear 14 years ago, worked with althletes, did all that techy stuff, but at the moment I’m doing womens dress shoes, skyscraper heels and some fashion sneakers. I’ve found the more categories I’ve designed the more knowledge I have and the more creative I’ve become. There is more to life than simply basketball. Working on the same catelgory all the time can be mind numbingly boring. Dunno 'bout anyone else but two years doing the same thing is enough.

Also the ability to be a mind reader (I rarely get design briefs) clients come to me because they don’t know what product they want apart from ‘shoes that sell’. Not eveyone you work with will be able to articulate what they want.

The ability to get into the mind of your consumer - it can be rare you will get briefs where that customer is similar to youself.

Dygitalvison is right re. the value market - getting best sellers at this level is a skill, anyone can do a concept for people to admire, to please all of the people all of the time is a talent and should be seen as a challenge.

Stamina, patience, tolerance and confidence are all very important for the factory visit thing. Have seen people ‘let go’ in the past because they couldn’t hack this part of things

the ability to swallow bullshit.
a skill i’m learning at an alarming rate.

but besides that, what other skills have been the most beneficial for you???

so how would someone who wanted to freelance with no experience know what it takes to create that winner…and please elaborate on the factory thing, i have heard some pretty CRAZY stories about that whole process…

MY prsonal opinion - if you want to make a career of freelance it’s better if you have some solid experience in the trade first. Freelance is expensive and people don’t like paying for something that isn’t a dead cert, it’s can be too risky to trust a collection to a newbie. BUT I have used freelancers (when I was a design manager) who were straight out of college, for idea concepts. You can get work like this, but I’m not sure if you’d get enough work to live on.

PLUS: It might be different in the states, the newbie freelancers I used to use already had footwear degrees (one had an MA from the Royal College of Art), so I didn’t have to spend hours explaining the cnstruction to them as they already understood it. I think the MA guy is now at Adidas, he was working on the Puma Platinum for a while, very talented guy.

Factories: Its tiring and the hours can be crazy, you have the jetlag, the strange food, the different culture, then as a guy, you will probably be subjected to the whole karaoke /hostesses/massage /brothel thing. Or in my case, dragging my drunken clients out of strip clubs in Wanchai at 5 am. (Above and beyond the call of duty IMO). I remember taking a junior designer for his first trip some years ago - in our first meeting a gigantic rat appeared on top of the aircon unit - you could see him thinking ‘where has she taken me?’

You basically need a lot of get-up-and-go , a broad mind and a high dirt threshold! :laughing:

The other thing you’ll need is a tin hat or the skin of a rhino. Buyers, customers love to moan and complain, nothing is ever right, it’s too cheap looking, too expensive, the wrong colour, a horrible design. If you can handle very frank critique of your work you’ll be fine. :wink:

in my opinion the only thing that distinguishes a good designer from a not so good one is PASSION. i think everything is linked to passion. with passion you’re ready to sacrifice your time, effort and emotions. you’re always looking ahead for possibilities and new ideas to work on, you look around and see ispiration in every single thing that surrounds you. you take critisism in a positive way and work on it so that next time they won’t critise you about the same thing…having to point something out to someone twice is ok but can be seen as time wasting too. you have to sit patiently and find solutions for your designs…you have to be a problem solver. you have to be able to sketch and think about the actual shoe, the materials you want to use, colours, costing, manufactoring problems you may face…this doesn’t mean you have to play it safe but if you know something won’t work then find another way of getting the same effect by doing it differently.

when i was in school i was asked what brand i would like to work for and why…basically what was my favourite brand…thinking about it i started doing everything i could to build up a portfolio good enough for that brand. i never even got an interview with them but i came across other brands just as good and with same style products and now i’m working for one that’s just as good and is a great sattisfaction, but most of all makes me enjoy going to work every morning.

but besides that, what other skills have been the most beneficial for you???

personally i find it difficult to sit in front of a computer screen for 12 hours a day.
that can be a challenge. but im getting better at it. you can get out of the office every once in a while, and you can make sure you are doing stuff in your own time that satisfies you creatively or whatever.
this is advice from the ‘retarded school’ of footwear designers, a group i seem to be the sole representative of on this forum. even though everyone will seem super-focussed and dedicated and no-bullshit all the time, you will learn that a lot of it is an act, and that what jelena said PASSION for design will hook you up. i can get pretty jaded with the whole ‘coolness’ thing cos its mostly nerds & ccksckers 24/7, but then a quick tour of the forums and my favourite sites will get me back into it. whatever floats your boat.
but it takes alot of work dude, good luck.

its been a min Jbro-

wondering how your thoughts have changed or stayed the same on this issue or what things you think were working well for your case, or if you have anymore questions…

be easy


yep been a while, how are things on your side? hmm…the thing is i am not really sure where i stand on this, will be graduating next week (you be done too right?) and i am totally confused (moreso than usual anyway) i just dot not understand what the standard is…

Things could be better over here at my camp. but trying work things thru. I graduate in 3 weeks. But next week for you, congrats on that. Let me know if you want crit or anything with portfolio or whatever.

I am not sure what to say is standard. I think its a variable like x or y. depending on the equation (situation) the two variables will be different an your outcome will be different. What makes you think there is a standard? Your professors, your internship, internet forums? I guess as you get more exp. in a field I can see there being more of a standard of quality of presentation, concepts, communication, etc. But as a fresh grad. I would be less worried about standard an maybe more about breaking any standards and trying to find your personal style and run with things that interest you.

feel free email me if you have any concerns or questions, because I am sure I’ve gone through it or dealing with some same shyt now.

be easy


thanks mm, i really appreciate your words, i will be hitting you up…