Why are shoes so ugly?

Pondering this link today from another talk board:

when I realized that some of yall on this site work with shoes. I tend to agree - I bought some adidas running shoes recently because I think they’re the most comfortable but have to admit they have some of the same gawd awful gattica looks to them.

What do you work on?

There is good and bad design in every industry. I’m sure it is the same in yours.

yea, i’ll have to agree with this one. whats up with all the little zig zags, the wierd injection molded pieces, the 300 materials per shoe. these shoes are so wierd when you think about it. future archeologists will uncover these things and go into epileptic shock. i used to think this stuff looked good when i was in middle school…

why can’t shoes look normal? skate shoes for example usually look pretty decent, even though they are built like overstuffed la z boys.

I had the same sentiments last night - I went to 3 shoe stores in the mall and by the time I found a pair I liked they didn’t have my size!

Theres so much neon, plastic webbing, and metallic glitter on most sneakers now that it makes me think I need to move to grown up shoes. :laughing:

Why so ugly? Marketing, marketing, marketing. Products as mature as this often rely on a new feature to differentiate their product. Then the new feature has to have some overblown embellishment to call attention to it. That’s why athletic shoes, toothbrushes, disposable razors and ergonomic office chairs often look like GI Joe’s spaceship assault vehicle. Sometimes a project involves ground-up research that breaks new ground. Sometimes you’re paid to package next year’s gimick.

Yo- I design the aforementioned ergonomic office chairs.

I agree that most technical running shoes are way too flashy.
Before I became intimately involved in footwear design in the mid 90’s, I was amused and dismissive of this style. I actually had to buy new laces and a black Sharpie with one pair of shoes, just to obliterate all of the yellow accents. Since then I have drawn thousands of shoes. The more complicated the design, the more enjoyable they are to draw. Perhaps this is one contributing factor. Shoe designers love it, and it the evolution in this direction is encouraged by sales. Which brings us to the next point: acceptance in the market. If you are anything like me, finding the time, energy, and motivation to exercise is not always easy. Having some important looking equipment is definitely a confidence booster. Plus, after becoming physically fit and sexy, some find that the gaudy equipment is akin to a badge of honor - you’ve earned it, now everybody look at me!
Not everyone would agree with that. My wife is a good example, she works out very diligently, and after a foot injury was recommended a specific motion control shoe. This has helped her quite a bit, but she is embarrassed to be seen in them because they are like flaming sirens compared to her usual style.
I would definitely like to see some more subdued design in the technical running field. Nike has made some really fantastic looking shoes lately, like the Lunar trainers, Rejuven8, and Free series, but they also seem to be chasing the Asics / Mizuno / Brooks / Saucony looks as well within their mainstream running lines.
Although I’m much more indoctrinated into this style nowadays, I can definitely understand that there is a desire for less phantasmagoria in this specific category.

Wow, strong words!

I’m not in the shoe industry, but I figure I have to jump to the defense a little. Asking why that pair of shoes, or any assortment of products is “ugly” is like asking why Ford or GM can’t make a decent looking car. A.) It’s completely subjective, and B.) There is a market for everything. There are enough shoes in that style on the streets to tell me that something about that look speaks to many of the people who buy them. Perhaps the mindset is “more details = higher quality…or better technology”, I don’t know. Give a television remote 50 extra buttons with no function and it’ll probably sell better than well designed remote with 10 buttons.

I too don’t care for many of the styles of running shoes either, but I’m not a runner. My girlfriend bought a pair of new balance running shoes recently…I think they’re ugly as sin (neon green…mesh…metallics…etc…) but are feather-light and she says they are the most comfortable shoes she has ever owned.

That might be an interesting conversation all by itself. Calling out products that are notoriously lacking in the aesthetics department (but otherwise successful products) and determining “why?”.

Any shoe designers out there able to chime in on the reasoning behind the complex designs of many running shoes on the market today?

Perhaps because the majority of people haven’t yet bought into the sleek modern aesthetic that many designs subscribe too these days, a more complex look is desired.

Or is it simply tradition?

OK, I’ll toss my hat in the ring for this one…

For the most part, all those bits and bobs and details on shoes are (unforunately, IMHO), what the customer wants, and what sells. They look tech-y, they indicate value, to some extent (cheapo shoes have less of this typically as all the molding, printing, etc. costs money to do), and for one reason or another has become the accepted visual style of the majority of athletic footwear.

Personally, I prefer a more simple, minimal aesthetic, but it really depends on the target market, and if anything footwear offers more range than most products in styling.

Compared to cars for example, where the majority look exactly the same (i’m talking about mass market, commercially available cars, not something like the Ariel Atom or Reventon), footwear, even in a particular technical category, offers (i’d say) a great range of styles and colors for everyone’s taste.

For example, for a technical running shoe, you have everything from this-

to this

and even this-

…“Ugly” is of course also personal preference. I prefer my shoes modern, florescent yellow and silver and slim in shape. Most people like them traditional, overly detailed, white + navy and wider/fatter.

Bottom line, it’s part supply and demand by the market, part a marketing thing, and part just the way the product aesthetics have evolved.

make sense?


All of a sudden the critics of Braun design are quick to defend their industry’s flanks from an attack! ha!

I agree with Richard and Yo though…there’s a market for this stuff. Also, from my experience, simple shoes look better on paper than in real life. You need a certain level of complexity in line, materials, textures to have a decent looking shoe. I would suppose this goes up another notch for running shoes, as the design should communicate comfort, technology, breathablity and performance. Some of the same points that supercars exhibit…and supercars are over-designed with all kinds of scoops, grilles and ducts too.

Just to be clear, my post wasn’t trying to be defensive, but more explanatory. I agree wholehartedly that the those super technical shoes with all sorts of random decoration are pretty ugly. I try to avoid doing that type, but esp. as a consultant, the client is usually right (gotta eat).

Also would like to point out from the Braun thread, that my initial critique was not so much about how new Braun is more ugly (or less designed) than the old Braun, but rather they had a very strong brand identity through design (all encompassing product to graphics, to pkg, etc.), and now, not so much. I fault them more for loosing that point of differentiation and holistic approach to design/branding than I do for them in some way following the market and making every razor a spaceship.


I gotta go with Diko’s comments, there’s only so many directions some of these products can go so styling or gimmick becomes a larger factor in gaining market share. What kind of kills me about the Braun design is that it clashes with its environment, unless of course your bathroom is part of a set from Star Wars. It is not something I would display proudly on my counter-top because its environmental contrast is cheesy, so in the cabinet it goes.

As gawdy and cheesy as I think athletic shoes can being it is a style that customers identify with as be sporty with their swooping lines and interweaving countours. It has become a sort of design language for consumers. This isn’t a bash, but the aesthetic might have a little bit to do with a lack of stylistic sophistication of the target markets. Are they flashy so that consumers notice them on the shelf or are they flashy because people want attention? It says alot when you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing your athletic shoes with a pair of jeans…

That being said I thought Sketchers had some cool hybrid athletics going on a few years back.

Not at all. My point was overlooked, and to be fair, I didn’t explain my comment.

No one said ALL razors are ugly, just that the new Braun ones seem off brand.

Personally, as a consumer, I would agree with the poster, a lot of new technical running shoes could be more attractive. They have become Baroque in their level of detail.

His question was WHY? My answer was to look at the overdone products in every industry, the answer is the same. Bad designers exist in every industry. Good Designers get encouraged (bullied) into going against their better judgement, and after 10 years can’t tell which way is up. Great design gets left on the table, while less deserving products get sold in. Those sales numbers become further justification for selling bad design.

This happens in every industry.

The solution is to acknowledge it and be part of the solution. Ugly is not the best choice of words because it is subjective, but it is important for designers to point out both good and bad design across industries. It is also important for us to band together, push each other, help each other get good design over the top, help each other understand how a good design comes to market and why it does well.

i’ll end with this line from Cracker, circa 1998
“if you want to change the world
shut you mouth, and start to spin it”

Braun, I’m ready to throw down some ideas on a shaver that link up with your history.

mgnt8, jehan, 914, and anyone else; I want to see 5 running shoe sketches by tomorrow that encompass your idea of beauty and good design while hitting the target market of the core runner and exemplifying the brand values of the brand you select.

I don’t know if the same applies with running shoes, but when I interned at a golf bag company they said that there was going to be a pile of 50 bags in the middle of a sporting goods store and the ones that stick out sell.

Then they took us to a sporting goods store where he apologized for misleading us as there were actually closer to 100 bags in the middle of the store to sort through.

Also that was close, I almost got hit in the face when you threw your gauntlet down :smiley:

Now THATS how to start a discussion. Oh, you’ve got an opinion on a topic? Let’s see what you can come up with. Now.

Awesome. I hope someone takes you up on your throwdown.

while hitting the target

Actually I meant shoes besides Converse, of course, the quintessence of taste and decency. :smiley:

I work in package design which has more than its share of tragic mistakes, believe me. I suppose footwear is an easy target, especially now with the Olympics.

Yes, I agree there is good and bad in all disciplines. The consensus is that the aesthetics of the supernova-wear must appeal to a lot of people otherwise they wouldn’t be in stores. Then this dymanic and uber-contemporary design is bad because it’s ugly or bad because it degrades the brand values or bad because it puts sales above beauty?
Who knows? Bad is like pornography, you know it when you see it.

What I do know is I hope this isn’t the best we can get out of futurism. Retro is looking better and better.

This I can certainly appreciate, even though it uses alot of the weird meshes and rubber, it still has some kind if Dark Knight thing going on, there is soul in this (pun somewhat intended).

Yo: I’ll give the old college try. Man…I don’t even know where to start though XP

I haven’t looked a shoe with the intention of design for years.

I might have missed it in the thread somewhere… but it seems like athletic shoes have a much shorter lifespan than something like a Braun appliance, which implies German engineering/high quality, higher cost, and people expect to be around the house for years.

I know there are timeless designs in footwear, but for a product with such a short lifespan maybe “classic” & “timeless” designs aren’t necessary - consumers can try out more daring styles without such a long term commitment. If they get sick of a certain look, they can toss them

That still doesn’t explain that fugly shoe in the first post though :wink:

I feel the same way about the ‘overdesigned’ aesthetic.

I keep looking and looking, but can’t find any that suit my needs. Being a size 14 makes it even worse, since at that size, the ‘overdesigned’ thing really gets obnoxious. I want to wear shorts on the weekend and have a pulled-together look without my shoes screaming for attention. …So I wear flip flops… The rest of the time I stick to my Kenneth Cole loafers. I guess if I wanted casual weekender shoes I could buy something like Simple brand, but I really want to comfort/performance of the athletic shoes I wore as a kid.

air-max-90-hybrid… Retro with a modern twist… Beautiful!