WTF is this?

I’m working on a larger thought piece on this, but want to check in with fellow footwear designers to gauge my direction…

I’m all for concept exploration and a bit of artistic expression but I’m not sure what is going on… maybe I’m just old.

On one hand, we have “footwear design” that is barely footwear… While previously more in art/high fashion, the “so ugly/weird, it’s looks not a shoe” thing seems to be making it’s way into sportswear and more mainstream sneakers. We are well past the just plain ugly Dad shoe thing…

On the other hand, I’m seeing more and more “footwear design” that I think hardly qualifies as design. Granted, mostly young designers on IG, but still. Awesome, concept rendering maybe and some great skills on show for sure, but I don’t see any design ie. consideration of actual manufacturing, function, brand, or even sometimes physics. Some of it is cut and paste photoshopping, others are very skilled 3D models, but all seem connected with little grasp on reality.

Fashion has been very weird forever. Maybe you’re not old enough!

I don’t think we’re sophisticated enough for this extravagance. The audacity has always been the point! Looking forward to the rant.

Hahahahaaaa, I’m partly with you Richard, but I’m also in awe of the ‘kids’ and how easy they make it look to come up with polished concepts.

I really, really don’t like the Yeezy Foam Runners, mainly due to the big bulge on the instep. But it’s a different silhouette, refers somewhat to the comically bulbous shoes of cartoon characters, and they are apparently very comfy. So unfortunately I do think we’ll see them being worn quite a bit. I’m also firmly opposed to Ugg’s and Croc’s but we are living in an age of comfort now, not aesthetics.

Then there is the equally annoying ‘off-white’ trend of creating incredibly busy designs, with multiple stacked soles and overlays, which seems to equate to a new extravagance.

On the whole though, there does seem to be plenty of innovation happening between the lines. Or at least a loosening of the accepted guidelines. And as for ‘kids’, they are getting really comfortable with zbrush, blender, etc, and with the low cost of the new DLP 3D printers, I think/hope we are going to see some interesting wearable shoes. Though they won’t be mass-produced, they are sure to influence future mass-produced shoes.

Do keep me posted on that thought piece!

Thanks for the feedback. Hope to hear from more footwear industry people here… promise I won’t quote anyone. :slight_smile:

My intent here is to be constructive and understand some of this new approach, not necessarily crap on it. I’m also interested where the industry is going have been in footwear design for almost 20 years. I think for sure there’s an Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome in the industry talking to many other pros, but nobody wants to say it…

For sure fashion and being ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous is a thing. That’s not new.

What I do think is new however on the fashion side is that traditionally a lot of fashion and style has been about making things look better - more luxurious, sexy, faster, etc. A lot of what I see here makes things look worse. Shoes that look cheap. Shoes that look like literal garbage (dirty, falling apart, etc.). Shoes that are/look broken. Nothing “attractive” (knowing full well that beauty is in the eye of beholder and a changing concept).

As for innovation, being different is one thing, but when everything different looks the same, I don’t get it. That’s my critique of the concepts that aren’t really design (and aren’t really footwear either). All these space ship shoes with impossible proportions or deconstructed bits of shoes slammed together… where’s the innovation? Same could for sure be said of Off White. The first thing with “SHOELACE” on it was kinda fun. Now, just put any word in a bad font in large letters on a thing randomly and it’s supposed to be special?

Maybe if some of the concepts were not sold or celebrated as Footwear Design, it would make more sense. Concept Art maybe? Concept Kicks is the worst at this and there are quite a few others who just seem OK footwear design not being tied to anything remotely “footwear” or “design”…

Agreed, Holtag there’s lots of interesting skills coming out and perhaps some 3D technologies. I’d just like to see some connections to reality.


PS. Side note- anyone remember the Satchel of Gravel website from 15+ years ago taking the piss of all the silly streetwear sneaker collabs at the time? ie. ASICS x FRUIT LOOPS…

I’m not a footwear designer, but your rant reminded me of the punk aesthetic:

The motive was to look like garbage. I was born in '78, but as a punk fan, I figure that the aesthetic was anti-fashion. Instead of fine cloth and couture, it was the cheapest material badly sewn. From the images you shared, I don’t see “anti-fashion” as the inspiration, but there is a history of trying to not look good.

Fair point Ray. And for sure there’s some deconstructionism/dada/Memphis etc. correlation in the fashion that looks like crap on purpose.

But like all of them and punk/goths/whatever that try so hard to look different it’s funny when the different all looks the same. Punks try so hard to not be like “the man” in a uniform or suit they effectively have their own uniform anyhow down to matching bad tats and eyeliner.


I agree with you there. There are the pioneers and then the followers.

What is the goal you have in mind for your thought piece, Richard?

And if you want to create a wider discussion, this might be easier on LinkedIn. Not sure how many footwear designers we actually have here on the boards. On LinkedIn, I should be able to pull in some designers from both sides of the ‘fence’.

Great discussion even though I am not a footwear designer either.

I can see as an expert you tend towards more formalistic definitions of good design. So good point of bringing up how design relates to ideologies / political views / social movements as well and as designers it will in the future not so much be up to us to define our target audience but rather offer the target audience opportunities to find out what they want themselves.

So on the one hand I appreciate the customization possibilities digital fabrication technologies of the future and radical approaches to innovation offer (such as hiring visionary superstars), on the other hand a great vision can result in a crappy reality (as in the Yeezy foams, I mean it looks like someone stepped into three pounds of viscous chewing gum). But then again all these explorations can result in higher matches with an audience who feel the design really resonates with them.

I think that’s the thing with fashion / footwear - people want very specific matches to their desires otherwise the product won’t work for them. It requires a lot of customization possibilities and design exploration for a brand. So who are we to judge. I just think amidst the jungle the design landscape is becoming we can only do our best to curate and maintain ‘design preservation,’ and of course recyclability.

I personally would wear those Sorcery sneakers by Zixiong Wei, even if they’re pink.

If/when I have something for sure will post to my blog and repost on LinkedIn. The conversation here is a little more nuances so I figured I’d start here to gather my thoughts and get input.

I’m not 100% sure the position/direction of my thoughts but something I’ve been thinking of a lot recently. I really don’t like what I see and find it even makes me personally not want to engage the footwear community as much. I pretty much never scroll through my Directive Collective IG account and forget the discover tab… it’s a lot of this ^^


(I’m not a footwear designer, and aside from some covers for lower limb prosthetics don’t think I’ve done any work in the area. Which is too bad. I should try designing a treadmill running shoe sometime. Or a mountain bike flat-pedal shoe that actually looks good. Anyway.)

My (outsider) take: these things are absurd. I don’t live in an urban setting anymore so aside from some Asian students occasionally seen at UW wearing the chunky/ugly/balenciaga things, footwear like this is an artifact from another world. I’m sure my 1991 Nike Air Terra ACG sneakers made people crazy/angry back then. Democratization of design and production processes, instantaneous reach of everyone with a camera and network connection, reaction to global insanity, sketches exploring new ground, reactions to throwaway product culture, garbage, Takashi Murakami Superflat residual resonance… all valid interpretations of chaos.

Man I’m with you, Richard. If I’m trying to create a timeline of what led to this, here’s how I see it:

  • First you have the footwear world in one of it’s natural ebb and flow cycles, pushing back on and moving away from the ultra-minimalist trend of the late 2000s and early 2010s

Next you have a massive wave of 90s nostalgia in popular culture, which in turn fueled a wave of 90s nostalgia in footwear

90s footwear is often characterized by complex, multi-piece upper patterns

Under Armor “accidentally” makes a 90s dad shoe a Steph Curry pro model

The fashion industry catches wind of the 90s trend and goes bananas with it

The result is overlay after overly in both uppers and midsoles/outsoles

And finally what you see in your first image is a minimalist material take on the maximal patterning that’s running rampant in footwear right now

That’s some good insight Jeff. I’ve been too caught up wading through the swamp to think of how we got here. Certainly the reaction to minimalism and swing of the pendulum I think accounts for some of it, but I feel there is more. Maybe something to do with less interest in the craft and more need for quick reaction.

I’m starting to think of the medium as part of the issue. With IG and so much focus making an immediate impression for likes, subtlety of materials, texture, etc. don’t really work. Over the top shoes that look like piles of garbage stand out, even if practicality isn’t there (the Balenciaga shoes weight like 3 lbs!). The more crazy the better. The same thing has happened in food a…black ice cream, food with smoke bombs in it… sizzle over the steak, literally.

I think the social thing also maybe explains some of the concept stuff. Again, lots of young designers are on IG and without skills and knowledge of actual shoe making, it’s much easier to render a shoe that looks like a space ship to get likes. Actual design is not part of the equation, any more than all those fake sketches that are digital but photoshopped onto a sketchbook with markers with a “just a doodle” caption. It’s all about eyeballs.

Still processing and appreciate the input!


I totally agree that instagram plays a huge part in the way footwear designs develop nowadays. Lots of ideas getting chucked online. I don’t mind, it’s fun inspiration.

Another thing I see is that sneaker design is a new dream job, on par with what car design was for me. Add the easier access to sketching and photobashing tools, and you’ve got scores of kids coming up with fun but impractical ideas. Just like concept cars really.

That said, i like that the high fashion brands are doing sneakers now. Their approach is the opposite Of a sports brand, almost purely superficial. I think the outcome is hit-and-miss, but the influence on the whole is beneficial.

Would the thick record-breaking midsoles have happened during the minimal phase of ten years ago? Would that evolution have happened without the addition of flatforms and chunkier styles?

My pet peeve is how many of these designs get branded with a swoosh or other logo, without consideration for brand fit, but also kind of enslaving themselves by default.

And another is, how sustainability is now wholly embraced by the big brands, but it’s still just a marketing and design tool to sell more shoes. Sure the new ispa’s and space-hippies re-use material, but creating a new style and the required tooling, materials and production lines are only minimal improvements. I dont see any real innovation in production technology, intention to sell worldwide or produce locally.

Finger lickin’ good! /s

You should have put a warning. I threw up a little in my mouth. It’s too early for that!!!

That is terrifying.

Awful taste but great execution.

@rkuchinsky, how is your piece coming along? I was really hoping this conversation would take of, I do think there is plenty to talk about.