As a designer I tend to break everything down to a meaning. I believe that everything has a reason and nothing is random. To me design is a constant balance of story and performance. You can have the best performing footwear on the planet but if it looks bad it won’t be worn. You can also have the most beautiful footwear on the planet but if it performs like crap it won’t be worn. It’s a constant balance and to me the perfect balance is the Air Jordan XIII. Continue reading for my design-based review of the Air Jordan XIII.
This shoe was the reason I decided to become a shoe designer. Not only from reading all the design interviews about it but also from my own interpretation, it has helped guide me in how I develop my design process. You should always have an aesthetic influence and a performance influence. Influences do not always have to be literal; they just have to give the consumer something to connect with. How you use that influence is up to you.
This shoe holds a special place in my heart for many reasons. I believe that the most intelligent season of basketball Michael Jordan ever played was in that shoe. To me that year (1998) was the year that Michael used every skill that he had obtained over his 13-year career to guide the Chicago Bulls to their sixth NBA title in 8 years. The shoe to me represented his dominance over the NBA and the green hologram in the heel was there to let you know that he was always preparing to take over the game.
As I delved deeper into design I realized this shoe to me was much more than just a great Michael Jordan memory. This shoe represented everything that is taught in design school and was actually teaching me.
Like I said before everything has a reason and every product has a design story. A design story is what the product should entail, what it should represent. The Air Jordan product story seems simple enough: “Quality basketball products inspired by the greatest player ever.” But this was the 13th time they were telling that story, they knew it had to be different and it had to be inspiring. They found a story that very few knew of: Michael Jordan’s nickname around the league, the black cat.
Michael played like a cat, stalking the courts and letting the game unfold in front of him, waiting for the perfect time to strike. The design team took this concept and displayed it in a shoe, but if you were to look at this shoe without knowing that; would you say this shoe resembled a cat?
The sole unit is podular in its shape as it wraps up to cradle the foot and provide support for lateral and medial movement. The shapes are organic and visually resemble a cat’s paw. As you focus on the sole, the traction pattern follows the human foot’s natural strike path but it does this in a paw-like way. This further accents the story of Michael’s cat-like movements.
It would have been easy to draw a sole unit that looks exactly like a cat’s paw but it wouldn’t have performed as well. A design’s purpose first and foremost is to perform at the highest level it can, it should then be made to look like the design inspiration. The sole unit on the Air Jordan XIII achieves that.
The shoe is colored in a way to really show off the cat-like features. The suede midsole is wrapped in the same suede that is featured on the upper. By doing this it makes the upper and the sole appear as one, thus giving the shoe a lighter and supportive look. The color also accents the hologram in the heel.
The upper is a combination of suede and full grain leather, the leather overlays the suede in the quarter (side) of the shoe to provide excellent midfoot support. The leather piece is combined with a hidden lacing system that allows for a superior lockdown of the foot. To my knowledge, this is the first time hidden lacing is ever used in a basketball shoe. A great innovative feature that is simple and evolved basketball shoes to the next level.
The focal point of the upper is a hologram that is placed between the Achilles tendon and the ankle. The hologram represents a cat’s eye or Michael’s eye for the game. The design team knew this was the special feature of the shoe so every line accents this. The shoe is organic; much like a cat and Michael’s game. So the pieces all flow together: from the sole unit to the asymmetrical collar; the heel to the forefoot. The lines are simple but elegant; just like Mike.
Brett Golliff is a Designer 1 at New Balance
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