Hard to believe that it’s already been three and a half weeks but I’ve been plenty busy at Under Armour. After plowing though some late nights and a few hours during the weekend I came across a topic that I think is something that doesn’t always come easy to some designers during the design cycle. Continue reading Training Camp With Tom Spence – Week 3 & 4: Check In…
Inspiration – Reference.com defines it as an inspiring or animating action or influence. The keyword for me here is influence, what influences me to think beyond the expected. Looking though some of B’s inspirational trips to Europe (Berlin & Copenhagen) and reading into what he achieved while overseas is unique to Brett, no one else could’ve seen the same places and processed those images exactly like Brett. His final design is a direct result of his inspiration and what he’s taken from his own experiences and injected it into the end result.
I always imagine a new project as a blank slate, not referencing image, previous shoe, etc., until I formulate a brief to help guide me through my inspiration. The brief may be a simple update to a product, keeping the same DNA from last year’s release throughout this year’s model. Other times it’s thinking outside the box; try to think of a shoe being more than just an outsole, midsole, upper, but as a story we tell through design. Vibram FiveFingers wasn’t a result of someone thinking how they could sell frog feet to runners, it was a result of minimalistic runners needing a product to protect their feet without interfering with their running style.
I wanted to share a very generalized way I look for inspiration as well as a few places to go to see new ideas outside of CounterKicks and other footwear blogs.
Looking at structure and how we construct buildings, how a bridge can support the weight of itself plus people, trains, cars, buses, and trucks. Flywire is a direct result of the idea of minimalistic structure in how it gives great strength with wires much like a suspension bridge. For many products we look for speed and how to translate speed through graphics and motion in the shoe, always trying to find a way to make the shoe look like it’s going fast even though it’s sitting on the shelf. We can get a sense of the identity of the shoe from here, speed, structure, power, etc., can come from man made products and ideas.
A lot of my inspiration for projects ends up in this silo. I think that looking here can provide solutions that we don’t need to invent because Mother Nature has already provided us with them. Incase has a trademark material that references a topographical map. The have a “Can Do” attitude with their products; they tell a story of a go-anywhere do-anything mentality. A simple map from nature can inspire a material that they have made recognizable.
Another great example of this is traction. Looking at gecko feet is looking at the ultimate herringbone. They have the ability to climb vertical surfaces without resistance due to their amazing feet. With millions of tiny hairs and pads they create a small electrical attraction and can literally “glue” their feet to almost anything but with ease pick their feet back up and continue walking.
The final inspiration I wanted to discuss is culture and I believe this the trickiest. If you look at footwear and the culture that follows, some of the best pairs of shoes were never the best selling. During my internships at New Balance I learned that the 600 series, also known as the barbeque shoes, was a huge portion of the business. The DNA of that line was a male looking for a white leather traditional tennis shoe, no flash, no called out technology, nothing that would attract attention, white based with navy details. Even though the shoe seemed to look about the same every year, it was keeping the lights on and there was that cultural following. The same thing goes for Nike, Jordan, Under Armour, and every major footwear brand has that tap into a culture.
The ways I look at culture for inspiration is: A) If the project is an update to a previous shoe, who buys it and why, keep the elements that maintain the DNA, but update the details or B) Who are you trying to appeal to? I’ve been doing a lot of work for UA basketball and what I keep getting reminded by is the culture behind basketball. Basketball shoes will always need to perform, but also need to look good on and off the court. Most basketball shoes weren’t designed with the idea that people would be wearing jeans with them. Here in Baltimore I’ve seen more people wearing Foamposites to the mall, then playing on a court. I’ve heard guys say they’re heavy, they’re not that breathable, etc, but they still purchased a $150+ shoe because why? “It looks good.”
Culture can define a brand; you can design shoes for anyone, but the people buying your shoes and the following you create is what you’ll be known for.
A few places I look online for inspiration are:
On a side note, a few projects I’ve worked on have hit the field…
Francisco Liriano’s UA Team Yard III:
Miles Austin’s Nitro II Low in Breast Cancer Pink:
Hoping to get some great inspiration during a visit to NYC, until next time,
Tom Spence is currently a senior at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) and a footwear design intern at Under Armour in Baltimore, MD.
Check out previous “Training Camp With Tom Spence” posts: