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Design Insight With Brett Golliff: THE POWER OF COLOR

Brett examines the Power of Color.

One of my many jobs as a designer is creating color. It is a hard aspect to describe, especially in the automotive world where it is as much of a science as it is a design element. In footwear it is more about selecting from a palette and applying to the theme you are looking to achieve. Over the past decade the number of colorways on a shoe has dramatically increased. The colorways have been used to celebrate accolades of athletes, mark national holidays and on the more formal side provide the customer with more options to match outfits or team uniforms.

Like many of you, I am constantly checking my footwear websites to find the latest and greatest product shots. Seeking to find what is coming next. Everyday we are flooded with posts on the next limited release in Nike Basketball, particularly the LeBron 9, the KD IV and the up-and coming Kobe VII. The LeBron was released on October 25th and we already have nine variations and it hasn’t even been two months. The KD IV has had more of a typical release with only two available since its release two weeks ago; but more are coming. The Kobe VII has yet to release and we already know there are at least three colorways to be based off of animal personas and from the catalog photos that came out a while back there are at least ten more to come. This has me thinking what is more important, form and function or color and material?

I feel if you were to ask a product designer that question they are going to answer form and function. Which should be the correct answer. They are hired by footwear companies to create product that solves a problem. They create product that makes the athlete perform better. They create product that makes the consumer perform like elite athletes. By nature they are taught to question, to rethink, never align with the thought that everything should stay the same because they are inclined to believe that they can make things better. When they apply color they are using the color as a way to accent their performance. Color is a secondary story to them because it does not factor in as a way to make the user better.

I believe color can be used in multiple ways. The two most significant ways are as a story or as a function. Right now, the most popular way color is used is as a story. Companies, Nike in particular, are using it as ways to not only gain revenue but also build hype around the release of their products. Take for instance the LeBron James line. The LeBron 1, officially known as the Air Zoom Generation, released in the fall of 2003. The life of the shoe featured five mainstream colorways:

-White/White-Midnight Navy-Varsity Crimson

-White/White-Varsity Red-Black

-White/Varsity Crimson

-Wheat/Wheat-Gold

-Black/White-Varsity Crimson

Fast forward to last season the LeBron VIII featured 17 colorways, including the LeBron signature variants that came out; the V2 and the PS (I chose to focus on the VIII because I can examine the full release as opposed to the IX that has yet to have a full product life):

-Retro/Black-Pink Flash-Filiment Green

-Black/White-Varsity Red

-White/Midnight Navy-Varsity Red

-White/White-Sport Red

-Black/Black

-White/Sport Red-Metallic Gold

-Sport Red/White-Black

-White/Black-Sport Red

-Cool Grey/Cool Grey-White

-Chlorine Blue/Black-Copa

-White/White-Metallic Gold

-White/Black-Glass Blue-Chilling Red

-Team Red/Metallic Silver-Black-Hot Red

-Black/Sport Red-White

-Cool Grey/Orange Blaze-White

-Cool Grey/White-Dark Grey-Electric Grey

-Varsity Royal/Black-White

That is more than three times the amount of colorways in eight seasons! They added special editions to help build their product line with the “China” edition giving a nod to Nike’s fast growing consumer base overseas and the most popular release, the “South Beach” edition, launched first to Miami area retailers to signify LeBron’s offseason move.

As I mentioned there is varying reasons for this influx in the amount of color options but the number one being the marketability of “Player Exclusive” footwear. As the phenomena of “blogging” and discussing footwear blew up in the 2000’s on websites and message boards across the Internet, sneakerheads became more and more inclined to wanting the “limited” edition shoes that only the players received. Footwear companies, again particularly Nike, took notice and thus found ways to make money by offering consumers limited releases. This practice took footwear in a new direction; a less serious direction. Gone were the days of making a product that focused on performance and in came the way of creating a performance product that met everyone’s needs. Now you could look great on the court and make an even greater impact off the court with your outfit.

While working with New Balance I was involved with more arguments about color than anything else. Color has much more of an effect on the consumer than the pattern or aesthetics of a shoe. Think about what you first notice when you walk into Foot Locker. Is it the shape of the shoe? Is it the crazy expensive white cordura nylon or is it the shiny, bold, black patent leather? You probably picked the latter. Now add into the fact that shoe is surrounded by 25 other shoes that are not color blocked the same and make that shoe stick out like a sore thumb and you learn what the focal point of the retailer is. Next weekend’s instance is the reissue of the “Concord” Jordan XI. I should also note that the original Air Jordan XI that released in the fall of 1995 only saw three original colorways for the mid-top. Three! For the most coveted shoe of all time. Three!

Also while at New Balance, I learned first hand of the dramatic effect the retailer plays in the role of color. Not only are they placing your shoe at liberty on their wall of product (and in New Balance’s general case, that spot is located at the bottom near the floor) but they are influencing and picking where your logo is at, where your color is placed, and even what colorways they want from you because they “know” what their consumer wants. What do I mean by influence? I mean telling you what you are going to do because if you don’t they won’t sell your product. Why do you think the new Air Jordan 2012 has a Jumpman the size of the moon on the quarter of the shoe? It’s not because it flows well with the design, it’s perhaps in part because Foot Locker wants everyone that walks in their store to know right away that it’s the new Air Jordan.

Color is an element that can make or break a product. A couple of weeks ago on my tumblr blog I referenced the distaste I have for the new Kobe VII. It doesn’t look like a pure shoe to me but more of a gimmick. In my opinion it is the best example we have seen of Nike taking their profit margins higher by offering packages similar to a car. You can get the standard version that you might roll your ankle in or you can get the all-new “supreme” version that offers stability and premium materials. It is a great story, but I just don’t like the shoe… until I started playing with their Nike ID App for Facebook and completely changed my mind. While I still stand by my feelings that it is a gimmick, it amazed me what color did for the shoe.

Also from my “Form | Function | Philosophy” blog, I had focused on critiquing the “Wolf” version of the Kobe VII. Which is dressed in the colors of Wolf Grey, Black and Total Orange. The shoe looks incredibly long, and the painting on the midsole looks cheap. The shoe also looks choppy to me, but then when I was on the Nike ID App I had the opportunity to really create a colorway that is more holistic and saw what makes the shoe great: that you can play up the different stories the designers focused on. You can set off the heel clip to really show how well they intend for you to be supported or you can focus on the midsole and how it cradles your foot. While I still don’t think the shoe is perfect, the potential color options could save it for me.

The best execution of using color as a function right now has to be on the Nike CR Mercurial Vapor Superfly III. The shoe features a “disruptive graphic treatment on the left and right side” meant to confuse defenders with the direction of which way Cristiano Ronaldo is going. If you can’t see his feet, how can you follow the ball?

The moment I saw the shoe, it instantly reminded me of the “dazzle” camouflage used primarily in World War 1 that was created by artist Norman Wilkinson for the British Naval Academy. The pattern wasn’t what most would describe as camouflage but more of a graphic of intersecting shapes that were meant to confuse the opposing navy. The graphic did nothing to hide the ships. The idea was that the colors and shapes would distract from knowing where key points of weakness, such as the bow and the stern were. It also made it difficult to identify the type, size, speed and the direction the ship was heading. While I have no idea if this is what Nike’s soccer team was inspired by, I thought it was great execution that makes the aesthetic more than just a graphic but an element of performance.

I don’t even play soccer but I want that shoe. The colors are dope and the pattern is fresh, there is nothing like that product on the market. It is as much of a work of performance art as it is a sculpture of craftsmanship to me. But if I am not willing to wear it on the field, am I buying into the fact that athletic shoes aren’t just performance footwear? I don’t know, I guess I leave that question to you. Is it the performance of the shoe you buy? Or is it the color of the shoe you buy?

Let me know in the comment section and follow my tumblr blog!

B

P.S. Nike, release the CR Mercurial Vapor Superfly III as an indoor shoe!


Brett Golliff is a Lead Designer at General Motors and former Designer at New Balance.

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Category : Blogs, CounterKicks, Design Insight, Nike

Comments (7)

Most of the colorways listed for the lebron VIII are for the lebron VII (7)

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brett, most of the time I buy a shoe for the color way, but shape, quality materials, original specs, construction, padding, comfort is just as important if not more to me. That’s the reason why I no longer buy many Nikes or Jordans anymore and am only interested in pre 05 models of SB dunks, pre 04 running models, and pre 04 Jordans. I really don’t care about Jordan anymore even the older stuff. JB’s desire for profit has killed my interest in the line. Nike’s a marketing company, not a sneaker company. It thrives on hyping up models then mass producing them until it no longer sells, then it kills the model and moves on to the next one. Nike has made collecting shoes a fad and that has really made me lose interest. There is nothing but gimmicks and these hype beasts gobble up. I will be glad when JB’s dominance over the American footwear market ends as well as this retro craze because then Nike will be forced to come up with new ideas and possibly other companies will actually pose a threat instead of all playing Nike’s game. I think that Nike will be threatened within each sport segment and that one company will not replace Nike, just as it replaced Converse and Adidas in the 70s and 80s. At least back then everything wasn’t focused on gimmicks and hype, but instead on performance and innovation. There was actual competition between the different brands. Reseeling shoes is pointless now, it’s not like 03 or even 06 when you had Ewayz selling all kinds of limited shoes and Flip jays with 30+ pairs of Grape Vs. Just like baseball cards, when the brands sold out and mass produced the stuff, the market died and the culture faded. All these kids buying Jordans now thinking they’ll be worth something will be like those people in the eighties who bought BOXES of ’89 basketball cards and now they are worthless; you can’t even give them away. Since Nike is so focused on quarterly growth it’s drive for profit is never-ending, thus why so many good shoes are milked for all they’re worth and run into the ground, but since Nike always seems to have another shoe or idea/ gimmick innovation (there haven’t really been any innovations since Shox) waiting to be unveiled, it will continue to be successful. Creating an image of cool with it’s logo allowed Nike to be so dominant. That can’t last forever, so let’s see how the next ten years go. imo JB will fall soon because they are desperate for collector’s attention with releases like Chicago X’s and White/Cement IVs…..we aren’t paying attention anymore, the beasts will move on, and the brand will fall…it’s all part of Nike’s plan though (get a small following, mass produce, and kill the line)…it exploited collectors in the late 90s and early 00s, when it catered to collectors with limited releases, then the culture died…….so to answer your question, the color of a shoe matters, but it’s performance also matters. To most hypebesats, the color way is all they care about for the most part.

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I buy shoes for both, this is a great piece on how much the industry has really changed with the influence of sneaker head market making all these colorways on shoes that was unheard of 10 years ago.

When I buy product, it has to have performance and form first; then I look for the best color-story. It has changed these days when sneaker cos are often thinking style/story first over revolutionary design ideas like they did in the past when they could not rely on limited colors to help sell or make a shoe; but had to go on actual design alone.

Great info on how much retailers like FL controls and tells shoe brands what to do on making their own shoes. The buyers are as much co-design control in a shoe as the main shoe designer themselves!

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Thanks for the detailed comments guys. I am glad to hear that you at least if not completely buy around performance.

OWD, you have no idea how much the retailer controls the brands. It is not as dramatic in Nike but it is pretty strong amongst every other brand. I imagine Adidas is getting some of their own leeway right now because of their success in basketball and having Derrick Rose but there are times when retailers literarily tell you to copy a Nike colorway. Honestly, it is a little heartbreaking when it happens because you have designed this product that has so much meaning to have it come down to not selling because it doesn’t have a colorway similar to Nike.

Henry, I have been saying the same thing since at least 2002 and nine years later retro’s still sell and the Jordan Brand is still here. I think the Jordan Brand is still a fantastic brand with lots of equity but they are being pigeon-holed by the market where they can’t do much else but heritage related product. It is sad.

As for saying Nike is not innovating and nothing more then marketing, I would disagree. They have done some very innovative stuff such as HyperFuse and even their color palette is innovative in its approach. The issue is that those are not being celebrated as much because that is not what the consumer is asking for.

Maybe our real issue here is our outlook of the consumer, have they stopped looking for new things and only want what comforts them?

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B, I agree with you on the colors. I remember flipping to an NCAA game and the team had white shoes, but my eyes kept going to 2 players that wore predominantly orange kicks! Talk about wanting to standout. With the PE’s, special holiday colors and themes it feels like there are different colorways dropping every week.

With sneakers becoming more of “the” fashion statement instead of part of it, colors and design are forced to be a huge factor on consumers. More people have more than 2 pairs so to keep a demand colorways will drop till the next model comes out… in three months…

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very interesting….

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Thanks for checking it out guys.

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