Brett goes 1 on 1 with Tom Luedecke, designer of Chris Paul’s newest signature ride.
One of my favorite shoes this season is the Jordan CP3.V. It is the first non-retro Jordan I can say I have been drawn to in a long time. There are a few key elements that really take the shoe to a new level, in particular are its clean aesthetic, color blocking and material selection. In my opinion the shoe takes the brand in the positive direction for its signature player shoes.
I felt it necessary to learn more about the product and by doing so I had a discussion with one of the most talented designers at Nike today, Tom Luedecke. He has a very storied design past, including help create one of the greatest Nike products ever the Grigoros.
Check out our conversation below!
The first thing I wanted to do was tell you — you designed the Nike Grigoros, right? From the Olympic pack?
Man! That is seriously one of my favorite designs of all time. That thing’s beautiful.
Well, there were a lot of people involved on a lot of Olympic products and Sean McDowell, who was the Design Director at the time for the Olympics, he definitely helped pull a lot of those things through. So I’d say I take like 60-70% of the credit, or even 50%, and give the rest to Sean McDowell. But thanks, thanks for the note anyway.
Yeah, it was all one shot of rubber right?
Yeah and it won a bunch of design awards and stuff.
That’s awesome. Well, I guess I can start with my questions. I’ve read most of the features that have already been done on it. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of the stuff I do on CounterKicks, but I’m actually a designer as well. I work for General Motors. So I kind of approach things more from a design standpoint as opposed to just hearing about the story of the shoe.
So my first question is what were your performance goals when starting the project for the shoe?
Really it was building the best shoe for Chris that we know how to build basically. Knowing that the brand has been working with a lot of premium leathers, etc. in the past right? I was kind of looking at Chris and his style of play through a pure performance lens. So what is it that Chris is doing that’s different than other players, which just due to his size kind of dictates his playing style, which comes from his dad and his brother working with him you know from middle school on. I really looked at how he plays really influenced how the shoe was designed.
What we did is when I met with him from consecutive meetings — the first time we met we kind of dissected his first four signature shoes literally to the point where it was like okay here’s your first signature shoe. What did you like? What didn’t you like? What worked well? What didn’t work? What would you want to see in your current product off of this model; what wouldn’t you? We did that on all four products. And, we found likes. We found a lot of kind of like could live without it, could not — and you know kind of ambiguous and then a few key cannot haves like things that didn’t work for him in the past or that he was wary of. And then we looked at kind of, if you look in the past you only get so far, so we looked into where would I think we could take his product, and also where would he like to go with this product. It’s a combination of all this information that I took in and then kind of put that aside. So there’s a lot of research, then put that aside and just looked at scientific facts, which was basically looking at our [Nike] Sports Research Lab data from him and also a lot of video on him. So, kind of like you dissect video for game play, right?
Yeah for sure.
I dissect video for style of play and key moments that the footwear needs to have certain attributes or you know where it’s under extreme stresses. That led to a few insights regarding the use of his forefoot and how he cuts and how critical it is to his game. He definitely uses it as his key tool, right? There are other players in the game that are versatile and can do a lot of things well. What he does extremely well and better than most other players in the league — if not maybe he’s the best, he’s definitely at the very top of the list, is his cutting right? His crossovers, killer crossovers. His you know — all that stuff he is extremely fast in. A couple of the videos that I watched I literally had to go frame by frame to actually see what he was doing. Because even in slow-mo you couldn’t really grasp exactly how his hands are moving, what his legs were doing, and what the shoes were meant to do in those movements so you take those types of information, right? So his memory and history with this product, where he’d like to go in terms of sleeker, faster, lighter, right? So you have those sort of attributes that he was going towards then looking at the real facts of what is he actually putting his shoes through. So putting it through that filter then I started working on, okay we need to get to a new last.
Really? And you guys developed an all new last for it?
We looked in our library of lasts to get to the one that’s closest for him and started there. Looked at our available technologies that best suit him for his type of play and that last in mind, then looked at a lot of his feedback on other products. And what he really liked on the four, the CP3.IV, was the mesh around the collar. Then when you looked at high-speed video it actually confirms that. You know the mesh actually moves with the foot really well and gets out of the way in the sense that it buckles in small wrinkles rather than one big fold.
Yeah, like on leather.
Exactly. Like leather does. So that when he’s cutting it didn’t feel like anything was inhibiting him around the ankle, yet he could feel support in the ankle.
The trend that I’ve noticed as well in the past is that you guys are adding a substantial more amount of millimeters in foam around the collar, right? You’re making a much bigger collar foam package as opposed to what you’re doing throughout the forefoot as well. Is that aiding in it, too, you think?
For him that wasn’t so much the case, especially if you looked before it’s actually really thin around the collar. What he really wanted is that little lobe in the heel and I think that’s kind of getting to your point is that right behind the Achilles there’s this little pod of foam that’s actually like a little heel lobe of foam.
It’s synthetic on the back, fabric in the front and then the tab is attached to it. And that’s something that he said was a must have. He loves that feature. It feels to him like he’s getting locked in really, really well. You know easy to put on, easy to take off, etc., but most of all it’s the fit, the heel fit and not coming out of the shoe and that’s maybe getting to where you’re going so some things or other products you might have that type of foam all the way around the collar. On his product it was, “I really just need it there.” Does that make sense?
I like the pure functionality of it.
That makes great sense. Let me ask you this, is the whole shoe welded? I mean it’s a much cleaner silhouette. Is it an all welded upper or how did you guys achieve that?
So, it’s welded up to where it intersects with the foam package or the mesh foam package and there it’s stitched.
It has a little stitch there, which you know I think from a — you know with the Jordan you have the liberty to do a few things that maybe you know in essence that — for instance, on the Nike Hyperfuses it was like the whole shoe was fused period, right?
There was no stitch and that’s why it’s new and better and so on and so forth. The thing with the Jordan is we’re not trying to tie ourself to the same very hard-cut sort of aesthetic, you know kind of like guidelines. We leave a little bit of room to explore and have a little bit more fun and playfulness with it so we can do things that by doctrine you wouldn’t do on other products because you’re trying to.
How did the manufacturing process influence the form and the design? Were the aesthetics born from the function? I think one of the bigger stories is the 61 triangles on the upper for what Chris scored in high school, right? But it doesn’t appear to just be a pattern it also has a function to it. Is that true?
Well, it was intended to give more breathability. Unfortunately, we needed the inside layer to back up the mesh. Because it wasn’t strong enough. His cutting, honestly, Brett is ridiculous. I mean he puts like three times his body weight into a cut.
Because he’s on the ground for such a short time and he goes so hard it’s two-and-one-half to three G’s are going into the shoe.
That’s pretty crazy.
He’s about a buck eighty-five so he’s gone with close to six hundred pounds into a cut so you really have to look at your material packages. You can’t go too flimsy which on the flip side allows bigger guys also to wear the shoe and say, hey, I actually feel pretty supported here.
One of the most unique things that I saw in your CP3.V sketch notes was about how you had in the anatomical drawings that you had going where you’re putting the softer foam under the big toe on the medial side and then the firmer form on the lateral side.
Did you guys end up going that route when it hit production?
That’s how the shoe was built so essentially you have — I know it sounds bad but almost like a NASCAR track you know when you turn…
Yeah, it’s like a banked turn.
Yeah. And it’s subtle. I mean it’s not like you’re going to sink in four or five or six millimeters into that foam and really have a significant back to push against, but it’s definitely in the one to two inches. It’s a little bit of a bank to push against. The last time we talked was about one week and a half ago and he was telling me he feels like he’s cheating his competition with this shoe.
Which to me is like, oh, man that’s actually great to hear because a lot of times it’s just like yeah, I love the shoe, you know? See you later type thing until we work on the next shoe, or I want to talk about the next shoe. Where he actually had feedback on this model to say, hey, I really like what’s going on here with our platform and I feel like I’m cheating against my competition because of this.
Wow, that is great to hear.
So the ground contact time is minimal. He’s got max ground contact early, he can slow himself down without having to slap on the ground before he can actually break so to speak. So that’s one thing. And then two, because of the bank he actually has an easier way, an easier time pushing off.
That’s really unique. One of the things that first caught me about this shoe, which I already said was how clean it looks, but then on top of that when you guys did the press event in L.A. and you unveiled all the colorways, I mean the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is obviously a beautiful story and is getting a lot of love, but I felt like you guys took a different direction in the way you’re color blocking things whereas previously — like let’s use the LeBron line as an example, and not that they’re doing it wrong because I think a lot of that stuff is great too, but like let’s say the “South Beach,” right? It’s such a bright and bold color combination. But then you guys took grey and made it look beautiful by just doing simple highlights of like a bright orange or cadmium color and some purples. Was that a deliberate thing? Did you have to do a lot of variations or how did you guys end up with something like that?
Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of variation. Eric Sandy is our color designer and he’s a tremendous resource in terms of, one, what he knows about Jordan’s and he’s just like an endless well of information about the history of the brand and the man and the game so that’s great to have. Two, he’s really, really resourceful in terms of going through endless iterations to get to the right one. So we actually worked on just those two for probably about two weeks going back and forth everyday for multiple times to get those colors right. I mean before it was more of a purple-based shoe and you know a black shoe and we’re talking about the actual movie where it was a black top hat and a suit, that thing, right?
And working with Eric, he’s like, yeah, I’m not feeling that. It needs to be fresher than that. It needs to have a little bit more 2012 in it, not 1920s, you know what I’m saying?
Yeah, I know exactly what you’re saying.
So he really took it to the next level and I can only applaud him. But, yeah, it took a lot of iterations to get it to look right.
Is it safe to say that color and material played a major role in the whole process of this design?
Definitely towards the end. In the beginning it was more of the research and understanding Chris and his style of play and how he does what he does and where he wants to go so that was definitely the start of it. Towards the end and you know that as a designer. It’s like the last five percent are half the work.
So colors and materials, effects, finishes — all of that stuff takes half your time, you know?
It’s often the stuff that’s most noticed, too.
Exactly. Exactly. So you know we didn’t know where he was going to be during most of the process so the Jekyll and Hyde was a great way to make something really personal to him no matter what team he is on.
So that, and then you know you have a black base and you have a white-based colorway to wear. You know you’re going to be able to wear on whatever team you want to play on right? You got a “Home” and “Away” type color. But the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that was really for us was a way to rally around Chris and sort of do something really inspiring for him and by him so to speak. Because it really is how he is. You meet him as a person and he’s the nicest guy. I mean literally the nicest guy. And talking with his trainers and other guys that have played against him is you do not want to meet him on the court. He’s the biggest expletive, expletive, expletive on the court right? I mean he’s an absolute bulldog. He will play as aggressively against anybody else as he will playing on the NBA court, so whether that’s at home or you know whatever, he will play his absolute best and he will take his part on the court.
Yeah, so we really wanted to showcase that.
Well, I think you guys did a great job at that. Obviously, he’s had a major life change coming to LA with a different location and different team, different coach and everything, different players, does that move effect the philosophy of your guys’ future product. I’m sure you guys are already working on the CP3.VI. Is any of that affecting anything?
For me it doesn’t change really anything. His style of play is still in the same vein. The size of the market or the locale that he’s at doesn’t really change how he plays or who he is. You know? It’s just you’ve got to be smart regarding how to interact with him. What does change is it just makes it easier for me to see him. Instead of a five-hour redeye flight, it’s a two-hour early morning flight and that makes a big difference.
Yeah, that’s going to be nice.
Outside of that really for me it doesn’t change a whole lot. If anything, it makes easier to meet up and to talk shop.
That’s cool. That’s great to hear. What was the greatest challenge for you on this shoe?
Really for me it was getting the aesthetics to the point where Chris was 100 percent on board with them. I mean we had a lot of trial and error going through endless iterations on design lines. Technology-wise we were locked and loaded early. We kind of made some decisions early, tested them out. They tested out well and we were ready to go with those.
But the final design didn’t happen until very, very late in the game and that was definitely the hardest part just kind of finding a common ground between how Chris interprets sketches and drawings and how I interpret his feedback and finding common ground. Working with an athlete for the first time…this is the first time I’ve worked with Chris. It always presents its challenges to get to know somebody and then you immediately design a product for them without having a long history of and understanding their personality and how they interpret information. So we had to work that out. We had to get to a place where we understand each other’s language, how we take input and work with it and how we respond to certain stimuli, etc. So that was a challenge but we, just like with everything, work through it and you get to a place where you’re now in a much better spot, and I’m really happy that we got to the place we did and really excited for the next two products that we’re going to be working on together.
Are you guys pretty much on an eighteen-month product cycle or is it further out than that?
With this one it’s more like fifteen months and I try to balance it on the next one that I’m already starting to work on, the CP3.VII, which is eighteen months out essentially and more like eighteen/twenty months out.
So it fluctuates depending on how the prior product ends up, how much time you get to spend with the athlete and when and how their schedule works. You know with the season starting late we had a lot of time to connect this summer, which was really helpful, too, to talk on the CP3.VI and the CP3.VII.
With me, for instance, as I work, I’m working about five years ahead and which is obviously a great challenge because it’s like how much do you balance what trend is and where you see trend going. How do you do that? Do you pretty much go with doing a form follows function type philosophy or how much are you trying to balance that type of stuff?
I think balance is a good one. I think there is the — let me put a word out there to answer the question. So basketball’s a really interesting sport to design for because you have just about every motion the human body can do at a pretty extreme set, right? So there’s sprint at full speed. There’s stopping from a sprint at full speed. Then moving laterally as hard as in any other sport like soccer or football, where these guys are moving big, heavy bodies laterally and stopping on a dime type thing.
And, they’re also jumping. And, they’re doing triplanar motion where they’re, for instance, jumping up straight, turning their body around to catch the ball and you know landing and running type thing, right?
So there’s a lot of complex motion at a very high speed and a very high intensity so that puts the parameters pretty tight at times regarding what the shoe needs to do. So what it does is really focuses your attention on problem solving for the things that the athletes identify as their key deliverables basically. From Chris, it’s sprint and cut, plain and simple. You know he’s extremely fast in both those applications and he wants his shoe built around that and that’s not going to go away.
Now outside of that then you look at the technologies that are available and that the company is developing or that I’m developing. And you know how those get to be applied and live through the changes of the aesthetic of the product just simply by saying we’re not stitching anything, we’re welding everything. Or here’s a new material application that hasn’t been done before; let’s try this.
Then other aspects have to do with storytelling and athlete’s sensibility on aesthetics and where the brand that you’re working for is going. So, yeah, there’s a lot of input. I think for me I work through intuition quite a bit and reading the athletes and their feedback to me is sort of that skill that we all need to hone in the whole industry really well. Listening in the right way because some of it is the words that they’re not saying is what’s really important as much as the words that they are saying.
Wow. That’s really good. That was a great answer. Well, that was actually my last question. I know you’re a busy man, but thank you so much for taking your time out and doing this.
Brett Golliff is a Lead Designer at General Motors and former Designer at New Balance.