Check out my most recent project the Zoom Kobe IX Elite and keep coming back this week as I will adding more projects from my portfolio.
Check out this Air Jordan 2012 Concept I created this summer.
The project focused on how to create light-weight structural integrity while manipulating mass and form. I was heavily inspired by the architect Zaha Hadid and here blending of man made materials with natural forms.
Check out the full process at my series on CounterKicks.com!
Design Insight | The Architect | Part 3
We, as designers, all do our inspiration board or whatever may be, what industries inspire you the most? Is it an industry? Is it a thought? Is it an idea? What inspires you?
I will tell you I am still most inspired by amazing sporting events or sporting accomplishments. I make a point of going to a lot of sporting events at all different levels; high school to college to professional. I see people do amazing things and that inspires me the most because in the beginning almost every project revolves around trying to help those very people to be even better somehow. That is really where it starts for me and having been an ex-athlete I am really sympathetic to that and I enjoy watching it and understanding it. That’s number 1, number 2 though is a trickier answer for me but probably the second most inspirational business or design arena that influences me the most would probably be the automobile and motorcycle industry, those industries where everything has to work really well for performance safety and lots of complications. I’ve always said to people if you look at a car it has roughly the same proportions as a shoe. You can see what people are thinking about it, of course cars take a long time to develop and so do motorcycles and other things of that nature; so they are sometimes are not as far out as they probably should be and there’s so much investment and you see concept cars that sometimes take that leap forward a little bit more. I pay a lot of attention to those industries. I am a motorcycle rider and I love to drive; often times we’re looking around to see what’s cool out there in the world of transportation. That probably is the second most inspirational partof my design process.
Then I would like to just add that I talk about but other people here at Nike also talk about how every time I sit down and design something that what comes out on the computer screen or the sketch paper is really a culmination of everything that I have seen and done up to that point.
I love that you just said that!
I think it’s really true of writing, it’s true of design, I think it’s true for people who are creating music and all of it’s just really a jumbo of all of those things that ultimately leaks back out when you try and create. That’s really important because that means a person can inspire you or a piece of architecture or music, you just go on down the list and it is an amazingly rich palate to draw from.
I think my favorite part about that is when you’re drawing something like two months after you’ve seen something that resonated with you but you didn’t know why and then you realize why you were attracted to it and what made you want to study it. I love when you get that element of this all adds up for one reason, you know?
Yeah, exactly! Then kind of almost in retrospect you go, oh my gosh I get it now. You totally start to understand yourself a little bit better.
Yeah because there is something that you couldn’t figure out months ago that starts to come together naturally.
Something, pops in like whoa, yeah I get it. That happens to me and I think that’s a little bit of a mysterious process to a lot of people who aren’t creative or don’t see themselves as creative and they completely freak out and I think it’s kind of funny to listen to people who are very smart people but they just go I don’t know how you thought about that or how you come up with that but it’s really neat and you just answer with well you it’s paying attention.
Can you describe an evolution in your work?
I do think I can actually. I remember when I was in architecture before working on sportswear and footwear, early on I was really driven on a little bit more of a utilitarian approach to problem solving and then I think I might be, but I am not certain of this, but I might be one of the first, if not the first footwear designers to start to understand the delicate but important relationship between utility and art. What I think happened for me in the mid 1980’s, toward the end of the 1980’s, I think I really started to establish myself as someone who was bringing art to the process of designing athletic footwear and art to me isn’t just a part to describe the creative process, it is the aesthetics, the color and richness and texture and composition and all of those things we associate with good art. So that happened for me.
Then I think sort of evolving further forward I think that Nike benefited from that, I don’t know of any designers who were inspired by so many things as I was in the mid 1980’s and then toward the 1990’s. My presentations were much more rich and involved than anybody else’s because they were again just trying to solve some utility problems and performance issues and they weren’t linking that back to anything in modern culture or with the personalities with the athletes. I feel pretty good about that and that was an evolving thing for me because I don’t think in architecture before that or in some of my other product design and graphic work before that I don’t think it was as evolved.
Then I would say that through the years the process for me, it’s not that I changed the approach but I just got a lot quicker at it. I pretty much design shoes now in an hour. I think I have some how internalized the process enough and have enough experiences that when someone asks me to do a project or I am thinking of doing a project, I might sit around for a few days and ponder it but when I sit down and get ready to go I usually have a pretty well thought out design in about an hour. I am doing it all on an iPad now so I can color it and even render it pretty quickly and actually shoot it to somebody.
Like I’ll tell you a quick story, I was at the French Open last year sitting in Roger Federer’s box with his wife-to-be, Mirka, with my daughter sitting next to me and we were going to have a meeting the next day. So I watched him play tennis, he actually lost the match but it was still fun none the less, but I went back to my hotel room and thought about the fact that I was going to have a meeting with him and I guess I knew so much about tennis and knew a lot about him. So I decided to go to the meeting without any preconceived ideas, I should say without a preconceived design and we had the meeting, I talked to him and listened to him and I literally jumped on the Metro, took the train back to my hotel after the meeting; this is the day following his match. Drew something up in forty minutes, emailed it to him and to the Creative Director of Tennis, to our head of Sports Marketing of Tennis, to Roger, and to a couple of other people and everybody got it an hour from when I started. Roger had an iPad and he got back to me right away and said well this is very cool. He said how did you do this so quick, I just downplayed it and said it is not that difficult.
You just know what not to do.
What I would say about this evolution process is that you’re learning and then maybe you come to some sort of realization about what could be different and fresh about how you design, which I think happened to me in the footwear side of things. Then you can refine that and you may not change and in my case I don’t think I have ever changed my general philosophy but the evolution is that I got so much quicker. I can just spit out stuff right and left. It still takes time to refine the design and/or go through the sampling process, as you know full well, that you have to wait for things, but just getting the drawing out has become a real quick process for me.
You said you were just at the French Open, how has traveling and experience affected your design and process. Can you give an example?
I have told this story before and it’s an easy one to tell. Back in those 1980’s, it was about 1986 or so; I traveled to Paris, went to the Pompidou Center. I was really struck by it, I knew it was controversial and there were still a lot of people in Paris that hated the thing but I thought it was really interesting in how Renzo Piano had turned everything inside out and you could see the guts of the building and all of that changed architecture forever when he did that. When I came back from that trip that was really when I thought about exposing this Air Technology that we have and cutting a window that is on the side of the midsole and essentially letting that spill out and letting people poke it, touch it, see it and shine a light through it and I wouldn’t probably have done that had I not traveled to Paris and been somewhat influenced by that work of the Pompidou and have it leak back out on to the page and on to the tracing paper. That happens quite often.
Is there anything that you would like to design yet that you haven’t? It doesn’t even have to be a shoe, it could be a phone; is there anything that you have not been able to do but you still have ideas that you would want to try?
Let’s see, I still do architecture, I’ve done furniture; I think that something I’ve always wanted to design would be a boat.
Like a beautiful motor launch of some sort, I say that because I like boats and I think that the fluidity of a boat and the fact that a boat actually has to move through this medium. There’s something in common about most boats and it has a lot to do with the hydrodynamics, obviously; I just find that to be really fascinating and beautiful. I love the water and I think I’d like to do that maybe before I totally hang up the design spurs that would be something that I could handle. I’m not so sure about designing a car and the reason for that is I think there has been an amazing amount of interesting work done over the years with cars. There are complicated and I don’t see myself confidently making an improvement or changing the way cars are designed at all but I could see that with a boat for some reason. I don’t know, I am not sure; but I just assume stick with that story for now.
You have mentioned retirement a couple of times, do you really believe you can ever retire from design?
I don’t think I will ever retire from design. I can see myself retiring from Nike and all the travel and the meetings and the deadlines and all of that. I could see cutting back on that kind of a lifestyle. I don’t think I could ever stop designing. I do a lot of funky little projects on the side. One of my daughters is getting married this summer and I was put in charge of designing all of the invitations and save the date cards. So I am enjoying that and I think that is every bit as serious as designing a shoe or a building and it takes a great deal of care and there should be a story and some meaning behind that and that is what good design is all about. So, yeah, I think I’ll be designing till I drop, but I don’t see myself just burning the midnight oil as much. It’s kind of hard to envision putting so much energy and time into the business of design and complexity of the design work that I am doing now forever. Maybe I would like to cut back some time.
I want to be a surfer! I am trying to learn how to surf and I have been trying to learn for a while now, a few years. I would like to spend some time before I get to old and crippled up and just be able to say hey yeah I am a surfer. I can go surf but I wouldn’t call myself a surfer yet. I don’t catch waves with regularity so I am still struggling.
That is awesome!
I can’t thank you enough for doing this. Truth be told, not to get too sentimental or anything but I really don’t believe that Brett Golliff becomes a designer without you. I mean, I grew up in Angola, IN and in 7th grade we were asked to pick what we want to be when we grow up and at that time I had just read about the Jordan XIII; which to me is the best idea of Industrial Design. I remember telling my teachers I want to be a shoe designer and them looking at me like I was crazy, like no you have to be an engineer.
I sought you out and from that point on every time in art class we had to use an artist and give the history on them you were the person I picked.
Wow. Well you don’t know how meaningful that is to me because I have to tell you that I still don’t always understand the fascination that people have with footwear or sneaker design. It’s kind of like wow who’d of thunk that? So it’s really fun to hear that from somebody from a completely different state or region or even a culture, so I thank you for that. Thank you for making my day if not maybe the rest of my career; just hearing that is pretty cool, thank you.
Design Insight | The Architect | Part 2
You mentioned the Hurache and a few other projects. One of things I’ve enjoyed about you and that I think has become challenging now because there is a shoe for everything is that you actually created product. You created Cross-Training, you had your hands all over Free, you created the Hurache and then those have been passed into other designer’s hands and have become categories within themselves. How do you feel that those categories that you created or helped create have evolved?
That is a really difficult question to answer. I don’t want to make it seem like they haven’t done well or have done well one way or the other. It seems to me thought that part of what I feel like has been my job over the years is to work as a micro and macro level and some people can do that and some people can’t and for me it seemed to be fairly easy to sit down and look at bigger trends and strategize at a different level, so to speak at the 30,000 foot level. So when I have done that and then you share that idea with someone else you are actually asking basically for people to join your cause in a sense. You are also then giving away your ideas so that others can riff off of that.
One of my favorite stories is actually tennis. If you go back to the John McEnroe days, tennis had a few interesting products around John McEnroe but they weren’t even really tennis shoes. He was jumping around wearing different shoes all the time; he was even wearing a Cross-Trainer for a while in the original Air Trainer. But tennis didn’t really take off for us until Andre Agassi came along and it was all about taking a look at Nike and deciding that Nike was not a traditional tennis company and that we were never really going to beat anybody by trying to do traditional stuff. So the bigger idea was to create a tennis line around the anti-country club/anti-establishment approach and Andre happened to come along at the right time to represent that for us. That was completely something that I thought up and worked on and I did develop and design some product around but to me it was really an opportunity to sort of hand the cross to a bunch of other people and a new way to think about a sport and I was really happy to be able to initiate that and then actually step away and watch it take off and grow and see other people finally sort of the see the light so to speak and go ahead and design other items that were not traditional for tennis and it worked and worked for quite awhile. I think tennis itself as a sport lost a little bit of momentum and it became more and more difficult for us to put a lot of resources towards tennis but I feel a little special now that I’m older I feel like what will probably be the biggest contribution to Nike when I finally retire won’t be having designed anything in particular but will have been establishing a philosophy around design and then helping others find their own route to success.
Those things I look at whether it is Cross-Training; which is a category that didn’t exist before we looked at its versatility and there is other things like that such as ACG I sort of helped start that and definitely the whole Air Jordan Brand was my idea and I’m really proud of that one because again there were lots of Nike people who didn’t want to take the swoosh off of any Jordan product because they were very protective of it. I said no I think that we can grow the business and grow our overall share of the business if we have a two-pronged attack. One prong is the Nike with the swoosh with its own design philosophy and the other prong is going to be the Jordan approach. Which is more sophisticated, classy but with a twist approach.
You touched on quite a few questions that I want to lead into right there. I thought that was a great answer by the way. I guess one of them is you mentioned how you work with other people and your sharing this idea, one thing that I have always enjoyed not only as a student of design but even so far as a young professional designer is over lunch or just talking with somebody you get this feel of a collaboration, I love unplanned collaborations because I believe that the best ideas come from random conversations and not planned meetings, are there any instances that you felt like that was important?
I am huge advocate of mixing it up with people, listening and collaborating. There are times when you have to say to yourself, “I need to go away and complete this project.” But most often what really happens is that an idea can come from any place and it takes a few folks to throw their ideas together to make it whole. I think that most of us that have been around for a while know that you can’t design a toothpick without some collaboration. I think that the more complex projects get which by the way I am deeply involved in marketing and use to be quite involved in advertising, all of that has to sort of come together pretty well for products to be successful and it’s so collaborative it is kind of an unplanned process most of the time. You do have people who will put the matrix up on the wall and they talk about these people need to be involved in one and another group this way. But what I find is that I am always out on the streets talking to people, I am talking to athletes all the time; I am really comfortable with athletes and then just conversations lead to collaborative thought. So that’s really unplanned and often times that really sparks the best stuff. I am big on that, I like that a lot and I like for people to feel empowered and invested in an idea so that they feel and rightfully so are involved in the original idea so that everybody works a little bit harder. I never thought of myself as an oh let’s say an Alexander McQueen type or something like that who probably has some vision and as creative as it might be and probably thought most of it up himself but then has a team of people that just go out and execute it. I never really thought of myself that way. I try to give credit to a lot of different people when I can.
From the outside looking in, I think there is a good example in that in your relationship with Mark Smith. After reading about his graphic work on the Jordan IX and on many other products such as the Jordan XX3; I think it is the perfect example of successful collaboration, right?
I’m so glad you brought up his name because I was actually just in a meeting with him and he is currently and has been for the last three years is the Creative Director for the Jordan Brand. Before that I really collaborated with him during this past three years on a lot of projects, but before that if you go back to the Jordan IX and several since that point. He was extremely influential in the final outcome of the products. We had a great time traveling together and visiting MJ together and it became a little bit more fun and interesting to have his creative influence because he does come from more of a graphic design background.
You can tell that. You can see that completely in his laser work and his logo play. You can see that 100%, especially in the Jordan XX and XX3.
Absolutely! That is what made the collaboration work as well as it did. You had MJ in one corner, me in another corner and Mark Smith representing the third leg of the stool if you will. Everything was complementary. I felt like there for a while it was really fun, provocative and productive period of design, I love that. I am hoping to actually increase the number of projects that I do with Mark Smith in the future, I kind of miss some of that.
You seem to be what I would consider the designer’s designer. You have literally been a graphic designer, an architect, a footwear designer, an illustrator and so on. As a designer today, what gives you the greatest thrill?
I feel like I’m a natural born teacher. I come from a family of teachers and coaches and my greatest thrill quite frankly and I feel like this is a very honest approach, I feel like what I am really best at is passing along what I know, kind of communicating a process and also a philosophy, I do that a lot now. I speak, I do quite bit of public speaking, I am not a polished public speaker; but I tell a lot of stories that are interesting to myself and to others. It does kind of transcend disciplines and becomes useful story telling and information-transfer for all kinds of designers. I think when I finish with a good performance if you will, you know in that regard I think that thrills me more than anything. I don’t think that it is easy, I think it’s difficult for people to believe so I feel like that kind of gives me the biggest thrill because I’m always like oh boy I don’t know if these people are always going to like what I have to say or if they’re going to believe it or if they’re going to respect it. When it works out well I just always feel good about that.
It sounds like you love being challenged. It is very similar to the first question I asked you, when I asked you what gives you the most satisfaction and you said you like the projects that no one really believes in. It is kind of on that same level where people might not be as confident in what you are doing and you kind of prove them wrong.
Some people around here call me a provocateur and I accept that label with pride because you kind have to have a certain personality to be unafraid to go against the grain a bit. You, as a designer, and now in two or three different disciplines and different businesses you probably have all kinds of stories to tell about that process of not being quite sure people are going to along with your plan. Then when you find a way to convince them and sometimes it’s just the quality of the work that convinces people, it’s a really gratifying and difficult. We have about 600 designers here at Nike and not are all footwear designers about 100 of them are; but none the less we have 600 designers here and I talk to quite few on a daily basis and one of their biggest frustrations and one of the biggest questions about how to be successful is the ability to convince people that your idea is a good one. Your ability to, in a sense, help other people feel invested in your idea and they start to adopt it as their idea; there’s a real art to that. There is a trick to that and I think it’s fun. It is challenging and that sometimes people are very, very difficult. You kind of have to enjoy it a little bit or I think it would be really difficult to have a good time, especially in a bigger company that’s got politics.
The Dynasty begins…