I consider a brand is like a company’s DNA – something that guides WHO you are, WHAT you do, WHY and HOW you do it.
A perfect example of this is the recent consulting Creative Direction and branding for the pride & remembrance run.Read More
I consider a brand is like a company’s DNA – something that guides WHO you are, WHAT you do, WHY and HOW you do it.
A perfect example of this is the recent consulting Creative Direction and branding for the pride & remembrance run.Read More
Today though, I’d like to zoom out and talk a little bit more big picture - Goals.
This past Sunday, October 21st, 2018 I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM). The culmination of 15 weeks of training, STWM was my second marathon this year, and my 8th marathon in 3 years. Earlier this year, I ran the Mississauga Marathon, in an attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I didn’t. STWM was second attempt at a “Goal Race”…
This year also marks the 11th year I have been in business as The Directive Collective. In starting my design consultancy “Goal Life” was what I had in mind…
As fate would have it, both my “Goal Race” and “Goal Life” converged at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I ran 26.2 miles/ (42.2km) in 2:58:22- 29+ minutes faster than my previous best time, Qualified for the Boston Marathon (with a time 11+ minutes faster than the qualifying standard), and broke the “Sub-3 hour” barrier, something many runners try for years to achieve.
I also designed the 30,000+ race T-shirts and bibs for runners, 3000+ volunteer shirts, and worked with New Balance Canada to design the Toronto Runs Together campaign, digital ads, expo booth graphics and official souvenir apparel collection.
So what does running a marathon have to do with running a design consultancy? Maybe nothing, but the process of setting goals and achieving them I think is very much alike.
Pick a Goal. My goal for this training cycle was to qualify for the Boston marathon. Not because it’s the hardest (NYC Marathon is much harder to qualify for). Not because you get anything special (anyone can buy the famous Boston Marathon Jacket), but because to runners it is a special race, the oldest and most famous annual marathon in world. Most importantly, I wanted to be the kind of runner than can set a goal and work hard to achieve it. In a profile in Canadian Running Magazine (Jan/Feb 2018 Issue) I mentioned my BQ goal. My fiancee asked me “are you sure you want to tell everyone that’s your goal?”. “Too late - It’s in print” I said.
In running time goals are all arbitrary, and personal. I may have to work my ass off to qualify for Boston in less than 3 hours and 10 minutes. Another runner may put in just as much work to beat their personal best of 4 hours. Cam Levins broke the 43 year old Canadian Marathon record at STWM this year in 2:09:25. Eliud Kipchoge has been approaching the 2 hour barrier (2:01:39 at Berlin Marathon 2018) that was thought to be impossible for humans to overcome. Having a goal is the first step to achieving it, even if that goal is only personal.
I started The Directive Collective because I saw the opportunity to do good, unique work that combined my love of design with strategy, marketing and business. I’ve always believed that integrated, strategic design is better than design alone. I believe that good design is as much as the idea as it is the execution. I wanted to use design to direct the bigger picture. I wanted to be hands on, to create. My business card title is “Directive Creator. I direct by creating. Not Creative Director. Not Founder. Not Owner.
Working with New Balance on the Toronto Runs Together Campaign, I was able to fulfill this goal- designing “for runners by runners” I created a strategy and graphic visual that connected the brand to the running community - before, during and after the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon - the largest marathon in Canada and one of only 36 IAAF Gold Label marathons in North America.
Special thanks to New Balance and Greg for working with me on the project and building the largest version of logo I’ve ever designed!
2. Remember why your goal is your goal. As much as running a marathon is hard work, training for marathon is even harder. Training for STWM was my first cycle working with a coach and following a training plan. Throughout all the early mornings running intervals at 6am in 98% humidity, I had to keep focused why I was doing it. I was running to achieve a goal that I set to qualify for Boston and see what I was capable of. I was running for me. As much as training gets you to the start line, it is the mind game that let’s you finish a marathon. If you don’t 100% run with your goal in mind, it’s easy to get off pace, or worse, convince yourself that it’s OK to stop. At 32km your brain is saying nothing but “it doesn’t matter"- you can stop”. Thing is, your brain is right. It doesn’t matter. You can stop. The only thing pushing you further is remembering your goal and knowing why you are running.
While doing lots of awesome work, across a large range of disciplines including branding, graphics, illustration, footwear design, footwear development, and packaging certainly was my goal in starting The Directive Collective, keeping in mind why I wanted to run my own design consultancy and not do similar work for an agency or within a corporate position has kept me focused and allowed me to grow my business. “Goal Life” was always to have a job that didn’t feel like work because I was doing something I loved. My goal in starting the The Directive Collective was to design things I wanted to design, for people I wanted to work with, with a live/work balance that lets me enjoy the success I gain from working. Throughout my 11 years running The Directive Collective, the only times I’ve ever had a bad experience were those times when I lost sight of these goals. I once took a project that I didn’t really believe in, but thought it would be good for cashflow. It was the only project yet where I’ve had to fire the client. I once took a project that I believed in, but didn’t really get along with the client. It didn’t work out. I turn down 90% of project inquiries that come to me if they aren’t the right fit with my “Goal Life”.
3. Always adapt, update, and make new goals. Going into the 15 weeks of training for STWM, I had a singular goal in mind. Qualify for Boston. I needed a 3:10 race time. 17min better than my previous personal best. I had targeted 3:13 just months earlier at Mississauga and totally failed in that attempt. The paces sounded almost impossible. But I put in the work, working with a coach for the first time ever. Learning to love (?!) the early morning training, intervals and everything else I didn’t want to do.
Weeks prior to my race those qualifying standards changed as the Boston Athletics Association lowered the standards by 5min (meaning I had to run at least 5 min faster!). At this point, I had two choices- change my goal and run faster than I the pace I had trained for, or face not qualifying. Simple. I decided I would just need to push that much more so put it all into the remaining 3 weeks and had perhaps the best 3 weeks of training I could imagine. Come race day, and following a few really good long runs, my coach said I was actually in good enough fitness to run sub-3:00, which should get me to Boston with time to spare. 1 week out from race day I redid all my paces and calculated the splits I would need to run sub-3. On race day I kept this updated goal secret, knowing that everything would have to go perfect to be under 3 hours and kept focused on my “A” goal of qualifying for Boston in around 3:05. By adapting my goals I achieved over and above my A++ expectations. Already however I’m thinking of what will be next. Can I run 2:50? 2:45?
Like any business, The Directive Collective has also had to adapt. New services, new clients and and new projects. New goals. I would love to brand and design the creative for an entire race series. I want to design a running shoe that breaks world records. I want to design a beer can. I want to start my own brand.
What are your goals? To find out how we can help you achieve your goals - contact us !
They say you never forget your first…..…Marathon, that is. I ran my first Marathon in 2015.
This October, I’ll be running my 8th Marathon - 26.2mi/42.2km along with 30,000 other runners (all wearing the race shirt I designed, BTW).
While I’ve only been a Marathoner for 3 years, and I’ve been a professional designer for almost 20, I can confidently say that I’ve become a better designer as I’ve become a better runner. And perhaps, a better runner for being a designer. Design and Marathon running are similar, so it would seem.
“______ is a Marathon, not a sprint”. I’ve heard everything from life, marriage, to eating pizza described like this, but as any runner knows there is wisdom behind the idiom. Go out too fast in a marathon, and you’ll pay for it later. Racing is all about pacing and design is no different. Like any good runner, a designer needs to have a plan in place and work with, not against the time to be efficient and effective. This may mean working slower in the start of the project to do due diligence and research before picking up the pace later for concept design or prototyping.
Laying the proper foundation for a creative project is in effect no different than training for a marathon. A training block for a serious runner can be anywhere from 12-18 weeks and include up to 75mi/120km per week of running (I’m currently at about 65mi/100km per week) not to mention all the time getting ready to run, stretching, cross training, eating, etc. Ask any runner and they will tell you it’s like having a part time job! Proper training and the build to race day is key however to run a good marathon. Each week in a training block builds on the previous week in distance, and intensity.
A design project likewise requires proper build and foundation. In my own Design Management working process, I lean heavily on both visual and written documentation to lay down position, strategy and specifications for future creative work. Design briefs are a lot like a Training Plan. They lay out the goals and describe the process you’ll take to get from mile 1 to mile 26.2 or from concept to production.
If there’s one thing that running 26.2 Miles/42.2 Kilometers gives you, it is time to think. In a race, this can be both good and bad. The first half of the marathon distance, thinking is good. No better way to kill some time and stay on pace than thinking about all the food you are going to eat after the race, or how you will have completed a marathon before most of your friends wake up for brunch….. By around 19mi/30km though the race changes. As your lactate threshold is hit and your body is literally telling you to stop and not die, it’s easy to get in your own head. “Hitting the wall” is what runners call it and at this point your brain can be shouting “STOP!!!” far louder than your legs can be saying “It’s OK, we trained for this!”. In almost all 11 marathons I’ve run, this overthinking has cost me time and almost ruined perfectly good races.
Design projects can also get to this point. Maybe it’s deep in the development process, after molds are open and production samples are approved. “A wall” is hit. Maybe a technical issue that somehow didn’t come up in weartest samples. Maybe a money issue. Maybe the factory is pushing back on schedule. It’s easy at this time to overthink things and slam on the brakes. But if you keep your goals in mind and “trust your training” it can be possible to solve the problem, push through the wall, and see the project to the finish- even if the goal needs to be adjusted you can live to race/design another day.
At the end of the day, brining a design project to fruition, like running a marathon is not easy. Like running 26.2mi/42.2km, just getting your concept to production or on retail shelves is an accomplishment that not everyone can achieve. But do it once, and as difficult as it is you’ll likely find a way to do it again. As crazy as it seems, running a marathon can be addictive- very few people only run one. Designing a product to bring to market is no different.
Like a marathon, a lot will happen on the way. Mistakes will be made. Even with perfect training factors beyond your control can go horribly wrong. You’ll get emotional highs and lows. What’s most important is that you learn from your mistakes, get creative and keep your goals in mind.
Ok- you've managed to put together a Start-Up plan, and we're now working together deep in strategy, design and development. What can you expect from here?
Following up on the last post, "So You Want to Start a Footwear Brand?" and in the light of some recent inquiries, here's an additional 5 tips for Start-Ups/Entrepreneurs who do make it past the planning stage-
1. Be patient. Planning, Strategy and laying a solid foundation are the key to the design process. Typically this includes a lot of research, written documents and Gantt charts- all before any of the "fun" sketches and designing. We will walk you through the process, but just understand that all the work upfront is key to ensuring decisions down stream are good. Building a house starts with planning, surveys and more, long before the first boards get nailed together. Building a product/brand is same.
2. Time is money. This is pretty obvious, but keep in mind it works both ways. Longer lead times can "cost" you money (ie. not shipping until a later season affects cashflow), but likewise speeding the process also can eat cash. RUSH projects are billed at RUSH rates, and making decisions to quickly can have consequences that may mean that molds are wasted or unnecessary samples are made. Expediting the process with additional travel and in-factory development is usually possible, but costs can add up. Typically we recommend the best balance in cost and overall time for deliverables, but if you want it faster, be prepared to pay.
3. Expect mistakes. Things happen. Guaranteed the first sample from the factory will be terrible. The next sample after 50 pages of development comments will likely overlook some corrections and still have issues. Final production samples will have some small QC issues. Making a shoe is not easy and typically requires over 50 parts, from 20 different suppliers and involves 15 different workers. Not to mention the development process is usually conducted "remote control" by Skype/Email with a factory who doesn't speak English as a first language. We know this and the process accounts for this.
4. Everything takes time. Material may take 20 days to prepare. Samples take 3-4 days to ship from Asia. Molds take 30 days to cut from steel. It all adds up. We'll work together to lay out a preliminary schedule for strategy, design, development, etc. and will work to hit key milestones throughout the process That being said, as per point 1, 2 and 3 above, keep in mind the schedule is built on our experience and we do our best to present an accurate, responsible timeline with buffer as needed to ensure final deliverables are on time and on budget but adjustments along the way are often necessary. More-so if the product is technically complex or very innovative.
5. Say "No". It's easy to find 1000 "opportunities" along the way. "Wouldn't it be neat to make some branded apparel to go with the shoes?"..."Maybe we can design a custom mobile app experience"...."Why don't we also design another 5 products because X customer wants Y".... Anything is possible, but it takes additional focus, resources (time and money) to change scope of work. As a Start-Up, in our experience, the key to success is staying as focused as possible on the brand and launch product. The planning process (point 1) will help lay the foundation for this, but as a founder you will likely get pulled in 10 different directions. Say "No" more often than you say "Yes" and you'll have a better chance of launching and getting to those future opportunities and more, later.
Full-service strategic, design is kinda our thing. So it comes as no surprise that we get a lot of inquires from Start Ups.
In fact, over the 11 years we've been in business, we've probably worked on more projects that involve start-up brands than anything else. At the same time, I can confidently say that probably 9.5 out of 10 project inquiries from Start Ups go nowhere.
Our integrated approach brand positioning to identity design, product design, development, graphics, packaging and marketing works great for Start Ups.... IF you are ready to get going!
Here's 10 Tips to take into consideration before you send us that first email -
1. Know the process. Have a look around our website and Work. Download our Studio & Services Guide. There's lots of information about how we work, what services we offer and what we can (and can't) do. If you are familiar with how the footwear design and development process works, getting going is much easier.
2. Be prepared. To get information you have to give information. With your inquiry, we suggest you send us as much information as possible to help determine if we can help and/or if it's a project we want to get involved with. A simple checklist includes information about-
3. Know your business. Anyone can come up with ideas. If you plan on starting a brand and making a business out of it, you should have a Business Plan that outlines how you plan to take your idea to market. We can help dial in specifics and build brands from the ground up, but you should have an idea of What you want to sell, Who you are selling to, How you are going to make money and How much you are going to need to spend to make and sell you product.
4. Understand how we work. As a full service consultancy we specialize in everything from start to finish-
The way we work means that you- the Start Up, benefit from the synergy of an integrated process. It also means we are more likely to take on your project the more we can be involved. If you are just looking for a few drawings for your patent, that's not something we would get involved with. Most Start Up projects involve at least 4 of the 6 services above.
5. Know "What You Know, and What You Don't Know". You may be early stage and have a lot of unknowns but you should have a pretty good handle on what information or deliverables you need to move forward. If you are making an inquiry, be as specific as possible. Asking "do you make shoes" isn't that helpful. Are you looking for design? Development? A supplier? We can help determine the exact nature of work that may be required, but it helps if you know somewhat what you are looking for.
6. Do your research. Does your idea exist already? You'd be surprised how often we get "great new ideas" that aren't really new at all....
7. Have your partners ready. We do a lot, but not everything. If you are looking to jump into development and sampling, you will need to bring your own supplier. Sourcing is not something we offer for Start Ups due to the risk to both Start Up and Supplier. We can help evaluate a nominated supplier and provide a Sourcing Overview document to solicit potential factories, but you need to find them. That also goes for financial partners, investment services, legal, etc.
8. Respect our time. As professionals, we are happy to take and respond to most inquiries without charging assessment fees, but we typically try to keep the exchange pretty brief. If we can't determine what you are looking for and how we might be able to help from a few emails, we aren't going to take a 30 minute call just to chat.
9. Be ready to talk money. Starting a footwear brand takes money. Lots of it. Depending on the brand, type of footwear and process, it can easily take $500-800,000USD or more to go from concept to production including branding, design, development, production and marketing. This is not all needed at once, and is more than just our fees but have these numbers in mind and an idea where the capital investment will come from if you are at seed investor stage and looking to move forward.
10. Be realistic. Be early. The earlier you come to us, the better (as long as you are prepared - see above). But being realistic in your timing and expectations is key. No, we aren't able to build a brand, design some shoes and production finished in 3 months. The typical lead-time from Brand Development to On The Shelf for a Start Up is anywhere from 1-2 years. Before we start designing any product, we insist on having a solid foundation in place. This means brand and product strategy, design briefs, research and positioning.
For lots more info, be sure to read our FAQ documents-
What we do, how we do it, and who we do it for.
So you want to start a footwear brand...
If you have a Start Up and are looking to get going working with The Directive Collective, please feel free to reach out.
With over 18 years of Footwear Design experience, I've designed products for almost every category you can think of. Basketball, Training, Sandals, Kids, Court, Outdoor, Running, Soccer, Lifestyle... you name it.
As an experienced, professional footwear designer, one of my main tasks is to quickly assess and understand a product category. With a well-crafted Design Management process, including in-depth research, trend forecasting, consumer insights, and a well-written Design Brief, any type of product can be targeted for design.
That being said, it is often the question if experience or expertise in a product category or sport can lead to a better design?
The answer is yes. And no.
I'm a runner. I currently run 6 days a week, approximately 90km (56mi) total and am training for my 7th marathon in the fall with hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon. At peak I hit almost 700km in a month, running 7 days a week, every single day for more than a year. I've raced everything from 5k to marathons, across 7+ different countries... In that time, as you can imagine, I've clocked a lot of miles in running shoes.
It's one thing to design a running shoe, research running shoes, or even cut up running shoe samples, and another to run 74km on a very long run (Toronto to Hamilton), over 12+ hours in the middle of summer heat.... or know how a shoe feels running through a foot of snow in -30C. At some point you get to know every single stitch and piece of rubber on that shoe.
So does that make me a better running shoe designer? I'd have to say yes. I know how materials breathe and wear. What it feels like to lace up or unlace a shoe. How a midsole feel changes from being fresh out of the box to 400km used. The difference between how a shoe feels on a long run vs. 400m interval session and race day. I run with other runners and one thing all runners talk about is shoes. "What are you wearing? What do think? Have you tried the new...?"
But here's the thing- there's also value in sometimes not knowing much at all.
Long before I ran my first (slow and difficult) kilometer, I was designing running shoes. I built the brand platform, identity and designed the first few seasons of SKORA performance running without being a runner. (True fact- designing for SKORA turned me into a runner!)
Built upon the momentum of the minimal running category and performance interest in natural running, my outside perspective was an asset. Challenging the status quo, SKORA was founded on principles of doing things differently. A new philosophy in positioning, business management, marketing and product.
Not "knowing" running, I was able to leverage my experience in other footwear categories to craft design that borrowed lifestyle element from sneakers, leather materials from soccer shoes and graphics and branding from consumer tech companies. SKORA products didn't look like traditional running shoes, because they were not designed with the knowledge of how traditional running shoes were made.
While Footwear Director at hummel International A/S I brought this same cross-category thinking philosophy to performance football (soccer) footwear. Far from an expert in soccer (I played maybe 3 games in rec league when I was 5), I was able to mix lifestyle elements and a new visual approach with technology and performance from other product categories to create a signature look for the brand.
(At Right, the 2007 hummel 8.4 PIO, nominated for a Volvo Sport Design Award)
Thanks to this new, "outsider" approach, hummel was able to gain recognition, sales and critical acclaim from athletes, fans and the press and position itself to compete against more traditional larger brands established in the highly competitive European football footwear market.
So... what is the best approach? It depends. Either way, the foundation of our design approach is based on 18+ years experience in design. More than anything, cross category design is our speciality and mixing materials, performance stories and aesthetics from one category to another built upon a solid brand foundation and design DNA document is always a win win.
Contact us today to see how we can help design the right product for your brand.
Deciding what services your brand or project needs is the first step and our initial interaction with potential clients is often in advising and recommending the correct process and deliverables long before any creative work is commissioned.
Footwear design is the creative endeavor of designing a shoe - both from a visual and technical aspect. Once a solid design brief has been created (see Design Management for more on this) , an iterative design process is followed moving from a variety of looser sketches to a tighter final design, rendering or specification depending on the project needs.
Some wrongly believe that this is the end of the footwear creation process and all that needs to happen is to deliver this final design to a willing factory to and "start production" or "make samples".
This is almost never the case.
The end of the design process is in fact the start of the development process.
Before a supplier can even begin development, a detailed conversation will need to take place to cover important issues of costing, tooling, manufacturing capabilities and MOQs (minimum order quantities) as well development costs and schedule.
From here, (if everything is ready to start such as needed last development, size grading, etc.) the factory may begin the development process, interpreting the final design specification.
For upper design and development, this involves the creation of a First Pullover sample. From this initial pullover, we then review the samples, and provide detailed notes, comments and pattern corrections to the factory to best ensure consistency with design intent, addressing visual as well as technical and performance issues. This process continues with several rounds of samples until the pattern is confirmed, at which time colorway samples and then made, reviewed and remade until all colors and materials are also confirmed along with required artwork, graphics and details. It is not uncommon to go through 3 to 6 or more rounds of samples before final product confirmation.
For outsole design and development, this process starts typically with a re-issue of the 2D tech drawing based on manufacturing and last specifications. We then review this drawing, provide comments and corrections and then repeat the process until 2D is confirmed, a 3D drawing is likewise confirmed and a wooden or 3D printed outsole model is created and meets all technical and visual standards for the project.
Depending on the project, factory, timeline and budget the development process can typically take anywhere from 1-6 months and many (many!) rounds of samples, 2D drawings, 3D drawings, wooden models, 3D prints and more.
Not before this development process is done however is the footwear design ultimately realized, even just for a visual or weartest sample.