Footwear Design vs. Development. Do You Know The Difference?

Do you know the difference between Footwear Design and Development?

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.