Does Being an Expert Make a Better Designer?

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.

 Credit  Jess Baumung  for Canadian Running

Credit Jess Baumung for Canadian Running

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.