Everybody has their favorite, go-to pair of shoes that they can always depend on for functionality and style. What is the secret formula to creating this shoe for your brand? In this article, we outline the top four elements to prioritize when designing an epic shoe.. Whether you are an executive in the footwear industry or sketching your dream design for the first time, here are the four, tried and true pillars of designing a great shoe:
1. Design & Detail
Design tends to be a cyclical process where the visual components of the shoe are stretched, sharpened, softened or exaggerated. These different styles evoke an emotional and visual reaction depending on what is in or out of style at that time. Trending themes in design are consistent across various industries such as automotive, apparel, art, and architecture. The designer must be aware of where they fit in that criteria and make this a conscious process. Is your design with or against the trend?
The biggest issue for design is identifying your iconic signature “design language”. Your signature design language should be balanced, consistent and relate to the views and perspectives you hope to convey. Often with shoes, the upper, midsole, and outsole all end up with their own language. These conflicted designs will never last in the marketplace. All parts of the shoe must speak to one another with consistent angles and energy. Design is not a scientific method; it’s an artful and holistic process.
Another common mistake in design lies in the details. Many designers get so caught up in adding detail that the theme gets lost in the busyness. Less is more in this case. Too much detail does not enhance, but distracts – don’t add more for the sake of more. Try beginning with a small drawing on a “post-it” pad. Keeping the initial design on a very small scale simplifies it and imitates a vantage point of 10-20 feet away.
There are three levels of detail to consider:
- Ten feet away: This will be the overall first impression of the shoe – What will make people stop and look at it? Decide what your eye-catching visual will be to avoid blending in.
- Three feet away: What further draws people in? These details are in the texture and appearance that will make you want to take a closer look. Is it soft or strong, flexible or stiff?
- Touching the shoe: What will make someone want to sit down and try it on? What makes them decide to take it home? The attraction is in the tactile qualities, the way it feels and the small details you don’t notice right away.
The best products are the ones where we continue to discover more details and features that we love, even after purchasing.
2. Fit & Feel
What makes your favorite shoe in your closet? Usually it’s the shoe that is so comfortable that, somehow it feels as if you aren’t wearing shoes at all. Feel also symbolizes the way it resonates with your style and confidence. In the end, the word “comfort” comes into play. Aside from physical comfort, there is a metaphorical aspect as well – it’s something you get used to. Many women swear that 6-inch high heels are comfortable because they provide an emotional comfort and reflect how they see themselves.
What is so odd or wonderful about this topic is that there is such a wide range of footwear that people love, from Chucks to Vans, Italian driving shoes to Tod’s. The idea of fit and feel is broad. You must decide what fit and comfort qualities you stand for and represent as a brand.
Once you do, it’s critical to have consistency in this fit throughout every style. Many brands have too many lasts, risking the opportunity for the fit and comfort to change. Keep lasts to a minimum in order to provide predictability to your buyer. On the physical fit side, the last is the “black magic”. It is the critical determination of fit that very few truly understand. We will discuss the importance of lasts in a future article.
3. Performance & Functionality
Many brands over analyze the idea of “performance”, but it isn’t as important to the market as you think. In reality, anyone who truly needs performance shoes is not purchasing them, they are being given to them through sponsorship deals. Very few of us need anything called performance – we are not professional or Olympic athletes. However, what we do need is function.
Brands have recognized that there is a wide variety of people all with their own unique needs. For example, runners need varying levels of support, flexibility and cushioning. Designers must be in tune with the raw function and awareness of what the shoes will be used for. If it’s a hunting shoe or snow shoe, it must be waterproof. If it’s a hiking shoe, it must have solid support and traction. Most consumers are looking for basic features, but brands are failing to address these basic needs by focusing strictly on technical attributes rather than highlighting the sensation of a product. In their mind, a functional and realistic benefit far outweighs an unnecessary technical one.
4. Look & Versatility
When we discuss “look”, we aren’t talking about design. Look is much more of a reaction to the styling of the shoe and a reflection upon how you want to be perceived. How will the shoe fit into the your existing style? Having an understanding of your consumer will help you achieve what look they are after.
Over the past few decades, we have been watching this amazing continuum of certain silhouettes – Chuck Taylors, Doc Martens, Vans, and Nike Frees to name a few. They have all become classic staples and fulfill a certain look. When you examine these shoes, they are extremely simple – and simple is the most difficult thing to make new.
The great thing about simplicity is it brings versatility. Of course, colors and materials also play a large role when evaluating versatility. Though a bright red, mesh Nike Free is fun and bold, it loses most of its versatility. A great product can cross over into multiple social situations, thus becoming your favorite shoe in your closet.
These four elements will all come together to lay the foundation for your footwear design process. Through our years of experience at Concept 21, we have come to realize that designing iconic footwear is a science as well as an art form, where the emphasis of each element varies based on the unique vision of each brand.