5 Reasons Why Footwear Design Is Dead

Harsh title, I know. But don’t worry, we’re not closing the site and changing careers.

While I don’t personally believe footwear design is actually dead (far from it), I’m looking at the industry with a very different set of eyes than most. What I’m referring too with that garish title, is the public perception/understanding of footwear design. The biggest problem being that their lack of understanding isn’t even their fault for the most part.

I also don’t want to veer off on a conversation and whine about how under appreciated footwear designers are, or how the design and development of footwear often gets overlooked (because honestly, I feel like it’s getting a lot better). We aren’t curing diseases or solving world hunger, I understand what we get to do is an absolute privileged. But I also can’t help but get royally fucked off annoyed when I see footwear design being completely misrepresented in various medias on an almost daily basis, sometimes even within our own community.

Footwear design may not be totally flat lined, but it’s for sure in a coma, at least as it pertains to it’s public persona. However, with some brilliant designs being released lately, and with footwear design schools like Pensole & Slem, there is hope on the horizon. There also seems to be a greater interest from the public about footwear design and media outlets and brands are getting better at releasing this info to it’s readership/consumers.

The big question is; How do we educate not only others on the beauty of footwear design & development correctly, but also ourselves…and especially the next generation.

With all this in mind I’ve listed my personal views on what I believe is currently killing the public perception and evolution of the footwear design industry. You check out the 5 reasons why footwear design is dead, below.

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1. Sneaker Blogs

The reach these guys have is powerful. It’s not uncommon to see a large sneaker blog have a million likes/followers on all types of social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram & Twitter etc…). The information they put out there gets read by a lot of people. Their reach is immense. Unfortunately, the articles some of them choose to cover related to design are not always the greatest representation of what actual footwear design is.

A prime example of this was when I recently saw a massive (usually on point) blog, post about the potential of being able to ‘design’ Dwayne Wades next sneaker. In actuality, all you could do is create the next colourway of his current design. Granted, it may not be a massive faux pas, but there are many articles like this, and little things like these breed ignorance to what footwear design actually is. Picking colours, though a skilled act, is definitely not designing a shoe.

Of course, there’s a reason for this; They’ve probably written design centric articles before and not had a great response from their readership. Lets not forget, these large blogs are about their dollars, they want clicks. There just needs to be a better understanding and representation of footwear design and development by these larger websites. Perhaps the issue here isn’t the information, but the way it’s being given.

Release dates are important, but so are the people and process that went into creating those shoes in the first place.

Side note: This isn’t to say all large sneaker blogs are horrible at covering footwear design/development related content. There’s been some brilliant articles and video series. Nick DePaula did a great video series on SoleCollector about footwear designers, and a recent article about adidas restructuring their Chinese factory development on NiceKicks was on point.


2. High Fashion Sneakers

Sneaker design is hard. Fashion/casual footwear design is also hard. It’s rare to find a brand that is able to embody both areas and deliver knock-out products. The issue here is, when you’re creating sneakers, if you don’t know your shit it’s a lot more evident in your product. I’m going to be straight up and say a large majority of high fashion sneaker releases as of late have been straight garbage. They’re either total knock-offs, or just absolutely amateurish in their design level and execution.

I’m a style guy. I’m an artsy fellow. I can see the beauty in most things, but these high fashion brands need to seriously step their design and development game up if they intend on competing at this sneaker game. Especially if they intend on selling them at these outlandish prices.

Side note: Though I used the Margiela Deconstructed sneaker image, I can actually appreciate these more than a lot of the other shit stuff I’ve been seeing. It’s almost their very artsy jab at a shoddy attempt by the fashion industry to jump into the sneaker design ring.


3. Approach to 3D Design

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; 3D technology is the future of footwear design. However, what needs to change right now, is our approach to it.

I’m often asked by young designers which 3D program they should use to create their shoes in. Of course, the earlier you learn something, the better. However, a lot of young designers (and I don’t just mean age wise) tend to use 3D as a crutch before they’ve even really mastered the program (not to mention sketching and rendering). What this actually does is limit their end design.

When you can properly create a shoe in 3D, the results are pretty mind blowing. It’s a skill that when handled correctly is a massive attribute to add to your arsenal. But that’s just it, it’s something to ADD to an arsenal. Until you can create exactly what you had in mind with a pen and paper, don’t worry about 3D. Understanding how to apply 3D programs and technology into the footwear designer’s book of tricks is something we as a community need to understand and explain to younger, aspiring designers, a lot better.

Side note: I swear If I see another portfolio filled with garish, out of proportion 3D shoe models and no sketches, I’m going to 3D model and print a weapon and dispense of myself.


4. Regurgitated Footwear

If you could release a design now that was created 20 years ago and still make some serious, serious bank, you’d probably do it to. Releasing retro designs is huge money making business for brands. What it does however, is stagnate design and to a certain degree, consumer tastes.

Brands like Jordan have been able to create some of the most beautiful basketball sneakers we’ve had the pleasure seeing on the market. No one can deny however, that there was a fairly long slump in the release of heat from said brand. I would argue that had a lot to do with the focus being more on releasing retro sneakers, rather then creating new designs.


With all the resources at their disposal, I can imagine brand Jordan being on top of the athletic footwear industry for a very, very long time…as long as they put as much focus on their current and future designs as the back office is focusing on the re-re-releasing of former styles. Granted, things have been looking up for the brand as of late with a few, very solid recent releases. Here’s to hoping this is them getting back into the swings of being one of the most dynamic and innovative athletic footwear brands on the market.


5. Bland Consumer Taste

The point above has a fair amount to do with this issue, though not all of it. The issue here is, people in general don’t like taking risks with their footwear. And as a group, ‘People in general’ (those cats you see with their shirts tucked into their chinos) spend of a lot of money.

Though the latest Y3’s may be absolutely beautiful, the latest NikeLab Free Rift may be super innovative, what actually makes brands big money are the more boring relaxed, mundane less eccentric sneakers soled on mass to sport retailers or fashion outlets.

This is an issue for smaller, newer brands that want to stand out and compete in an industry where it’s consumers either have brand allegiances or really aren’t prepared to try anything too new, or different. Hitting that sweet spot between a shoe that has mass appeal and design innovation is tricky. Not everyone has the skill to be able to do it, which is why you see a lot of similar, dumbed down designs on the market place. Satisfying both the designer and the average consumer is tricky, but it’s something you have to do if you want to be a profitable, sustainable brand.

Mr. Bailey

Product Designer + Footwear Architect | Founder of @ConceptKicks | www.MrBailey.co.uk

Join the conversation

  • Luke - 5 years ago

    Great Article! I can also add one other layer to this list…………….


    So…..both buyers and sales guys are employed by brands and major retailers to bring product to market. They are given a pre arranged budget and are responsible for the selection and volume of what footwear you will see online and in-store.

    Unfortunately these guys more often than not are only interested in one thing…………….money. They struggle to see the value in adding anything new or innovative because they consider it to be risky, and believe it could have a negative impact on their sales targets. Even if a product was killing a brands perception or credibility they would still be happy to sell them every day of the week if they knew it would put money in the bank. The footwear industry is fiercely competitive and if I look at it from their point of view I can understand why they are always keen on the easy sell and bland product. Like any industry its all about putting money in bank.

    Ultimately whilst these guys are responsible for getting your product to market, half the amazing products us designers create behind closed doors will unfortunately NEVER see the light of day!

    • Mr Bailey - 5 years ago

      Very good point, I can attest to that also. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the list, very much appreciated.

  • Mark - 5 years ago

    Well put and much appreciated. Feels a bit like the elephants in the room were acknowledged. And I know that more then a few designers struggle with these and Luke’s issues every day. So far the only “solution” I’ve seen the industry come up with is how do we make x more premium/interesting/different and still satisfy x for consumer x. Are there other solutions or are we glued to a work life of homage? Looking forward to the follow up article…

  • Carlos Juan - 1 year ago

    Design is most important fact for footwear. Awesome post. Looking forward to the follow-up article…