5 Things I’ve Learned From Designing My Own Sneakers (Part II)

As stated in Part I, there are many, many lessons I’ve personally learned along the way. These are things that you just can’t learn in school. I’m not going to pretend I do everything perfectly, or know all the correct answers. I’m still growing and learning (and will hopefully continue to so). However, I also feel like I’ve surrounded myself with the right people, and have been in the industry long enough, to give a valid opinion on it.

So, with that said, this is the second installment of, ‘5 Things I’ve Learned From Designing My Own Sneakers’ –


1. Function > Aesthetic

One thing I’ve really come to appreciate, is seeing how people justify the aesthetic in their design. Does the shoe look a certain way because of an innovative new material that now allows a certain construction method? Is it because a certain part has been designed in such a way that creates a super interesting aesthetic purely as a by-product of a specific function?

I’m not saying every shoe has to have a particular reason for looking a certain way. Sometimes, shoe’s just need to look cool. But, when a shoe has a real story, a real function, that design is so much more valid.

Why does your design look the way it does? Are you interested in playing with construction methods or materials? Are you trying to create a different function? Try to give your designs meaning, give them validity.


2. Try & Try Again

There’s not much I can guarantee, but there’s one thing I feel pretty confident in saying; your first sample will not be perfect (in fact it will probably be pretty fkn terrible). OK, if you’re creating something pretty standard and easy, then maybe there’s a chance you might nail on the first try. But, if you’re trying to create something a little different, something a little interesting, be prepared to go through multiple rounds of sampling. If you have the budget, as I say in Part I, go to the factory, see the pattern maker. It’ll make such a massive difference in the outcome of your design and save you a lot of time.



3. Minimal = Timeless

One part of my challenge, especially in my collaborations with existing brands, is how to incorporate intersting and different design, with shoe that will be palatable for their consumers. This to me, means creating interesting and dynamic design, but doing it in a minimal manner. Exploring construction methods, interesting materials and different functions and putting all that into a minimal looking shoe is extremely challenging. But, when you nail it, you create a shoe that can be released for many, many years to come.

If you look at a lot of the greatest designs in somewhat, recent memory, the ones that have really stood the test of time have been pretty minimal and basic looking (the Chuck Taylors for example, you could argue that even the earlier Jordans were pretty minimal).

This isn’t necessarily saying that minimal is always better (though I definitely prefer it myself), but minimal design is definitely something that ages a lot more gracefully.


4. Understand Timelines

Just know that whatever you’re seeing from a designer, is most likely something they’re really not that interested in anymore. they’re already working on what comes out 2 seasons from now. You have to be somewhat of a clairvoyant in this industry and design year/s before that product will ever see the light of day.

It’s also easy to share what you’re working on with the world. Which I would of course encourage. Just make sure you’re sharing with the right people, and at the right time. I have a circle of creatives that I share first samples with, initial sketches, renders, etc…I also want to share the progress of what I’m working on with people that follow me on social media (shameless plug – @MrBailey_), however sharing with that demographic is a little different, especially when the product you’re sharing won’t be available for purchase for another year, or perhaps ever.

You just have to make a choice; either share as it happens, or wait till everything is executed exactly how you want. There’s beauty in both. You either wow people with a beautifully finished product right away, or you share the real life progression of your work.

Word of warning – If you decide to do the latter, be prepared to get hammered with messages of people wanting to know when that shoe will be available for purchase for the next year and a half.

I’m currently balancing in-between both of these worlds right now.


5. Embrace Failure

As I said earlier, your first sample probably won’t turn out the way you intended. The second and third, fourth and fifth might not either. Sometimes, designs just don’t translate to a shoe the way you intended. There’s a very thin line between having conviction in the execution of your design, and pushing something that isn’t going to work out. You have to try to understand when something just isn’t going to work, and be cool with that.

I look at every sketch, design and sample as a process that I had to go through. I had to get through that to get to the next one. Now the question is, how are you going to use that failure to inspire your next creation?



Mr. Bailey

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

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