design by category

Some good discussions going on now on the core77 footwear forums at

Once discussion is about designing a shoe for a specific category, and how to express a product DNA through proportion, pattern and form to fit.

I've suggested the following tip-

One trick I find in designing any type of shoes for a particular category is first finding out what "defines" shoes in that category. Already lots of the things have been mentioned (proportion, pattern, materials, colors, collar height, toe cap shapes, etc.). Once you learn the often repeated shapes, forms, etc. then it is that much easier to use these in new ways, redefine common elements and mix new with old.

One "rule" i usually guide new designers with, I call "3 new, 3 familiar". I suggest that if you use 3 common things in a shoe tied to that category (such as proportion, construction, color, a toe cap, materials, etc.), and mix it with 3 "new" things, then the shoe will be balanced between understandable/commercial and different/innovative. Too much familiar and the design is boring and doesnt stand out, and too much new and the design is too challenging and doesnt relate to the consumer or product category.

As a start, I find this is a good way to get a feeling for the "rules" and mix creativity with reality.

Too often, I find younger footwear designers have this balance off, and go either too far out (anit-gravity, magic fastener, space boot looking designs,) or too safe (looks like everything already out there). Finding this balance is important I believe to channel your creativity into useable, fresh, portfolio work.

Here's a challenge -

1. take an existing design from any type of shoe.

2. redraw this shoe to fit in different categories (ie. running, basketball, trail, court, etc.) changing the pattern as little as possible but still making the new design fit to the category.

start this exercise with just linework. Its more difficult if you dont use color.

Doing this, you will quickly find out the things that can make any design "feel" right to the product category. A good way to decode a product category and product DNA.


above is an example of this exercise based on a design by ak47celtics from the footwear forum.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great peice of advice and i really like the excersie. Just been doing some sketching breaking the Kobe II down and turning it into other types of shoes.

Your sketches are a real help with getting the proportion of each different shoe right. I find this the hardest part and I'm always spending ages trying to get it right. Was wondering if you'll talk any more on proportions concerning different types of footwear...

Great blog, can't waiy for some more updates!

8:52 PM  
Blogger The Directive Collective said...

glad to hear the post is helpful.

ill try to see if i can put something else together soon about proportion. these sketches i did very quick, only by eye.

a good tip to work on proportion is to make 1 line drawing in illustrator using a photo, then print it out to use as an underlay.

if you sketch with the underlay over and over again, after a while muscle memory kicks in and it becomes second nature.

practice makes perfect! (well maybe not perfect, but better).


8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your way of thinking is of course very logical and I like it. Still I have few (may be irritating) questions about your design process, if you don’t mind.

You told that balance of different parts of footwear is important and if we take existing parts and modify them, wholeness is easier to handle. Yes, but how about arty freedom and creative design process? How can we create new ideas if we use always old way of thinking as a base for new design? I know that for production it has to be on the “safe side”, but designer has to create new… not only outlook, but also functionally new, what then sometimes later goes to the level of the manufacturing and sometimes not…

I’m interested in your attitude/opinion about that issue. Do you sometimes “get mad” and create something what is may be not that balanced yet, but gives somehow new perspective?

Then another question, do you think about ergonomics of shoe or is it somebody else who is working on that area?

thak you for the wonderful blog,

4:17 AM  

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