For over 50 years, Nike has been the top runner in the sports shoe category for the simple reason that their designs are carefully detailed, researched and have a focused product thinking approach. It has been an athlete favourite, with each design representing a story.
Nike is known for their experimental almost genre-bending new collections. Their design quotient has been on spot for several collection launches with effective copywriting, right launch timing to the perfect boot. The brand has a strong emphasis on prototyping without constraints. And it’s this without constraint culture of the brands that aids to foster innovation.
Shoe manufacturing process
Nike overhauled their entire traditional shoe manufacturing – not only they set out to reinvent the designing of a new shoe, but also built an entirely new way to think about how an athletic shoe should be manufactured. The outcome of this process innovation was rather exceptional for then – Flyknit Racer – a shoe that is claimed and known to be more environmentally friendly and helps to reduce long-term production costs was introduced. Their overall innovation became focused on four aspects:
– to disrupt and go all in
– to anticipate a products’ evolution
– to direct their partners
– to feed the company culture
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Here are a few factors that set apart Nike in terms of their design innovation strategy:
-Design thinking embedded in innovation
Nike’s innovation crown is all thanks to its design thinking that places an importance on disruption and prototyping. A clear example of this is how the brand went through 195 tries in their reinvented manufacturing process to be able to come with Flyknit Racer. Key takeaway and learning are how patient the design team and management was throughout the process to not give up and try until they succeed.
– Corporate buy-in and senior management commitment to innovation
Nike’s design innovation would not be possible if the senior management did favour the uninhibited testing and have it continued till the right product was developed. Former CEO Mark Parker is known to be committed to innovation which has led Nike to stay as a market leader. He in fact went a step ahead to recognize that no one brand can possibly be an expert in all skills and each aspect of innovation. For which Nike partnered with Astro Studios to work on a brand-new product concept – the electronic movement measuring device that became Fuelbrand.
– Expressive, varied and something for everyone
Anytime you visit Nike retail store to their online store – you are sure to find yourself something like the Air Jordans to the LeBrons from the 90’s. Something in a mixed material – with heavy influence of interior design patterns from the 1980’s to something that raises the temperature in hot red, orange or purple hue flames. If you look long enough – there is something for everyone.
Designing products at this scale to offer to the global population is both compelling and innovative and sure is not easy. Nike’s design language is freedom of expression, varied styles and strong contrasts. The brand is futuristic, pioneering and designs a lot of products with precision, a differentiating factor and rather well.
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– Investment in Innovation centers
Crucial to the success of their designs is their innovation center. One of Nike’s major investments has been the new LeBron James Innovation Centre – which is the world’s most technologically advanced research facility that allows designers to work with scientists. The aim is to foster creative product thinking, stay futuristic in design and embedded into their design strategy a stream of constant innovation at the core. Adapting emerging technology in design is core business at this innovation center.
– Innovation for everyday athlete
When you visit the Nike store or online space, you will notice inclusivity and diversity in their design process is crucial. Be it promoting offering their design expertise and ad campaign space to the US Women’s BasketBall team – who are known to be one of the strongest and unbeatable teams in history for a number of years to supporting local athletes and bringing on board star sports performers for partnerships, they produce prototypes to final product that offer innovation to the sports community to grow, perform better with efficiency and also bring in personalization.
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If you find a simple colour mix of a coconut milk colour version contrasted with neon orange – be sure a deep amount of research and prototyping went into the design for it – and there is a story to follow with the design that explains the why. While one may think their colour story for a given product is an arresting mix that involves calming and earthy tones mashed up with alarming and burning flames – but when it comes to shoes, Nike has a process from ideation to prototyping to final product to know that it simply works.
Nike’s design strategy brings a narrative where the design team is constantly thinking on juxtaposition of different elements along with a comprehensive description of why the colours are presented on a particular shoe as they are. This gets reflected via the advertisement, the storyline, the page descriptors of the shoe style and its hues and who is wearing them – their personality.
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