What do you think of the running culture nowadays?
– I love how rich and diverse the running culture has become. Not too long ago, running was a fairly homogenous sport, with local races dominated by male runners in short-shorts and tank tops. But, today, go to any race—from a 5K to a marathon—and you'll see people of all genders, all ages, all shapes and all sizes participating.
Given the great degree to which physical activity contributes to quality of life, I think this expansion of the running culture is fantastic and I hope to see it continue. I also think that Nike's co-founder, Bill Bowerman, who literally wrote the book on Jogging in 1966, would have been incredibly happy to see the growth of the sport.
How often do you run?
– Nowadays, I'm lucky if I can find time for three runs in a week.
I cross train with workouts on an elliptical machine and rock climbing to try to balance endurance with strength, and to avoid overuse injuries, which are a common problem for runners.
It's the eleventh year (!) of the Nike free shoe. What's the difference from last year?
– For 2015, our Running Footwear product teams absolutely obsessed over fit and feel across the entire Nike Free collection.
The biggest change is in the Nike Free 5.0, where our design and development teams were able to eliminate an entire layer of material to deliver a much more comfortable, conforming fit around the foot, without compromising the support runners need. Our teams also completely re-engineered the tongue in the Nike Free 5.0, moving to a sandwich mesh construction that eliminates lace pressure and simply feels great against the foot. As a side benefit, this reduction in materials has also contributed to a significant reduction in weight for the 2015 Nike Free 5.0.
In the case of the Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit, our design and development teams tuned fit across the entirety of the shoe. That's because, while our wear testers loved the overall fit and feel of last year's model, many found it to be both a bit too roomy across the ball of the foot and a bit too tight over the instep. So our Running Footwear team engineered the upper of our 2015 Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit with less volume around the forefoot and slightly more volume around the midfoot, making a shoe that was already widely lauded for its overall performance even better. The team was also able to eliminate one of the two seams that linked the rearfoot portion of last year's upper to the body of the shoe, resulting in a one-piece construction that delivers a more consistent fit around the heel. So, from forefoot, to midfoot, to heel, the Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit fits beautifully around the foot.
Finally, in the case of the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit, our designers and developers received feedback from a number of our wear testers indicating that last year's model offered an overly compressive fit. The design intent for the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit was and still is to deliver our most natural running experience, including an upper that fits like a second skin. But testers told us that the 2014 edition fit too closely to the foot, limiting their ability to wear the shoe for extended runs. So our product teams took that feedback on board and engineered less elasticity into the yarns that comprise this year's upper, while also introducing a deceptively simple notch at the front of the new 3.0's ankle collar. The result is a new Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit that's easier to put on and take off, and feels incredible around the foot—even after a long run or long day of wear.
Tell us more about The Nike free shoe? What's the best thing about it?
– I could go on for hours about this, but I'd say the best thing about Nike Free is that it lets you run the way you were meant to—the way that millions of years of evolution have shaped us to move.
This may sound strange, but many runners get quite emotional when they talk to us about their experience running in Nike Free. The freedom to move as we were meant to seems to touch something inside of us that goes beyond the physical.
In my case, Nike Free remains the only shoe that I can run in consistently, so I'm very attached to it!
What's the first thing you think about when designing a shoe?
– My role in the product creation process is not design, but in the uncovering of opportunities that have not yet been pursued. So, for me, the first thing I think about is, what problems are athletes having that have not yet been solved? What opportunities exist to improve performance that have not yet been tapped? Sometimes this leads us to a new shoe solution, such as Nike Free; sometimes this leads us to a new apparel solution, such as the Nike Revolution Training Jacket for footballers that was introduced earlier this year; and sometimes this leads to new experiences, such as the incredible runner services that are rolling out across Europe.
But, ultimately, it all starts with listening to the voice of the athlete and being committed to serving their needs.
What keeps you motivated and inspired to continue designing The Nike Free shoes?
– Nike Free has been an incredible success over its eleven year lifespan, but we know that there's more to explore and enable.
This might seem surprising, but we're still learning new things about the body and the movement of the body on a daily basis. In fact, the more we learn about the body, the more it inspires us because it shows us that we've only just scratched the surface of our potential as athletes (and, as we say, if you have a body, you're an athlete).
At the same time, our innovation teams are also constantly developing new enabling technologies and methods-of-making that allow us to create products that would have been impossible to manufacture just a few years ago. For example, Flyknit technology is an incredible tool that's enabling our product teams to deliver performance with a precision that was never before attainable—providing stretch, support and breathability exactly where athletes need it, and with far less weight and far less waste than conventional manufacturing methods.
As far as we've come already, I truly feel that we're just getting started, and that makes me very excited to come into work every morning.