Processes to design function without compromises: an interview with Nick Galway

Interview by Carlo D’alesio

Week 03
RESHAPING THE FUTURE

The importance of technological innovation and implementation within the shoe design and production process is clear.
It’s the only way to compete in a world that moves at the speed of light, and some brands, within their DNA, have the obligation to never stop innovating, more so than others.
adidas Originals for example is one of those brands that do not lose sight of the past when producing innovative products for the future.
On the occasion of the NMD_R1 release, we got to have a word with Nick Galway, Vice President of Global Design of adidas Originals, who highlights the importance of brining together the best of the future and the best of the past when creating a new generation product.

Carlo D’Alesio) Before any other question, and since we have the pleasure to speak directly to the Design Team, please briefly introduce yourself and your latest creation – the NMD_R1 – in your own words.

Nick Galway) My name is Nick Galway. I am the Vice President of Global Design for adidas Originals and I’ve been with adidas for 16 years. The NMD is the latest new footwear model from the adidas Originals design team, which I oversee. With the NMD we really wanted to showcase the best that adidas has to offer. As a brand we have an archive that in unrivalled in the industry but we also are equipped with the best technical innovations of today, with BOOST and Primeknit. With the NMD we wanted to connect these two elements. When you make something very futuristic, sometimes it’s too clinical and it’s hard for people to connect with the product, but when you bring in design elements from the past it can make the product more accessible and easier to understand. This was really the mindset in which the NMD was created.

CD) Is NMD part of adidas’ broader strategic offer? How does the NMD fit in with the latest brand assets – Yeezys and Tubulars for example?

NG) Traditionally, sneakers were either discussed as futuristic or retro, the NMD’s place in the market is to say the future of sneakers is maybe neither of these things – maybe it is the combination. The Boston Super and Micro Pacer were created in an era where there were specialty shoes and there were sneakers. Today things have changed and there are so many different offerings. The NMD is a next generation product. We’re taking all the best innovations and putting them into a shoe but we’re not aiming it at a particular sport or specific activity. We’re just bringing the best of what we have to offer as a brand – the best of the future and the best of the past – and in doing so creating something new. That’s what NMD stands for.

CD) It’s something unusual nowadays, especially looking at adidas’ tradition – except from the ZX Series of course – but why did you choose an acronym for this release? What does NMD stand for?

NG) NMD was a product code that we used internally during the development stages. We don’t like to be too prescriptive in terms of how people view or adopt our products, so by giving designs a code or technical name we felt the product and design could really speak for itself. As you mentioned, many times in the past we have taken this approach, using a coded name, so it is also a nice nod to our history.

CD) A shoe like this is an industrial design object. For this particular NMD_R1 case, how many design iteration loops were made? Did you have complex tasks to consider, i.e. a maximum quantity of material to be used – or some other peculiar limitations that you can share with us?

NG) The creative process for NMD was relatively quick. I worked closely with a very talented group of designers within my team who share the same mindset. The concept phase for NMD was around four to five weeks, however the creative approach from which it was born was developed over a number of seasons. Building on the concept of using our collective memory as a source of design inspiration and our past informing our future. In terms of ‘limitations’, I can honestly say the NMD was designed without compromise. We feel it really demonstrates us understanding who we are as a brand. I suppose the only challenge was to ensure that whilst the design took inspiration from a number of shoes from our archive, it wasn’t too derivative. I think we achieved this: by referencing our collective memory rather than a specific model, the shoe feels familiar but at the same time entirely new.

CD) During your typical design process, which phase – Marketing or Production – influences your shoe design more?

NG) When beginning the design process I encourage the design team to not really focus on either of these factors as they can be quite limiting. The fundamental factor when beginning a design I feel is not considering how something should be made, but rather focusing on why it should be made. If you focus too much on details in the initial stages it can cloud the overall design.

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CD) Here’s an easy question. If I correctly recall, the iconic sneakers that served as inspiration for this new product all had some silver in them: Micro Pacer, Rising Star, Boston. Simply put, why no silver?

NG) Whilst all the models you mentioned were inspiration for the NMD, it was more so that generation of running shoes that served as stimuli. Like I said earlier, I think it is important to not be too derivative in our designs by referencing specific models directly, but rather I encourage the design team to tap into our collective memory. The element that really captured our imagination was the colored blocking of the soles of the shoes you mention, as these were functional rather than decorative, these became a key reference for the NMD.

CD) Let’s talk about the future. Looking back in time, I see the Micro Pacer as one, if not the first, augmented shoe. It just had something “more”. Do you have a plan in mind, considering the fast-paced evolution of wearable technologies? Will the Micro Pacer concept be leveraged further into unprecedented innovations?

NG) You’re correct, the Micro Pacer was hugely innovative for its time. It was enabled with wearable tech at a time when most people didn’t even have computers in their homes yet. Whilst I can’t comment specifically on our plans in this realm, I can say as a brand we are committed to innovation and continuing the pioneering legacy on which our brand was built.

RESHAPING THE FUTURE is a project in association with adidas Originals