Today’s POP is Stephanie, Max & Max. Hyperfuse is POP & HOMME+
Introducing Ben Shaffer & Shane Kohatsu, designers from Nike’s innovation and design team based in Portland, Oregon; birthplace of the brand. Ben’s from the East coast and Shane is from the west coast. Both are industrial designers and hold the coolest jobs around. Part Ethnographer, Part Engineer, Part Creative Designer; the two work to invent and produce new technology and sportswear for Nike. Their latest innovation: the Hyperfuse.
The Hyperfuse is the newest in basketball shoes and sportswear technology. It’s the work of Nike’s Innovation Kitchen; a team of designers and engineers constantly researching and manufacturing new ideas. The Hyperfuse began after the Kitchen took a trip to Shanghai and Beijing to research Chinese basketball culture. What they found: the kids could use some better kicks. As Shane explained to us, Chinese basketball is mainly played outdoors, making it a lot rougher underneath the extreme heat and humidity, as well as cause a lot more wear and tear on the players’ trainers due to the harshness of the asphalt.
One trip to China, some doodling and major think-tank sessions later, these guys came up with a multi-functional shoe that uses heat and pressure to fuse three carefully constructed layers together. Each layer serves a specific need which when merged together, form a composite that lends the ultimate athletic purpose: breathability, durability and traction.
Since their launch last year, the Hyperfuse has built a fan-base that includes a third of all NBA players.
We met up with the Nike boys yesterday after a special film screening at the Greenwich planetarium, and got the chance to pick their brains before Max & Max joined them for dinner.
POP: Nike is a company whose products are heavily involved with various sub-cultures. How do you balance aesthetics and function? What’s the priority?
Shane: In the Kitchen the priority is function, for sure. But we all know in the back of our minds we work for a brand that has the ability to balance science and art. So most of us have creative backgrounds, but we’ve been asked to solve technical problems. So yes, the primary purpose is function, we want to make them perform better. But I think that the magic happens when we solve those problems through science and out comes beauty.
POP: How do you manage to satisfy both the underground and the masses? Who is the main consumer you have in mind when you’re initially creating?
Ben: We usually end up testing out things in both crowds and it really comes down to, for example, we’ve got plenty of editors that will take the purest of concepts and say ‘that’s not going to fly aesthetically’ or what not, even though we might have everything correct on the function side of things. It’s a tough one because you have a number of clients and people who are going to be judging it on that balance.
S: With technology like this though, I think it’s really powerful because its so flexible, what you can do with it. You could change the design of the product overall, the depth and just the scale of the colours of these materials that we’ve engineered which are amazing. And on top of that, texture, and all that; there are so many levels that we can pull to make it look good. And in other ways too, sometimes, we don’t care. I think the fact is that we can be kind of irreverent about aesthetics sometimes and focus purely on function, and I think somewhere deep inside we feel that that can push what people want.
B: …and ultimately the wonder of it all, is because its something new and a new way to make things (the benefit of the colours, translucencies and what not), it now offers designers something to work with.
POP: Did you end up testing the Fuse on the kids in Beijing and Shanghai?
S: Yes we test globally and we follow up with scientific testing. So we have a laboratory in our world headquarters where we put the product through true science testing and also do perception testing with actual players out on the courts in different parts of the world. So it was tested heavily for two years in China.
POP: And in the beginning, you both went out there yourselves? How many went over in total?
S: My team focuses on basketball. So it was myself, my team from the kitchen as well as a few people from the business team.
B: Since I’m focused on sportswear, I’m checking out what’s going on with fashion and have to be conscience of that world. So it makes it a bit easier whenever there’s a technology that’s pretty intriguing, at its infancy, I can play with it, but I also always have in the back of my mind that I have to be rolling with trends.
POP: It’s very much anthropological research that you do as well…
S & B: Yes!
S: It’s kind of like we’re ethnographers. But I think it’s a huge difference, from just the marketing team going to China versus actually going out there and seeing it yourself, because a lot of the insets are between the lines.
And for those of you wanting more, check out this short made by Nike starring Brit runner Joey Duck.
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