An Inspirational Discussion with Nike’s Shawn Hoy

There’s very few times when you can hang on a persons every word and by ‘every word’ I mean EVERY.SINGLE.WORD.

Inspirational, revolutionary and certainly humble. One of the guys behind some of the most innovative in sporting footwear, on the planet.

A couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to head over to Nike Phenomenal House and chat all things boots with Footwear Product Director, Global Football at Nike, Shawn Hoy. We talked about the design and creative process as well as his personal favourites.

Supernatural Football

So. Sit back and enjoy the read:

12elfth Man: Hopefully I don’t repeat any of the questions you’ve just been asked but firstly, thank you greatly for your time. It’ heart warming to see so many people, of all ages queuing up to speak you. Kids, adults and people of all ages. It must be quite nice to have such engaged people wanting to talk to you directly about the product.

To start off with, I’m intrigued about the actual design process. You mentioned earlier about one world cup finishing and getting straight to work. How literal is that? Does it go straight from pitch to paper?

Shawn Hoy: So, it all starts from the game and from the players. We always need sharp insight. You have to start with that. That’s integral. We’d then create a brief which is meant to represent 3-5 non-negotiable points that would be on any one of our products. Those are performance and style related.

That’s where it has to start. From there, it’s a transition into sketch, then into design with a mood board where we try and draw inspiration – visual inspiration. That comes from absolutely everywhere. It could be images of cars, images of apparel, it could be historical, powerful images. That creates the mood and theme.

So that centres the creative vision. With these boots (Mercurial Superfly IV) it’s all about being bold and fast – so what are my overall visual themes? Once we align what that visual centre is then, and only then can we start to bring pen to paper.

Mercurial - Fit

If you go to pen to paper too soon, you may up with something good but you may also end up with something that doesn’t fit this centre and the brief.

From pen to paper, we then move on to prototyping and its prototype after prototype over and over again until we get to the product we’re aiming for. Then we can move into the testing side of things. That’s where we optimise for high level and elite athletes and after that you’d move into the planning stage and start thinking about the retail execution.

But I have to say again that insight has to be strong and sharp. That mood that we create has to be spot on.

12elfth Man: So how many iterations would you say you go through from what you think is the initial sketch to the final design, when you think you’re there?

Shawn Hoy: Hundreds, literally hundreds. It may not be that we change the whole thing but it could be the finer detail like the location or shape of the stud or it could be something larger like the whole silhouette and this guy (Mercurial Superfly IV) – We would go through multiple iterations, changing the location of the brio-cable to ensure we were getting the maximum performance. A millimetre move is an iteration that is driven by insight. Never mind even talking about things like colour. That’s a whole other discussion.

12elfth Man: These are absolutely revolutionary (Magista). They are stunning in so many ways. I was luck enough to test these out and put these on. One of the most refreshing things about it is that the supporting marketing material matches your own personal experience, you know. These do exactly what they say on the tin in an incredibly powerful way.

nike-magista-new-boots-luiz

In terms of promoting the boot and you move into the marketing side of things, how much is that lead by you and your team?

Shawn Hoy: Completely. We lead it. We drive that. The reason we do this is because we’re the ones who created the insight, we’re the ones who have heard first hand, that feedback from the players, in the case the Magista that this boot feels like a sock. And that’s a sound bite, we don’t need to make that up and that’s when we’re at our best.

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nike-magista-new-boot3

nike-magista-new-boot-gotze

We carry that message right through to the process into retail. Literally, you can give this boot to a kid and they will tell the story for you and say ‘it feels like a sock, it feels like I’m playing bare foot’.

12elfth Man: On the engineering side of the boot, this (Magista) is obviously just 2 components. How much do you have to change and take these elements into the design of the boot?

Shawn Hoy: Everything changes. Knit as a design tool, is completely different – each one of these boots is designed down to the millimetre and we’re now using machinery that hasn’t existed in traditional shoe making until these boots. The engineering tools are totally different. Trying to solve the location of the dynamic fit and the angle of the dynamic fit to enable ease of entry into the boot. All these elements need to be considered. Same with the fabrics we use and ensuring they don’t react differently under different conditions. A boot that is shipped to China or Italy, has to be the same so we have to ensure that fabrics and how they react to things like temperature and moisture are considered at every point.

So we have had to completely revolutionise everything. Our Athletes Services team that work out in Italy. They’ve had to learn brand new methods in creating shoes and those guys are the best in the world at crafting these kind of leathers and synthetic materials. These are materials they have known and worked with for decades and now all of a sudden we’re asking them to learn fundamentally revolutionary techniques in order to make these shoes.

By the way, these guys have to learn it in time for the World Cup. So I think we pay a lot of attention to the shoe and the aesthetic and the performance benefits and certainly all those things are amazing but the process that we have to go through as a company and in the category in terms of having to re-think everything we know about making shoes and how they behave – it’s nothing short of incredible.

That is why work on around a 2 year lead time – it’s not just applying engineering and manufacturing processes. We’ve had to change absolutely everything we know about creating football boots.

12elfth Man: It’s incredible.

Could you put a number on how many boots, shoes and overall products that you’ve worked on?

Shawn Hoy: Hmmm number of boots in terms of finished products – probably 400-500.

12elfth Man: Do you have a favourite?

Shawn Hoy: That’s tough. I’ve got a few co favourites. I’ve got three boots that I love. Above all others.

The Ronaldo Mercurial from 98. That chrome Mercurial. On so many levels. That too was a fundamental change in how we create boots as well as a fundamental change in the aesthetic way we design boots.

Shawn Hoy Favourite Boots Mercurial 98 Ronaldo

Shawn Hoy Favourite Boots Mercurial 98

Second. We made a Tiempo 20th anniversary shoe. Came with a sportswear shoe. That shoe has an Algeria leather. If you put your thumb to it, it has the most beautiful texture. An incredible sensation that we did in black and silver and to me that is an object of desire. If I have that shoe anywhere near me, I will literally just stop and stare at it.

tiempo shoe Shawn Hoy Favourite 2

tiempo shoe Shawn Hoy Favourite

Then finally, these guys (Mercurial Superfly IV) are my third. Because I am so excited about these being on the pitch at the World Cup. But. the thing that excites me more than anything, is when you get feedback from people like the kids in line earlier. One said to me ‘thank you for changing the way that football boots look and perform forever’ and I was a bit like, holy sh*t. We did that. You know, you don’t have too many opportunities in your career to work on something that has an effect on people like that and the team that worked on this, you know, hundreds of people who have worked on this. It’s an opportunity to potentially have a whole generation of kids like those who grew up with the R9 Mercurial say ‘no, no, that’s the future of football boots’ is mind blowing. Absolutely mind blowing. I’m psyched to watch kids enjoy the hell out of a fundamentally revolutionary way in which boots are made and then perform forever. That is a massively awe-inspiring thing to be a part of.

nike mercurial 2014 12elfth man 12th man 1

nike mercurial 2014 12elfth man 12th man 2

nike mercurial 2014 12elfth man 12th man 8

I can’t wait to see them on the World Cup stage, I can’t wait to see them on the Saturday and Sunday leagues by people of all ages.

12elfth Man: So. Have thought processes and production for what’s next started yet?

Shawn Hoy: Yeah. It’s because the game never stops. The way athletes are developing. How the body changes, how they move, how they train and recover faster, the surfaces and the pitches that are played on like artificial grass you know. All of these things create different demands for our products. So for us, it just doesn’t stop.

12elfth Man: There’s massive kudos to Nike to create something like this. Right from the R&D into the finished product. It shows how much Nike are investing in creativity. That as a lover of football and it’s creative elements is massively inspiring. I’d just like to say thanks – these are as you say, revolutionary. It’s a massively exciting time for Nike.

It’s humbling to speak to you and have your time. This side of football is often something that people don’t get to see but there’s definitely a hunger for.

Thanks again for your time. It’s hugely appreciated.

Big thanks to those at Nike and to Shawn for the opportunity.

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