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On the eve of Milano Design Week 2016, where Nike presents its Nature of Motion exhibition, John Hoke, VP Global Design, NIKE, Inc., discusses the impetus behind the company's creations.


For us, the goal is goose bumps, a visceral reaction to something beautiful, because the best design should captivate at first glance. But of course we also want form to serve function, so we strive for balance, knowing that no one piece stands alone and that everything needs to exist in harmony with everything else, including the athlete’s emotional mind-set.

We operate on the principle that if we can design a cohesive system that works together, we can effectively reduce or eliminate all meaningful distractions and allow the athlete’s mind and body to focus solely on performance. Here at Nike, that process starts, both from a philosophical and a practical standpoint, with listening to the athlete. But that’s really only the beginning. What the athlete tells us informs just a portion of our method. Breakthrough comes from combining what the athlete says with what we observe and what performance data is disclosing and predicting.

But while we have an incredibly rich suite of data at our disposal, data doesn’t design. That’s our part. It’s up to us to sort, synthesize and structure that data into a form that is both striking and functional — something that speaks to its intention while transcending the merely utilitarian, blending precision with emotion. This is part of the reason we continually look to nature, the master innovator, for inspiration, because of how it solves problems not just practically, but also gracefully, beautifully.

Nature also teaches us a master class in adaptation — in the need for a symbiotic relationship between a living thing and its environment. Our designs increasingly conform to the athlete, so that a shoe no longer needs to be broken in but is at peak efficiency and performance right out of the box. And from there, the goal is products that adapt both to individual athletes and to the specific needs of the athlete in the moment.

But even as we can envision a future of hyperspecificity and generative design, we know that sport is more than simply a physical act. Countless interactions with athletes everywhere and our own experiences reveal a universal truth of athletic performance: It’s not just physical. It’s intellectual, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual. When these aspects come together, truly transcendent athletic moments become possible.

We’re actively designing to trigger those moments. We’re taking into account not only the nature of the physical task to be performed, but also the human nature of the athlete performing
 it. We now know definitively what we’ve always known intuitively, which is that how athletes look and feel is integral to how they perform.

When athletes put on their uniform, it triggers a shift inside them because of how it feels on their body, but also because of how it looks on them. The psychological effect is a mind-set — “My body feels contained, crisp, like a coiled spring, ready to fire” — that enhances performance.

One of the things that has become clear to us is that athletes want their senses turned on and up, rather than down and off. The future is all about haptic intelligence: enabling the body to gather information not just from sight and sound but also from feel.

That’s all still exploratory at this point, and when you venture outside the conventional you’re taking some risk. But then so does every athlete who moves his or her sport forward.

It’s that search for what’s on the bleeding edge, so to speak — concepts that might seem strange or even uncomfortable at first — that will enable us to fulfill not only our commitment to serve athletes but also our long-term mission to transform the athletic landscape.

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