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Nike Design: Innovating for the Body in Motion

At Nike, designers begin the innovation journey by listening to the needs of athletes at every level – from the elite to the everyday. The design teams travel the world to connect with the community of Nike Women and better understand its training needs. Designers study the specific ways women move during sport and exercise, not just in small gyms or big stadiums, but also in the Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. 

Movement is, after all, a primary source of inspiration at Nike. Designers look to movement as a canvas for creativity and an impetus of innovation. They design around the body in motion, blending athlete insights, scientific data and an acute focus on style to create footwear and apparel that enables and motivates women in movement. 

“We believe that great design unleashes the potential inside every single athlete,” says John Hoke, Nike Vice President of Global Design. “Our designs are led by performance, formed by beauty and backed by science. We strive to enable her body in motion, flatter her senses, inspire her individual expression and, ultimately, help her achieve her performance goals.”

Providing Performance Solutions

Performance is the first, and most important, filter of Nike design. Today’s athlete engages in a myriad of activities, ranging from barre to boot camp. Thanks to its unrivalled athlete insight, Nike creates technical products best aimed to deliver solutions to her specific performance needs. 

“We rely on a relentless commitment to design and innovation to create solutions for athletes,” says Julie Igarashi, Vice President of Global Design for Nike Women’s Training. “For example, working out in bare feet is common in the studio. But bare feet can lead to issues with slipping or hygiene. To solve for this, we introduced the Nike Studio Wrap, footwear that provides traction and coverage for her yoga, dance and barre classes.” 

Designing Around the Body in Motion

To make sure footwear and apparel stand up to the female athlete’s performance demands, the Nike Women’s design team isolated six core moves central to almost every sport or workout: push, pull, lunge, squat, bend and rotate. Developed with insight from Nike Master Trainers, these core moves account for almost every element of an athlete’s training. 

Nike tested these moves in its sport research lab. This testing results, in part, in pressure mapping data, which illustrates where the athlete feels pressure underfoot. Armed with this knowledge, designers can create footwear that provides cushioning and traction where the athlete needs it most. For example, pressure mapping data informed the placement of the hexagonal pods of Zoom Air in the Nike Flyknit Zoom Agility. 

This shoe’s upper also relies on expertise of the body in motion. Using Flyknit technology, and knowledge of how the foot naturally moves, designers can engineer in stretch, support and breathability in optimal areas. Flyknit remains a key result of Nike’s focus on sustainable design, which drives innovation in a way that benefits the athlete and the environment. 

“The body in motion informs not only product conception, but product refinement as well,” Igarashi says. “When we do fittings with our footwear and apparel, we do them on athletes in motion, not static models. This helps us create product with zero distraction while she’s running or performing any of the six core moves.”

Flattering Her Senses

Nike designers obsess fit and touch to help athletes move with beauty and without distraction. The goal is product that includes only what’s necessary and nothing more because, ultimately, less restriction equals more achievement. 

Nike Dri-FIT Knit technology exemplifies this zero distraction approach. In Dri-FIT Knit, all lines, colors and fabrics are knitted into the garment. In traditional cut-and-sew garments, these elements are often pieced in.

There are three distinct advantages to Dri-FIT Knit. First, the knitting is done in circular tubes, which reduces the number of seams necessary to construct the garment. Fewer seams lead to less potential for chafing, or distraction. Second, with Dri-FIT Knit, designers can precisely engineer stretch, warming and cooling exactly where the female athlete needs it most. For example, tighter zones are knit for warmth and open textures are knit to enhance breathability in key sweat zones. Finally, like all Dri-FIT technology, Dri-FIT Knit helps wick sweat away from the skin to keep the athlete dry and comfortable. 

Dri-FIT Knit is available in new running and training silhouettes and colors beginning in January 2015.

Inspiring Individual Expression

In addition to creating products that help athletes move better, Nike creates products that help them move more. To do so, Nike designers focus on creating footwear and apparel that provide visual motivation.

“We are obsessed with flattering the female form,” Igarashi says. “We know that athletes demand products that look as great as they perform. So we strive to create products that motivate her to wake up at dawn to run before work, or stop at the gym on her way home. One insight we continually get from top athletes is that if they look good, they feel good, which means they’ll perform their best. This insight serves as a constant source of inspiration as we design.”

The Nike Legendary Lava Tight, available beginning January 2015, is an example of how Nike designers look to flatter the female form. This tight features a print applied with digital direct printing. Unlike other printing techniques, which can range from ink dyeing to heat transfer, this process prints art directly onto the fabric.

The result is a bolder and more vibrant application of print and color. The digital technology also enables Nike designers to customize the print for every available size of the tight. Doing so provides a uniquely flattering look for each athlete.

“The explosion of women’s sport and fitness is a lifestyle shift that is here to stay,” Igarashi says. “And because it is now so ingrained in what women do and who they are, fitness footwear and apparel have become seamless extensions of her everyday wardrobe. To serve her modern lifestyle of movement, we focus on a unique blend of performance and style. We won’t compromise one element for the other, which means we can equip the athlete for whatever workout she chooses and wherever she chooses to go before or after.”

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