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Tinker Hatfield Describes How Nike Tested the HyperAdapt 1.0

The first prototype of the Nike’s adaptive-lacing system was on a snowboard boot. With an external generator. Roughly a dozen versions later, the mechanism joined Tinker Hatfield’s HyperAdapt 1.0 design and the coveted shoe entered the market in a limited-edition run. Now Nike is rolling out its global launch.

Here’s an inside look at the three-part testing process that made the HyperAdapt 1.0 what it is today, and the reason it will change the way Nike tests product going forward.

First came the lace engine

The top priority was perfecting the shoe’s adaptive-lacing system. “We needed the lacing mechanism to work before we could even think about finalizing the shoe’s design,” says Tinker Hatfield, Nike’s VP of Design and Creative Concepts. Durability was key. They rigorously tested each lacing model they built by hooking the engine up to a spring that provided the same amount of tension a shoelace sees during wear. The spring pulled the string 500 times (each time simulated a person fully tightening and loosening the shoe) to see how it survived under pressure. After about six months, everyone was happy with the way the motorized system was functioning.

Next came the shoe

“Once the lace engine passed our tests, we put it on a shoe,” says Hatfield. Each iteration went through about 50 different tests, which included putting the shoe in extreme heat and cold, blasting it with water, jumping in it with 450-480 pounds of pressure and hooking it up to a computer-controlled system that would lace and unlace it hundreds of thousands of times. “We wanted to see what failed first and how it failed,” explains Hatfield. Each time they encountered something that wasn’t working quite right or holding up, they made adjustments to attempt to correct it and then tested it again. After about a year of this, the shoe was ready for its next step.

Then people put it to the test(s)

Finally, it was time to see how the shoe held up in real life. Between December 2014 and November 2015, they put the HyperAdapt 1.0 through rounds of four scenarios to ensure it met the demands of athletes:

  • On the court: Twenty basketball research athletes (former collegiate, semi-pro and professional players) and 15 division-three players wore samples of the shoes for everything from warm-up drills to two-hour practice games.

  • Pounding pavement: Eight to 20 people ran at least three miles around Nike’s campus each hour for up to 12 hours a day, five days a week.

  • In the gym: Eighteen Nike employees wore them in hour-long Nike Training Club classes, which included sprints, plyometric exercises and weight lifting.

  • Walking and working: One hundred and fifty employees wore them on campus every day for four months.

All of this was done in rounds. “We’ve never done this volume of testing before,” says Hatfield. In fact, they had to build a warehouse to accommodate all the testing, he says.

Typically, testing a Nike shoe involves mailing a product to a network of testers who are given very specific instructions for how to wear and use the product for up to eight weeks and how to  provide detailed written and photo feedback on those experiences. But the HyperAdapt 1.0 was so top-secret that none of the testers were allowed to take the shoes home. Rather, each tester tested the shoe in front of a team of designers and engineers, and provided immediate feedback (that included perception of the fit, comfort, performance, durability, functionality of the laces, traction, sizing and so on). This accelerated the process so everyone working on the shoe could make changes and adapt almost immediately. “People constantly updated testing documents, and every day we made changes in the moment,” says Hatfield. “Build, test, revise, build. That was our motto.”

The HyperAdapt 1.0 stands for something bigger than itself: a world in which product changes as the athlete changes. And like the shoe, these elements of its unique testing process have the potential for much greater application. “We ran an accelerated long-term test that we watched live, and got immediate results that we entered into a live, sharable document so we could start to see patterns before the tests were even finished,” explains Hatfield. “The methods could benefit a variety of new products and will change how we test going forward.” In fact, they’re already using this method for new projects, he says.

For information on how to get the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0, go here.

Read More: Nike Innovation