Fashion and science’s earliest marriage can be found in sportswear, and none more so than in athletic footwear. New Balance’s Innovation Studio Lead Designer Chris Wawrousek is leading the forefront of this product design, 50 years after New Balance’s first technical footwear emerged (the “Trackster” shoe). In this role, Wawrousek and his team ideate, prototype, design, and deveop new products for the running market. The Studio must combine an artist’s mastery of athletes physicality, conceptualization, and design with knowledge of performance data visualization, 3D graphic software, and modern shoemaking / manufacturing techniques.
On a high level, Wawrousek and his team tackle questions on how to improve athletes experience and performance through design of aesthetically compelling new products. For example there was an opportunity to create a completely disruptive new minimalist running shoe that replicates the feeling of bare feet on the ground while dampening individual rocks and pebbles. After heavy field research with trail running expert Anton Krupicka, Chris and the team came up with a deconstructed sole broken into individual puzzle pieces or “zones of sensitivity”. This design allows runners to feel the ground without sacrificing comfort. The Studio also worked with the Research Team to come up with new ways to test the shoe’s technical features, since they were too flexible to be tested via traditional means.
On a more detailed level, much of Wawrousek’s work involves assembling data collected by NB’s Research Team that quantifies factors important to shoe design, such as impact zones, flexibility, and fabric weaknesses. They then use software tools to visualize it in a graphical format. He and his team translate that data into 3D prototype models that runners can try out, and the cycle repeats until the the team is satisfied with the design. It’s a process called continuous prototyping, and Wawrousek and NB take it to the next level by gathering massive amounts of data on runner’s needs that inform each iteration. In an interview with Outside Magazine on the Fresh Foam running shoes (“How Do You Make Great Shoes Better”), Wawrousek describes the process: “[You have] visuals that show off numbers, and a designer can take these and turn it into a drawing. What’s different is the visual we are creating is actually the final product. I can change the data set and change the output to be something that’s relevant to User A or User B.”
Don’t miss the chance to hear from Chris Wawrousek as a panelist at Fashion 4WRD, at the Boston MFA on September 17!
For further watching about Chris Wawrousek and the New Balance Running Studio check out these links: