Designboom were recently lucky enough to sit down with one of the all-time greats of sneaker design, Tinker Hatfield, for a chat about his career at Nike. While he of course needs no introduction, Hatfield is the designer of some of the world’s best loved and most iconic sneakers – including the Air Max One and Air Jordan range. Take a look at an extract from the interview below and be sure to visit Designboom for the complete feature.
How did you come to work for NIKE?
My first job with the company was to illustrate a marketing book for Geoff Hollister in the early 1980s. Later I working as an architect I designed retail spaces, which gave me a view into the design culture at the company from the outside. Shortly after I joined the NIKE design team.
How many of you worked in the design team back then?
When I came there were nine designers and about the same number of developers for footwear. The aim of this team was simple: to make the best running shoes possible. Back then virtually everyone was a runner – rather than a trained designer and because of this the approach was somewhat utilitarian. There wasn’t much focus on aesthetics but I was able to bring in some insight having a background in architecture and design.
How do you think your work has changed from early in your career until now?
In the beginning I was trying to be disruptive. Like Renzo Piano with the Pompidou Center – and being disruptive is one way to call attention to your work and push the envelope. But now I’m thinking more and more about how to create new and interesting designs that are more beautiful and better looking than what’s already out there.
Do you draw a lot?
Right now I’m drawing more often and it’s largely thanks to the iPad. I’ve always carried around a sketch pad with me, but because I like to work in color I didn’t always want to be carrying around lots of pens or equipment. With the iPad and SketchBook® Pro you can sketch easily and apply color or effects easily and the experience is very similar to the Wacom Cintiq tablet that I use in my studio. The new technology has encouraged me to draw more which is important – because drawing teaches you how to see, and drawing documents how you see things differently from the next person.
What has been the most satisfying project you have worked on during your time at NIKE?
That’s a difficult question to answer without upsetting someone! (laughs) but some of the ones that stand out in my mind are the AIR JORDAN 11, the AIR MAX ONE and the NIKE AIR HUARACHE. The AIR MAX ONE was a sort of revelation on how to design a shoe and tell stories through design and of course it sold very well.