Hands-free innovation for all sneaker fans

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With a global athletic shoe industry worth nearly $65 billion, it’s hard to imagine we haven’t yet tried and explored every possibility in shoe design and innovation. . Nike alone makes hundreds of different sneaker styles – per year. Yet this month they announced a shoe that, at first glance, appears to be a fundamentally new and mechanically different shoe design: the GO FlyEase, a sneaker that doesn’t require the use of hands to put it on or take it off. remove.

The shoe has two fundamental innovations: an incredibly strong giant elastic band called the stretcher that stretches around the entire shoe, and a hinge in front of the heel that has an “open” and “closed” posture. When the weight presses on the heel, the hinge locks in the closed position, allowing the elastic band to hold the shoe tight. When you take the shoe off, place one foot on the back of the heel of the other shoe and pull your foot up. This “opens” the hinge and allows you to slide your foot in. The hinge is a marvel in that it doesn’t open when you jump or climb (removing weight), a clear innovation in engineering and materials.

The GO FlyEase is the latest addition to Nike’s FlyEase line of adaptive footwear and another step forward in standardizing inclusive design by creating with – not just for – communities of use; considering the end-to-end user experience; and by designing with advanced users, creating a shoe with universal appeal.

Designing with – not for – customers

Nike launched its FlyEase line in 2015 for people with disabilities. Nike began working on suitable shoes after executive Jeff Johnson suffered a stroke that severely reduced his mobility. The company was further inspired by a letter from high school student Matthew Walzer, born with cerebral palsy, outlining his ambition to put on and tie his tops without needing help from his parents. The result was the Zoom Soldier 8 FlyEase, a basketball shoe with a zippered heel for easy entry. This year’s hands-free GO FlyEase is the latest shoe to join the FlyEase family.

Looking at the mechanics of the GO FlyEase, you might think, “It’s so simple – why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?” Chances are, they might have. At the heart of inclusive design is the fact that communities of use themselves are best placed to create solutions for their unique lived experiences. Nike consults with people with disabilities when designing its FlyEase line, from everyday athletes to professionals like Paralympian Sarah Reinertsen and wheelchair fencer Beatrice Vio.

Nike isn’t the only major mainstream brand looking for more suitable shoes, either. In 2020, Australian boot company UGG launched UGG Universal – a line of boots featuring the signature UGG silhouette with functional additions like zippers, pull tabs and stretchy laces that make them easier to put on. UGG held focus groups with people with different types of disabilities to understand their shoe challenges and shoe design workshops together in person. Respecting the creativity and insight of user communities and believing that they know what they need most is essential for truly inclusive design and products.

Considering the full experience of the wearer

As any sneakerhead knows, there’s more to a shoe than functionality alone. History, aesthetics, packaging and celebrity endorsements are all essential parts of what makes a shoe more than just a thing to cover your feet with, but an identity and a way of life.

Although adaptive shoes have been around for decades, they’ve typically been relegated to clinical-looking orthopedic websites or doctor’s offices. Brands like Nike provide the end-to-end luxury brand experience for people with disabilities, from unboxing – the GO FlyEase comes in a quick-open box that requires no hands – to stylish colors that express your personality.

Shoe design may seem pure marketing to some designers: a touch of material innovation, “faster” superficial colors, new textures and vibrant stripes. Yet it’s these flourishes that create the “cool” factor that makes a pair of Nike, Nike. That, and the thrill of owning the same shoes LeBron James wore in his last game – whatever your own level of ability.

Companies are increasingly considering the full brand experience of their customers with disabilities – Microsoft

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The Xbox Adaptive Controller celebrates in sleek packaging that can be unboxed with just one finger – and creates beautiful designs that make adaptive functionality something people of all abilities celebrate and covet.

Edge customers, universal appeal

A shoe with proper support that doesn’t require your hands to slip on and off arguably has universal appeal. Almost all of us will be disabled at some point in our lives, if only by the simple fact of getting older. It’s easy to see a range of scenarios where a hands-free shoe is useful: for pregnant women, for carrying heavy objects, or for any other situation that makes it difficult for someone to bend over, reach, or use one or both hands at once.

The term “universal” itself has an important history and meaning in design circles. It was originally invented by architect Ronald Mace, who sought to design objects that were beautiful and usable by as many people as possible, regardless of age, ability or status in life. Simply put, paying attention to the needs of “edge cases” and the most extreme users has been shown to benefit everyone.

The intention to remove barriers to access has evolved into specializations such as accessible design and inclusive design. Rather than seeking to universalize the human experience, by recognizing differences, embracing diversity and celebrating the uniqueness of communities of use, we can design products and experiences that enhance the lives of all.

Constraints for the good

The GO FlyEase is a powerful lesson in innovation and a fine example of humanism in business by highlighting the needs of “edge” customers as the driving force. It’s also an instructive use of constraints as a way to force us to think differently about how we approach creative problem solving. For designers, responsible innovation often appears as a list of constraints and rules that can stifle creativity. The GO FlyEase reminds us that the right constraints can lead to significant business and human innovation, even in something as mundane as the humble shoe.

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