Last week Under Armour unveiled their new running entry for the lightweight category called “Spine RPM.” The shoe is comprised of a responsive inner core, revolutionary UA Micro G® foam inside for flexibility and support, and an ultra-lightweight UA Spine Cage on the sole of the shoe that keeps the foot locked in place, ensuring the athlete a smooth transition from heel to toe.
You want to hear something crazy? I developed the exact same concept for New Balance in the summer of 2008.
Let me first say I am by no means suggesting that Under Armour’s concept is a copy or even remotely related to what I did, I simply thought it was a funny coincidence so I wanted to share it.
These types of scenarios happen in design and in particular product development all the time. The reality of the situation is that most designers are looking at the same websites, inspired by the same products and are often times trying to solve the same problems so it should never be a surprise when overlapping occurs. The running market is a tough market; it is split basically into two categories: Tech Running and Visual Technology Running, with multiple sub-categories under each of them. Tech Running simply put is for the elite runners of the world while Visual Technology Running is not for runners at all, it is for “athletes” (I use that term lightly) that want to look good. The concept that I was working on while in the Advanced Product group of New Balance managed to transition from initially being a Tech Running piece to a Visual Technology Running platform over its short life span.
The project was initially kicked off to provide our core group of consumers, Tech Runners, with a piece of technology that would transition with their running gait. My concept was to use a “Spine” like cage that is created from a double shot of TPU, a plastic composite that is used quite frequently in footwear, in combination with an EVA midsole. There would be an inner core of stiff TPU that would provide the runner with stability and a firm platform to toe off from while the outer core would be soft and range in thickness to provide cushioning where most needed. I called it “Spine” because I have always had a large fascination with the human anatomy and this concept drew heavily from it both philosophically and visually.
The concept was accepted very well but we couldn’t find a full reason to go into production with it because at the time there were bigger issues that needed to be focused on in the line. We had a technology piece in NB Zip that desperately needed updating and some of the marketing group that fell in love with my concept thought if we put “Spine” on steroids its could add life to our mall based product in the Visual Technology Running category. This for me was an incredibly hard feat to accomplish because the reality of Visual Technology product is that it is not designed to solve a problem, it is designed to look visually enticing. It is marketing’s job to spin a story as to what the shoe is going to do for the consumer.
So for me to take a design that was grounded in benefiting and aiding the elite runners of the world was very challenging and ultimately was something I failed at. The main issues I had with transitioning the product to the new category is that it wasn’t pure anymore, it didn’t have reasoning and therefore it shouldn’t have the same process and form behind it. Had I been given the initial goal of creating a Visual Technology, I can’t say I would have approached the project in the same manner and therefore I might not have come up with the same concept.
Spine was basically my first project as a young professional it taught me a lot. It really showed me what can happen to a project when too many people get input on it, but that’s the nature of the beast when designing for a corporation. In the end Spine eventually dwindled down and I transitioned onto a new project that would ultimately become the inspiration for the Minimus product you now see today.
So it was just a happy coincidence that a designer in Boston and a designer in Baltimore were thinking in the same direction.