Nike sneaker designer Eric Avar has given us the Foamposite, the original Hyperdunk and has worked on every signature Kobe offering in Nike's lineup. Even with all of these high profile sneakers to his name, Avar says design will always remain an exercise in restraint.
“Whether a story or design element, you are trying to cut through to the simplicity and purity of what problem you are trying to solve,” Avar tells SI.com. “We always start with high function and high performance—then high design. (We are) always trying to make things simple, beautiful and appropriate. It is a fusion of all those things.”
As Avar discusses his time designing sneakers for everyone from the average NBA star to one of the most intense co-designers on the planet—yes, we’re talking about Kobe—he knows that zeroing in on the shoe's performance and its story work separately, yet together.
It all starts with the performance side of things, even if designers have to pinpoint just one particular technology that's dominant.
“You can make something extremely lightweight, but it might not have the cushioning you need,” Avar says about the give and take. “If you pull on one attribute, you are really pulling on all the others. Sometimes you dial up and amplify one or two elements, but they are all interconnected.”
[daily_cut.NBA]Avar has worked in a variety of design capacities during his 24-year Nike career, but the most progressive work includes the Kobe line. Kobe’s shoes, including the latest in the line, the Kobe X, originate in Nike’s Advance Innovation Group, not the traditional “basketball category.”
“Myself and the entire team are exposed to all different types of emerging technologies across all different categories of sports,” Avar says. “A good designer, a good team is always looking for a possible solution to the problems they are trying to solve.”
Use the Kobe 9 as an example. The ultra-high top that debuted in 2014 was the first Nike basketball shoe to use Nike’s Flyknit engineered yarn. In the Kobe X, Avar and Kobe worked to piece together a variety of technologies to maximize cushioning—Lunarlon foam cut to move with the foot’s natural flex and Max Air for extreme heel support. They also designed a new outsole design for an extreme sense of grip.
But every shoe has more than technology, it has a story.
“What is the dominant story that you want to tell?” Avar asks. “If you apply too many elements, too many stories, it can sometimes [become too much].”
Avar admits that at times working in multiple stories into one shoe can still work by creating a fusion or conglomeration of ideas, but the majority of the time having one or two primary elements helps bring a story to life.
Kobe, who has been, in his words, “crazy involved” in design from the start, knows fusing together inspiration and design into a carefully crafted finished product requires expertise. The Laker legend even went as far as saying, “I just had to come up with the inspiration, (Avar) built the whole thing.”
When taking the Kobe X as an example, which had the potential for a choppy and busy look with so many different technologies, Avar says from a functional standpoint the different pieces relate and work together. “From an aesthetic standpoint, same thing,” he says. “They visually relate and work together so the overall design is very simple, very sophisticated, very pure.”
In that search for a restrained shoe with high-end technology and high design, Avar cuts through it all, searching for sneaker simplicity.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.