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.”
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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.
SI's Top 10 Sneakers of 2014
10. KYRIE 1
A brand-new signature shoe in the Nike line debuted in December, allowing this newcomer to the year’s shoe list to crack our top 10 with its dynamic style. The KYRIE 1 features lightweight technology that includes a Hyperfuse upper—Nike’s layering of multiple materials into one technology—and a grip pattern that climbs the shoe’s sidewalls. Aesthetically, the Hyperfuse offers up a pebbled look not seen elsewhere in the Nike line.
Everyone needs some minimalistic visuals in their basketball shoe repertoire. The eighth Chris Paul signature from Jordan Brand offers that up. With a unique 5/8 height and innersleeve for sock-like fit, the technology stays understated along with the aesthetic.
8. Clutchfit Drive
Expect plenty of height when dealing with Under Armour. To make the super-high top come with the feel of fit, a “second skin” ClutchFit technology wraps the foot. This Stephen Curry-worn shoe also offers a distinct aesthetic that lets Under Armour play with color—but also done quite well in black and white—without overpowering your eyes.
7. J Wall 1
The first signature shoe for the Washington Wizards star comes with some understated style. The JW logo plays through the shoe and the U.S. map on the sole with “Wall” written across the left and right shoe adds personalized touches. The technology that includes an air mesh textile upper with overlays help the materials show off a mix of colors that work on or off the court.
6. KOBE 9 Elite
Flyknit. The use of engineered yarn alone puts the Kobe 9 Elite on the top 10 list. Using Flyknit ups the comfort factor while dropping weight, giving a new wear feeling to basketball shoes. Of course, Kobe going to a super-high top shoe offers plenty of Flyknit square footage to design on for dramatic coloring and design. And whether that comes as a plus or minus is in the eye of the beholder.
5. Hyperdunk 2014
Maybe the Hyperdunk 2014 isn’t the sexiest shoe of the year, but who doesn’t love solid performance on the court? The non-signature shoe from Nike proves popular from high school all the way into the NBA behind the technology of Lunarlon foam cushioning, Flywire cabling for support and a Hyperfuse upper that helps keep down weight. The Lunarlon foam couples with the Hyperfuse to either play together or contrast well for a limitless variety of aesthetics.
4. LEBRON 12
With all this talk of speed and quickness, LeBron needs a shoe powerful enough to handle his size. That is why Nike has focused on a completely new Zoom Air cushioning system that uses research from pressure-mapping a basketball player’s movements to define the feel of the LEBRON 12. To highlight the research, Nike had fun with the coloring of the shoe, giving us plenty of pops and brightness to remind us all that power requires cushioning.
3. Crazylight Boost
At 11.6 ounces, the Crazylight Boost lives up to its name, but still offers ample cushioning by bringing the new adidas cushioning technology to basketball. The Boost system—a new foam layer built by heat-steaming thousands of pea-sized capsules together—plays visually too. And while this Boost technology and the mesh upper help to make this a supremely comfortable shoe, the dynamic coloring options gives the Crazylight Boost plenty of personality.
Oh, how we love the strap. The KD7 strap gives such a playful style to the technology-full seventh signature for Kevin Durant. From multiple cushioning technologies to ventilated mesh and Flywire cabling to durable Hyperposite, the technology allows the KD7 to shine, all while the myriad of colorways gives us all kinds of KD-inspired looks—including with weather-influenced designs. But the best part? That strap.
1. Air Jordan XX9
Maybe the carbon plate for lightweight, high-strength support impresses you. Of course, that upper woven in Italy adds a nice lightweight, technical touch too. But if we’re being honest, this Russell Westbrook-worn shoe isn’t mainly about the technology. No, while nice, the aesthetics get us every time. The top-selling Jordan Brand shoe shines with the Jumpman wrapping the rear of the XX9. Just as it should be.