Check out the video below for a peek behind the scenes.
Then be sure to read our exclusive Q&A with Shop co-lead Leslie Muller, whose team of industrial designers worked day and night for the better part of two years to help Nike reimagine the entire DNA of its eyewear.
Leslie Muller; Co-Lead of The Shop @ VSP Global
Give us a rundown of your role and the role of The Shop.
I’m the co-lead of VSP Global’s innovation lab, The Shop. I’m also the VP of Design for sports and performance brands at Marchon Eyewear. Inside the East Coast Shop, which is located in the same building as Marchon’s New York City design center, our team is focusing on advancements and innovations in industrial design, material science, fashion, methods of manufacturing and the consumer experience. In essence, The Shop is tasked with exploring disruptive opportunities within the eyewear and vision care industries before we get disrupted by someone else.
What was the impetus for this collection?
Nike has been a long-term licensing partner with Marchon for well over a decade and is known for embracing innovation across all its product categories. About two years ago, Nike came to our team inside the VSP Global innovation lab with a challenge: help them redefine the DNA of Nike Vision with a new design aesthetic that will carry the brand forward for the next three to five years. The Spring 2016 Nike Running Collection is that breakthrough.
As an innovation lab, how did you approach this design job differently?
Creating this collection within our innovation lab allowed us to approach the design from an entirely new perspective. It allowed us the freedom to shatter preconceived notions of what a frame should even be. In the traditional design journey, form typically drives design. But in this case, the form was driven by other factors as well. We needed to solve problems for runners of all types, including fogging, perspiration and stability. Ultimately it came down to one core question: How can we empower the athlete? By taking a human-centered approach—a core tenant of design thinking—we actually embedded our designers with Nike athletes at the track to get inside their world.
What inspired or influenced this collection?
On a broad scale, we were inspired by how the car industry approaches new designs and creates conceptual models that are never actually produced, but are used as inspiration. So we literally called our early project “the concept car,” which allowed our team to iterate and design without constraints around your traditional frame. For Nike, all design goes back to one core principle: empowering the athlete. And for Nike, if you have a body, you’re an athlete. So to start, we wanted to look at how nature empowers performance. Early on, the team was inspired by the unique structure of a bird’s bones. These are naturally occurring structures that are designed to be incredibly strong but also unbelievably lightweight. From there, we then moved into aerodynamics and tested the frames inside wind tunnels and digital wind simulators.
What were some of the challenges your team faced?
Coming up with an entirely new design is one thing. The challenge then becomes manufacturing a physical product. Within the atmosphere of our innovation lab, we’ve luckily become comfortable with ambiguity and embracing the unknown in order or create something new. For some of the frames in the new collection, the lens actually bends and becomes part of the frame itself. This has never been done before. We literally had to break the mold with our lens partners at Zeiss while continuing to collaborate with Marchon’s frame factory in Italy. This process created a shared consciousness and broke down many of the traditional silos between design and manufacturing.
How did you overcome challenges?
The first thing we did as a team was to suspend any and all disbelief. In our world, all things were possible. By embracing a human-centered approach within the concept of design thinking, we got into the minds of elite athletes in order to assess their eyewear needs. From those experiences, the questions became clear: How could we make the frame lighter? Better ventilated? How does psychology come into play through aesthetic intimidation? All of these challenges required design thinking, insights and research before we even put pen to paper. Rapid prototyping also played a key role. The team created ideas and designs which could be 3D-printed overnight. This reduced the cycle time to learn and make adjustments faster.
What are some learnings that others could take away from your process?
Good design is more than just putting pen to paper. Good design—in every sense of the word—takes observation, research, collaboration and lots and lots of prototyping and testing. With technology advancing and improving at such a rapid rate, creating just a cool-looking object—in this case, a frame—isn’t enough. We needed to empower athletes. So in order to achieve that outcome, we had to embrace disruption, tear down silos, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.