How design works: the running shoe and out-of-the-box thinking

I’m a long- distance runner. In my mind since I was born, in reality since I was 30 years old. For more than 18 years now, I’ve run four or five times a week. When I’m training for a marathon, I can cover more than 30 km on a Sunday morning. This calls for good gear.

The right clothing is a must, but most important are good shoes. The running bible says: never start running in old shoes just to see how far you can get. Even if you only run short distances, always wear good shoes; they are the best protection against injuries.

This advice rebounded on me (yet again) last year. Although I’ve read a dozen marathon guides, know all the basic training principles and call myself an expert in the subject, I made a bad call. I underestimated the constant evolution in the design of running shoes. Just because you always buy the same shoes from the same brand twice a year, it doesn’t mean that they don’t change. Almost all brands follow the general trend of making shoes softer every year. Most buyers apparently want more comfort, so the brands follow. And most buyers run shorter distances than me. So they are happy with these soft slippers. Oh yes, the companies sell a lot more shoes, of course (what an inconvenient side effect!)

I won’t name my former preferred brand, because I’m not about providing negative publicity. I had a persistent injury in both Achilles tendons. A soft cushion wasn’t exactly what my feet needed. I didn’t notice the change in the shoe every new running season, because the change was so small . After nine months of treatment, exercises, tapes and everything you could imagine, I went back to the shoe store. They finally suggested the right shoes for me: Cloud X by On Running.

On_Running_ cropThis Swiss brand does things differently. The shoes don’t look like any I’ve ever had. They have most of their suspension outside, in the sole, which looks a bit strange when you see it for the first time. This gives the products a very distinctive visual identity. On isn’t the only brand to use this concept, but it does it elegantly. On the inside, the shoe isn’t soft at all – there’s very little in the way of mousse cushions. But it fits remarkably well.

On really searched for another way of creating comfort and a perfect fit. And the shoes feel wonderful and run and last fantastically – a great tribute to designers who dare to think upside down, outside the box.

On top of all these great specs, they look really nice. (OK, in a world of ugly running shoes, that’s not much of a compliment!)