mark parker, NIKE’s president and CEO
image © designboom




mark parker, NIKE‘s president, CEO joined the company in 1979. since then he has served in various management capacities in product design, development, marketing and brand management. he is widely recognized as the product visionary for the NIKE AIR franchise and many other industry-leading product design and performance innovations. prior to becoming president and CEO of the brand in 2006, parker ran the company’s multibillion dollar footwear and apparel businesses. in this recent interview he talked to designboom about his influences, work process and hopes for the near future.



designboom: what sparked your interest in design?


mark parker: I have sketched since a young age, so there’s always been an artistic side, a visual side to my personality. when I went to school I was a long distance runner and would modify my shoes to make them better and improve my performance, a lot like what bill bowerman was doing early on. that connection struck a chord with me and I’ve always enjoyed that I can combine my two passions of sports and design at NIKE.




sketch by mark parker




sketch by mark parker




DB: how much time do you get to design these days?


MP: never enough! I always carry a sketchbook around with me and I sketch whenever I can… I might be in a financial review and be sketching because I find that I actually listen better when I sketch. truth be told, there are probably more sketches in my books than there are written notes.


over at our headquarters I quietly make the rounds, connecting with our designers for one-on-one sessions where we review their work and exchange ideas. eric avar, tinker hatfield and I have done that for many, many years and I really enjoy those relationships with the other designers.


I also love sitting down with the athletes and having deep discussions with them and trying to get some insight into what’s motivating them, what’s inspiring them, listening to what they think can help us improve our designs. I’m always asking them what they need and how they think we can help them. it’s a lot of fun and I learn a great deal from those conversations.


I insert myself into these different situations, not to micro-manage but to add value. to help connect all the different discussions going on across the many areas of NIKE. more than anything my aim is to support design because our dedication to problem solving and innovation is ultimately what separates us and our athletes from our competitors.














NIKE AIR TRAINER ONE, 1987 (designed with tinker hatfield)





NIKE AIR MAX ONE, 1987 (designed with tinker hatfield)





DB: how does that feed into your responsibilities as CEO?


MP: my responsibility is to cultivate and challenge what we have built, what we design and our overall performance. that work then contributes to our business strategy over the coming years. everything starts with design.



DB: given the size and success of NIKE, what challenges have you set yourself?


MP: I never try to think about our size, I prefer to think as though we are a start-up and that we’re still hungry. we are always looking at how we can innovate in meaningful and relevant ways. that said, of course sometimes our size, success and infrastructure helps and means we have a unique opportunity to realize those goals.


the opportunities that we have now with materials, technology and processes is incredible, opportunities like this have never existed before. part of my job is to make sure NIKE is in a position to take full advantage of all these resources, to support our designers as much as possible so that they can keep delivering these incredible products to athletes and enhancing their performances.





NIKE+, 2006 (collaboration with apple) a GPS chip fits into the insole of certain NIKE shoes, sending data to an application on your iPod or iPhone that allows you to track your running performances, set personal training goals and more.






NIKE iD, 2009 – this online service allows customers to modify the colors and materials of certain NIKE shoes to their liking and then have them delivered to their door.





FUELBAND SE, 2013 – the wearable device tracks the intensity of your workouts and enables sleep tracking with NIKE+ sessions. the band earns NIKE fuel, a way to measure movement for all kinds of activities and measure your fuel against friends, family and fellow athletes online. read more »






NIKE HTM FLYKNIT racer, 2012 – HTM signifies the ongoing collaboration between; hiroshi fujiwara, tinker hatfield and mark parker. the trio continue to design limited edition shoes using the latest in NIKE materials and technologies.














DB: what has been the most rewarding project that you have worked on at NIKE?


MP: FLYKNIT. it’s an innovation on so many levels: sustainability, precession, manufacturing, and the design process. it’s a game-changing shoe and has become the precedent for all future shoe projects at NIKE at least in terms of process.



DB: in 35 years at the company, what’s the biggest lesson you have learned?


MP: to listen. listen very attentively. listen to the voice of the athlete. that’s what keeps us focused, that’s what keeps us innovating, that’s the rudder in the water.




read our recent interviews with NIKE designerss:


eric avar »
martin lotti »
tinker hatfield »
tobie hatfield »
paul francis »
nathan vanhook »