inside NIKE’s air technology revolution, from pressurized tubes in soles to injected foam

inside NIKE’s air technology revolution, from pressurized tubes in soles to injected foam

Nike debuts Dynamic Air and Air Max DN shoes

 

NIKE unveils its new collection of shoes named Air Max Dn, equipped with an in-house technology called Dynamic Air. In an interview with designboom, Kathy Gomez, NIKE’s VP for NXT Footwear, and Reggie Hunter, Product Director of NIKE’s Lifestyle Footwear, detail the development and design process that led them to create four hollow tubes injected with pressurized air for the soles of Air Max Dn, an invention that can help provide a soft and protected sensation underfoot while walking, running, jogging, or engaging in strenuous physical activities.

 

‘We’ve got two connected tubes right under the heel strike and then two connected tubes right in front of it. The two connected tubes under the heel strike are the firmer ones, and they transition into a much softer tube under foot, so the result is a nice cushioned and protected landing at the heel and then a soft, cupped smooth, and stable ride as the athlete gets into the midfoot,’ Kathy Gomez tells designboom in a live video interview from New York. Sitting beside her is Reggie Hunter, who shares with designboom that ‘in the past sometimes we felt that the foam was a constraint in the process and it was driving more of a locked-in air sole. But with the injected Phylon that we’re using for this sole unit, we are driving a complimentary build and sensation around the sole.’

nike dynamic air max dn shoes
images courtesy of NIKE

 

 

What makes up NIKE’s dynamic air and air max dn?

 

Seven parts form NIKE’s Air Max Dn collection including Dynamic Air. A multi-layered mesh construction tops the upper part of the shoe to provide breathability. On the side, a haptic print display adds texture and tactility to the 60 colorways of the collection. Thermoplastic polyurethane is used for both the heel counter, which supports the Achilles, and the shank arch clip, which upholds and protects the midfoot. Below this clip lies the Dynamic Air, comprising a dual-chamber, four-tubed unit. As the wearer moves, the pressurized air flows between the chambers, adapting to each step. Supporting the Dynamic Air is the injected Phylon foam for plush comfort underfoot, and a sturdy recycled rubber outsole wraps Air Max Dn up, adding traction and durability to the shoes.

 

NIKE says that Air Max Dn is composed of at least 20 percent recycled content by weight. The Dynamic Air tubes alone are made with at least 75 percent recycled thermoplastic polyurethane, the outer section of the outsole rubber with 8 percent of NIKE’s Grind recycled rubber, and the upper part with at least 40 percent recycled materials. ‘Sustainability is a challenging constraint and from challenging constraints, we get creativity and innovation, so we’re seeing better solutions and better materials come out of the goals that we have for sustainability,’ Kathy Gomez tells designboom. In our interview with her and Reggie Hunter, they explore the the technical and visual challenges of developing Dynamic Air, the reasons behind using recycled materials for the new shoe collection, the creation of 60 colorways for Air Max Dn, and the future of moving air as NIKE’s technology.

nike dynamic air max dn shoes
NIKE’s Dynamic Air is made up of four hollow tubes injected with pressurized air for the soles of Air Max DN

 

 

Interview with Kathy Gomez and Reggie Hunter

 

designboom (DB): Kathy and Reggie, can you guide us on what led NIKE to develop Dynamic Air for the new collection, Air Max Dn? What were the technical and visual challenges that the design team had to consider, apply, and overcome?

 

Reggie Hunter (RH): Just a little bit of introduction. Kathy’s heading up the innovation team at NIKE, and I’m working as a Product Director on the men’s lifestyle business. Our two teams are separate, but we are always collaborating, and every time I get the opportunity to work with Kathy and the team, I’m excited because it means that we’re starting from a blank sheet of paper and getting to think about it, from solving a problem to thinking about an issue in terms of how we’re going to address that issue. For the Air Max Dynamic, the problem we wanted to solve was how we wanted to enable a better transition underfoot and unlock the airbag to enhance motion and airflow in it.

nike dynamic air max dn shoes
seven parts form NIKE’s Air Max Dn collection including Dynamic Air

 

 

Kathy Gomez (KG): The design process does start with the air sole in this case, and the team spent time ideating. How do we create this with a very clear brief of unlocking that air sole and the feeling of flow underfoot? And so we had many hypotheses around how might they do that. Then, about the ideas that we abandoned during the design process, at the beginning it was open to ideation, and the first ideas didn’t look like what the Air looks like now. They had one complete unit, not tubes, and I think this tubular idea which is the dual pressure where air flows between the two segments of the tube established itself as the one that was going to solve the problem.

nike dynamic air max dn shoes
Thermoplastic polyurethane is used for both the heel counter and the shank arch clip, which protects the midfoot

 

 

KG (continuation): And after we landed on this configuration and this idea of a series of tubes, the team then went ahead and looked at, hey, how do we tune this What’s the shape of these tubes? What are the radiuses? How do we make them function and attenuate that shock? For that soft landing and smooth transition, we landed at a place where we’ve got two connected tubes right under the heel strike and then two connected tubes right in front of it. The two connected tubes under the heel strike are the firmer ones, and they transition into a much softer tube underfoot, so the result is a nice cushioned and protected landing at the heel and then a soft, cupped smooth, and stable ride as the athlete gets into the midfoot.

nike dynamic air max dn shoes
as the wearer moves, the pressurized air flows between the chambers, adapting to each step

 

 

KG: It’s a lot of time, engineering, design work and collaboration to get to the place where we’re happy with ‘this is how this works from here.’ Then we move to the next step of the process, which is building the elements around the air soles being how we nest this into the midsole so that the air sole remains unlocked and can function as best as it needs to attenuate that shock and continue to have that soft and supportive feeling underfoot and to continue to allow that airflow to happen between the two tubes.

 

RH: And some of the foams that we’re now able to work with as well at NIKE helped to build a better system around the air sole as well. I think in the past sometimes we felt that the foam was a constraint in the process and it was driving more of a locked-in air sole. But with the injected Phylon that we’re using for this sole unit, we are driving a complimentary build and sensation around the sole.

nike dynamic air max dn shoes
supporting the Dynamic Air is the injected Phylon foam for plush comfort underfoot

 

 

DB: Speaking of the injected Phylon, what are the materials used to create Air Max Dn, and are there any technical reasons for using these specific tools for this technology, including the recycled thermoplastic and recycled rubber?

 

KG: Regarding recycled materials, sustainability is always a big part of our design process and ethos, and every decision and choice that we make matters as we create a holistic project. We’re always looking to reduce the amount of material or choose a material that is best for the environment, and we’re lucky that NIKE Air is one of our best platforms because up to 75 percent of the content in that air sole is recycled material. Then, the higher content of recycled rubber, even recycled polyester in the upper, helps to reduce our carbon footprint. Sustainability is a challenging constraint and from challenging constraints, we get creativity and innovation, so we’re seeing better solutions and better materials come out of the goals that we have for sustainability.

nike-dynamic-air-max-dn-shoes-pressurized-tubes-designboom-ban

NIKE unveils new Dynamic Air technology and Air Max Dn shoe collection

RH: The air soles themselves are made almost down the road from where we work in Beaverton, Oregon. The partnership that we’re able to have with the Air Manufacturing Innovation facility allows us to be able to iterate quickly and also partner closely with the production of the Air soles. In addition to that – I think Kathy mentioned it – every time that we had a decision that we wanted to make, we were driven by the idea of making it better. Even when the material team saw something that they thought was amazing, there was a close partnership with the material vendors as well to find better ways of making those materials and to redevelop them as recycled materials.

nike dynamic air max dn shoes
NIKE says that Air Max Dn is composed of at least 20 percent recycled content by weight

 

 

DB: The collection of NIKE’s Air Max Dn will have around 60 colorways. How did the design team end up accumulating these many shades?

 

RH: With the color, it goes back to one of the core principles of the shoe, and that is really to serve the shoe and make it accessible to people who love it. I think too often shoes are limited in access and hard to get ahold of. Firstly we wanted to make sure that this shoe was available for men’s, women’s, and kids down to toddler sizes. Then we wanted to also make sure that there’s a range of choices in terms of color and expression as well. For someone who wants something more subtle and more wearable every day like the triple blacks and the whites with gray as well as having more expressive colors that allow that bolder on foot expression.

 

With colors, we got behind the shoe and we’re excited to unveil it in a host of colors. So something for someone who wants something more bold, expressive, who wants to be seen by other people, and that shoe is taken a beautiful fade, which is sublimated in the upper from purple to crimson. And then the more covert expression is more stealthy. It allows the technology of the shoe to be the hero in the elements that are called out and has a lot of more subtle cues of reflectivity within the palette.

nike dynamic air max dn shoes
NIKE’s Air Max Dn collection has a total of 60 colorways for men’s, women’s and kids

 

 

DB: Are there any additional developments that you are planning to add to the NIKE Dynamic Air in the future?

 

KG: We’re excited about what we’ve unlocked, and you’ll see this through the next several months along with iterations of that. Then we’ll continue to build on the idea of moving air. We will also have a lot more coming in this year being an Olympic year for Paris. You’ll see more from the air technology coming to you in a few months.

 

RH: I think it is rare as well that we would give an air system a whole kind of moniker of its own. So the things that we unlocked with Air Max Dn and that idea of enabling air to flow through the air sole was compelling for us. I think it’s something that we will stand for and excited to explore it further.

nike-dynamic-air-max-dn-shoes-pressurized-tubes-designboom-ban2

NIKE’s Dynamic Air tubes alone are made with at least 75 percent recycled thermoplastic polyurethane

project info:

 

name: Dynamic Air and Air Max Dn

company: NIKE

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