I had an opportunity to sit with one of the most inspirational and motivational designers at Nike during my internship in 2012, Jason Mayden, Director of Innovation at Nike Digital Sports at the time. Jason has picked up many titles and taken over many roles at Nike, and it was such a delight to talk to him and ask him a few questions about the future of innovation and where the industry is going to better help me generate ideas for my Industrial Design masters degree thesis project. Although the interview was done in 2012, it holds same precious advice, and these are some of the things we talked about:
Where is the industry going? And how is Nike playing a role into that?
The first thing about design that it’s changed and many designers haven’t realized is that we are moving into the second industrial revolution. Because industrial design started from the industrial revolution like mass manufacturing, people wanting to make products cheap, half value, and looked great. And that called for people like us, artists and designers to create products that can be made for mass production. Fast forward to where we are today, we are driven by data centric economy, meaning that everything we do can be measured and quantified, which means it won’t be a bunch of engineers that come up with the next greatest thing, it’s going to be designers that look at all that data and seeing opportunity and create a service or products or experience from that. So, you have designers now that are thinking about end to end value lettering the consumer benefit all the way to product conception in the market, the physical thing, and the actual strategic intent that led to that physical thing is now what designers should think about.
When you put Nike into that mix, you get a new form of opportunity which is not necessarily just service, but predictive service. It’s like going to Starbucks, you order your coffee, and they give you your coffee. Moving into the future, you’re going to go past a Starbucks, they’ll know what kind of coffee you wanted, they already have it, that’s already a service, they know what kind of coffee you had in the past, and can see historically what type of coffee you like, the size, the temperature, the flavor, the additives, so all you do is you show up and it’s ready for you. In order to enable that type of experience you get a whole much really creative people to think about every single touch point, before that person walks in and buys that coffee and that’s where design can really lead. So Nike as a company, we have to say ok, at the end of the narrative, is the product, the physical products, that’s the shoe, all roads lead to that shoe… communication strategy, design strategy, and everything else leads to that shoe. Now, rather than having it at the end of that narrative, it’s in the middle, all roads lead to that shoe, the shoe now enables a set of services, and from there, the services make the shoe more important for what it is you’re doing. So if you buy a Nike+ that would go with the basketball and training, you buy a Nike+ Basketball shoe, not only is it going to make you feel good, it actually helps you do what you do better. Moving forward you’ll be able to see what you’ve done in the products and anticipate your next move before you even make it. So it could tell you yesterday you went for a run, how about today you go for cycling because your legs ran at such pace, and you might have not drank enough water, and so and so, so it will become more predictable. So our opportunity as a company and as designers really lies on our ability to get ahead of the consumers need before they even know they need it.
Henry Ford says it best, “If I asked a person what they wanted they would say a faster horse not a car”.
So we are not going to ask people what they want, we will be able to look at that data and anticipate what they want and give it to them. So those are the opportunities that are exciting.
The Nike fuel band was something new to the market which got a lot of attention, what would you say are similar and unexplored areas worth exploring with lots of opportunities to innovate as designers?
I think there are two different directions worth exploring; at home fitness, such as the latest products with Nike Kinect, which is just the tip of the iceberg now, and retail. Speaking of retail, right now, the retail is transactional, you go, you like a shoe, you buy a shoe, and you leave. It’s not conversational. So being able to change the way which people buy our products is the biggest opportunity. Because right now everybody is competing for people’s attention and their money, but very few people have used retail as the forefront of that battle, they keep doing it through tweets, Facebook, and these digital things that a person can’t physically experience. They can’t feel your brand through twitter, through Facebook, but they can feel it through retail, because that’s where you can bring everything to life.
As for the fuel band, it’s new in its shape, and it’s new in its mobile experience, but it’s not new in terms of the idea, because people have made all the wrist technologies before, like heart rate watches and step counters, but no one has made it like this, it’s a pedometer, and an accelerometer, and has LED screens. It’s everything in some of the watches out their today, but it’s just the way it looks and the way it comes to life on your mobile phone that makes it radically different.
As a Design Director at Nike, what areas would you encourage me to pursue my thesis in?
Gaming! What can I do for a sport? Nike Kinect as a platform is amazing, and we really don’t know what you can do with Kinect just yet, because it’s still stuck in your home, but what happens when camera phones which are coming next year had the same ability as Kinect, to track motion, the way Kinect tracks motion. And then you get outside and you’re in front of a gym, what can you do with video? What can you do with content that has never done before just through the lens of a camera phone? It’s tremendous, if you look at gaming, look at mobility, and look at making your entire environment a playground, that will be interesting, because the one thing that’s always compelled me is when I first go somewhere, the first thing that pops through my head is what kinds of workout I can do? For example, if I take this bench, I could do dibs, push-ups, calf raisers, squats and all these workouts just using that table or bench. Imagine if I could hold up my mobile phone and go around me, and see what kind of workouts I could do with what’s surrounding me, sort of like augmented reality, and that’s when you start turning your world into a playground. When Nike starts to do that, then I think it’s ridiculous because you can go anywhere, those stairs now become a workout, those chairs now become a workout, and the whole world becomes a playground.
Do you think Digital is the best path to stick to? Or improving a shoe or a product? Or do you think that has become an old fashioned approach?
You can go anyway. Merging both digital and physical product is where the future is headed. Because how can you take the beauty of what’s going on your phone, and merge it to the physical things you have with you, because nobody’s going to sleep outside to download a new app. Nobody’s lining up to download the Nike Fuel Band app, their lining up to buy the shoe or the device. People still want the physical thing, so merge them together. And that’s what really people are interested in, how they can do more in their day with less. Just keeping asking why, keep asking questions, and let that fill your work. Sometimes the best products or services don’t start out with the intent of making it the most popular, you just do something that’s really cool, and then all of a sudden it takes off. Think about something that people would appreciate, find it valuable, and then just let it take off on its own.