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An Industrial Design Student’s Journey into Footwear

Posted April 11, 2014 in Classes & Presentations

Guest blogger and Industrial Design major Brooke Ruble writes about her experience in KCAD professor Alan Lugo’s uniquely challenging Footwear Design class. The rights to the design she produced for her final project - a footwear collection for Wolverine Worldwide’s Patagonia brand - were eventually purchased by the company. Read more about Brooke’s extraordinary success in this article by MLive.

Day one of a new semester brought a sense of anxiety and excitement. I took my seat in anticipation of another Industrial Design class. To my surprise the course soon revealed itself as a mind-altering opportunity.

It quickly became apparent that the footwear design process is drastically different than the familiar steps taken in most ID classes. Learning the proper terminology and lingo used in the footwear industry alone, felt like a different language completely. There was no hesitation in the way the class was thrown into this whole new way of thinking. Throughout the course, it often seemed as if we were all swimming upstream at a pace that couldn’t move us forward. The workload seemed completely ridiculous at times, and ironically it often took a ridiculous amount of work to wiggle your way to a good design.

Renderings from student in the Footwear Design class

Design renderings from a student in Alan Lugo's Footwear Design class (click to enlarge)

We learned that every line we laid on paper came from something and lead to something else. The requirement of having a purpose and explanation to everything we did proved to be one of the most valuable tools we learned. It became more and more evident that there was no slowing down or letting up, we needed to keep swimming, upstream or not. But through this seemingly impossible challenge came an opportunity for astounding growth.

Preliminary sketches from a student in the Footwear Design class

Preliminary skecthes by one of Lugo's students (click to enlarge)

I remember the day each of us were handed a design brief for a different Wolverine Worldwide brand. My brief was for a surf culture-inspired shoe for the Patagonia brand. Immediately, my head started to explode with ideas and inspiration. I was ecstatic and boiling with passion. What I didn’t realize was that the final countdown had begun. I could not anticipate the amount of work designing a line of five different shoes entailed.

Every aspect of the design needed to have purpose, from understanding the values of both the brand and the target consumer market to being able to appropriately apply hardware, materials, and color. Each step of the way we were questioned about our reasoning for every design element. At times, we muddled through our reasoning, trying to talk about the processes that, for so many designers, reside solely inside their heads. This was one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of the class. It often felt like being a kid and getting picked on, but it was always meant to challenge our thinking in order to present a unified story with our designs.

Brooke Ruble presenting at Startup Weekend

Design presentation is critical to an industrial designer's sucess. Here, Ruble is pitching an idea at Startup Weekend 2014. (click to enlarge)

Then came presentation day. Over a half a semester of work would be on display in front of roughly 30 professionals from Wolverine and the local design community. I remember sitting in the open warehouse listening to my heart pounding in my ears and watching my hands shake. I gazed around at everyone in the room and continuously tried to remind myself they were just people, and there was no need to be so nervous. When my pep talk wasn’t working, I reverted to thinking about my project. I had spent so many sleepless nights pouring my passion into the designs and the narrative; now I just needed to be able to communicate it.

Last to go, I swallowed my nerves and relied on all the confidence my hard work had given me. I don’t even really remember the actual presentation too clearly, but I remember smiling uncontrollably the moment I left the front of the room. I had done it!

Brooke Ruble presenting at Startup Weekend

Ruble presenting at Startup Weekend 2014

Shortly after the presentation, a Wolverine employee approached me with an offer to present the project to Patagonia footwear reps from around the United States. My nerves immediately flared up once again, but I knew better than to pass on the opportunity. A week later I was back at Grid70, presenting with all the same nerves as before. The post presentation responses were something out of a dream. Patagonia later offered to purchase the rights to the designs and I couldn’t have been more elated. I can honestly say this was one of the most mind opening experiences I have ever experienced.

Now, I view every challenge as an opportunity for immeasurable growth. There is no telling where passion and perseverance might take you, but there’s no reason why that should keep you from always thinking big.


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