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Five Things Designers Can Learn From Barefoot Running

Posted by on Apr 9, 2011 | No Comments

[ The following post was written by Richard Knobbs.  Richard is a designer/writer/illustrator/teacher originally from the UK but now residing in Tokyo.  I’ve known Richard for a few years, and he played an instrumental role in helping me develop Barefoot Running university and The Barefoot Running Book.  In this post, Richard offers some excellent advice to new barefoot runners.  Check out Richard’s design site Storm From The East and his barefoot running site Two Feet Two Wheels. ]

I have been a barefoot and minimal runner since 2009, although it wasn’t until recently when talking to a designer friend that I realized that designers could learn a thing or two from running barefoot. Don’t laugh, I’m actually serious.

1) A natural style

Running barefoot helps your body to find a natural running style, which seems to vary from person to person even though the basics remain the same. In a similar vein, although designers can learn the basics of design, each designer’s style should be different. In the same way that you’re probably going to get the most out of running by listening to your body than trying to emulate Usain Bolt, you’re going to be a better designer for finding your own style rather than trying to emulate another designer.

2) Know your limits

When you start running barefoot, you may find that your calves and feet become painful. Do too much too soon and you are likely to get injured, but build up steadily and you’ll be able to run smoothly for increasingly long distances. Some designers want to do everything – industrial design, architecture, graphic design and so on, but in most cases they would be better sticking to the thing they excel at and perfecting it before attempting to diversify.

3) It’s not about the tools

Having the most expensive pair of trainers will not make you the best runner in the world. Many runners have discovered that they run better with fewer tools – or none at all – than with the costly ones. Expensive shoes with lots of padding can mask deficiencies in running style, whereas running barefoot forces you to land softly and run smoothly. Similarly, having an expensive computer and the latest batch of software does not make you a designer; you still need to know what you’re doing without all that technology.

4) Be comfortable being different

If you go running without shoes on, you’re likely to attract attention. Some people may understand what you’re doing, but a lot may think you’re drunk, high, crazy, homeless or all of the above. The important thing is that if it feels good, stick with it. When you find a design style that feels right and natural to you, stick with it, even if some people reject your ideas. If you try to blend in, you may compromise what makes you a good designer.

5) There are always people who will support you

Over the last couple of years, barefoot and minimal running has gone from being a fringe activity to an established form of running. There are clubs, forums and a growing range of minimal running shoes that aim to mimic barefoot running. Not everybody may like your design, but somebody will. Manufacturers may not be falling over themselves to mass-produce your products just yet, but don’t lose heart. Look around, make friends, make contacts; don’t give up.

Now take your shoes off and go for a run.

Richard Knobbs


If you are in need of any design work, Richard is donating 50% of his freelance fees for the foreseeable future to the Japan Red Cross to help with relief operations after the earthquake and tsunami.  Not only will you get GREAT work, you will be helping Richard’s adopted country.

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