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An Open Letter to Shoe Designers: Think Sculptures, Not Paintings

Posted by on Dec 2, 2011 | 8 Comments

Dearest shoe designers,

When you set out to design your next round of shoes, please consider this idea- the human foot is perfect.  You cannot improve upon the design by adding technology, no matter how much you believe in your ideas.

The best shoes in the world do one thing exceedingly well- they get out of the way.  They allow the foot to work in a way that takes full advantage of its natural capability.  Anything you add to the shoe will only create a barrier to natural foot function.  Things like cushioning, raised heels, narrow toe boxes, motion-control posting, anything that is supposed to return energy or propel you forward, etc. do nothing but interfere.

Shoe design is an art.  Unfortunately shoes have been designed like an oil painting.  Layer after layer of paint is added.  With each additional brush stroke, a more complete picture evolves.  Designers have spent years figuring out new brush strokes and paints to create the ultimate picture.  This mindset is apparent in shoe design where the solution is always to add more.

Shoes should be designed like sculptures.  A sculpture starts as a solid block.  A skilled artist slowly strips more and more from the block to reveal the masterpiece hidden within.  THIS is how shoes should be designed.  The more that is taken away, the more the foot is allowed to function as it was designed.  The more that is taken away, the better the shoes become.

Design different shoes that offer two things:

1. Different models that fit a wide variety of foot shapes.  How a shoe fits the foot is the most important aspect of choosing the correct model.  The more foot shapes you can accommodate, the better.

2. Offer a variety of sole thicknesses and traction.  Shoes offer protection.  Some conditions warrant thin soles.  Other conditions require thick soles.

Some of you already do this and have produced some beautiful masterpieces.

Please start treating shoe design like a sculpture instead of an oil painting.  I think you’ll find your art  will be appreciated in a way your oil painting shoes could never achieve.

Warmest regards,



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  1. nope
    December 7, 2011

    What an incredibly self indulgent post…I’m happy to see more minimal options out there for people, but c’mon if people desire other options or have other needs, more variety in footwear be minimal or not is a good thing. This whole need to convert everyone to minimal footwear is getting obnoxious. I’m not trying to be overly negative, but some people like minimal shoes & others like “traditional” shoes, why does this have to devolve into a “right” vs “wrong” style of argument. As for shoes being responsible for obesity, I think living sedentary lifestyles and eating lousy food has lots more to do with obesity than scapegoating the entire footwear industry at large…get real.

    • Jason
      December 7, 2011

      This wasn’t even my most self-indulgent post this week! 😉

  2. Mo
    December 3, 2011

    Check out primal professional shoes… Kinda pricey, but looks like a good idea. Or, I get by with mocs from at my job. (sadly, closed shoes are a uniform requirement)

  3. Brad
    December 2, 2011

    Well put.

    Incidentally, you’re post style has become deeper of late.

    I think all that time in the mountains and woods is turning you into a philosopher. I think you should run your next race in a toga with a laurel wreath on your head.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Alan
    December 2, 2011

    I agree, and will someone please design minimal shoes that men can wear to the office!

  5. Angie bee
    December 2, 2011

    Well said Jason!

  6. Wiglaf
    December 2, 2011

    Like the comparison!!

  7. Anne
    December 2, 2011

    In the UK we have something called the Campaign for Real Ale. I think it’s time somebody started the Campaign for Real Shoes!

    I personally believe badly-designed shoes are partly responsible for the obesity epidemic in the Western world. Bad shoes force us to walk slowly and dissuade us from covering all but the shortest distances.

    Women’s shoes are the worst culprits. Business and social etiquette often requires women to wear shoes with tight pointed toes and high heels – it’s impossible to hobble more than a few steps in some of them!

    Roll on the days when shoe manufacturers start designing shoes for real feet again!