Why Aren’t You Designing With Pine Needles?

By August 15, 2016 Creative No Comments


I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about creative thinking, it’s commercial relevance, and why sticking pine needles to the bottom of a shoe is so vitally important.

Before we jump right in, I’d like you take a few moments to watch this.



All done? …Good. With everyone up to speed. I’d like to reflect a little on that video and talk about what spoke to me most.

That video reaffirms my love for design, for innovative thinking, and for the creative process. The first thing that struck me on reflection was the clarity of thought from where they started, the unpretentious simplicity of their objective: “Let the foot be the foot”.

“Allow it [the shoe] to behave more like the foot” and “Mirror natural movement”. Now, for me, when we consider their product, such objectives make a mockery of anyone who had previously sat down to make a running shoe with any other intention.

The ’start with why’ mantra is a well-trodden path these days, but for good reason: if you’re about to sit down and start making something, before you get anywhere near what needs to be made or how you’re going to make it, you’d better have asked yourself what you’re trying to achieve in first place. Without this purity of thought at the nucleus of your direction, you are aiming at inferiority.



The next taste this video left in my mouth was very much in the creative area of the palate, the cogs that start turning when you actually start trying to execute the objective…  Enter pine needles.

The bottom line is that a bunch of people at Nike were asked to design a pair of trainers, and we ended up witnessing a menagerie of materials masquerading as soles of shoes, pine needles et al. What I guess I feel like reiterating is the freedom of creative expression represented here, and how important that is, not in self-congratulatory adulation for an industry I admire, but in the name of genuine innovation, true creative progress.

I know some will write the whole project off as a merely a bunch of overpaid hipsters who made a wobbly shoe, but that’s not the point here. I mean, what a shoe. Just imagine a world where we applied that same creative freedom and experimentation to other endeavours, products or services.



That team were faced (in the broadest sense) with the same task most ‘creatives’ are, to design a solution to a problem. But look at the lengths they went to, or, moreover, the tangents they took. Their expression of a concept within that phase of their process is truly inspirational, liberating, and a stark reminder to all creatives that to make something of real merit you need to dare to try something different and take things into uncharted territory once in a while.

This will mean different things to different people obviously, but be reminded how essential this is to arriving at a solution that not only works, but is new, daring, and most importantly, will by any measure perform better.

Now, previous incarnations of this blog went on to describe a contradiction within commerce whereby creativity was both undervalued and yet invaluable. How the business world’s inherent and completely understandable adversity to risk was at odds with an often Darwinian creative process which requires incorporating failure in order to evolve and succeed. Ultimately, those Nike designers were fortunate to be in the position where creative ideas can be expressed and experimented with without the worry of something not sticking – as they said in the video, “Nike are always playing around with ideas that don’t necessarily have a home”



But after reading through the blog again, I realise that my words were a cop-out. An ode to my frustrations. ‘Poor me’, I declared (internally, I should probably stipulate), ‘how unfair of life to not appoint me creative director of an innovative thinktank funded by a multi-billion dollar retail giant’. The truth of the matter is, it is up to every creative worth their salt to justify creativity.

I know that time is the most scarce of resources, and that all design processes take a lot of time to be completed, let alone going the necessary extra mile to really stand out. But whatever your role, whatever your discipline, some part of that video must have woken up the part of you that yearns to justify what some would call the ‘fluffy’ parts of your process.

You need to experiment, you won’t get anywhere worth going if you never do, so figure out how and where you can carve out moments for that freedom. It’s your responsibility. David Bowie said he was never happy creating something unless he felt his feet were just tip toeing out of depth with his head above water. That uncertainty breeds progression. Now, I don’t care that the website you’re designing has perhaps slightly less cultural impact than ‘Let’s Dance’ – a creative thinker is a creative thinker, regardless of their project. The same principles apply: believe in yourself to find that inspiration and to do what it takes to deliver.


It’s not just the things we make that need this treatment, but also the way we define companies and ask them to behave. The market today is more responsive and more interactive to their consumers than it has ever been. You can no longer just define a message and broadcast one way, you can merely hope to instigate or engage in a two-way conversation. And as we all know, conversation requires having something interesting and relevant to say.

The company who does not adopt more creative ways of; thinking, making and/ or communicating are most likely to fall by the wayside. Becoming increasingly mundane at accelerated rates as we are offered ever increasing ways and platforms upon which to affect how a consumer sees and experiences a product, service or brand.

So, I have made a choice to remember this video, their process, that shoe, and ask myself, throughout everything I’m working on;

‘what are the pine needles for this project?’


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