JB Designer Tom Luedecke Discusses the Air Jordan 2011

January 27, 2011 BY

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While the Air Jordan name may be synonymous with the pinnacle of footwear performance and style, each time the JB design team sits down to create the next year’s signature model, they are faced with the nearly impossible task of living up to the heralded Air Jordan legacy. People seem to expect each year’s new Air Jordan to conjure up the same warm feelings embodied by the classics, leaving many with almost unmeetable expectations for the new versions to come. For the Air Jordan 2011, it appears that the designers may have hit their mark, providing a new Air Jordan shoe that even the more hard-to-please sneakerheads will have to admit is, at the very least, a promising step back in the right direction.

We had the chance to sit down with Air Jordan 2011 co-designer Tom Luedecke to get a behind the scenes account of the meticulous design process of the shoe. In addition to an in-depth rundown of the 2011’s style and tech features, Tom also gives some interesting insight into the initial conception of a new Air Jordan signature model, MJ and D-Wade’s involvement in the design and the introduction of the new swappable insole technology. Keep reading for the full interview along with some new pics of samples, sketches and individual shoe components used throughout the various design stages of the Air Jordan 2011.

Sneaker News: Before we get into the Air Jordan 2011, I’d like to get some background on the genesis of a new yearly Air Jordan shoe. With the intimidating legacy of the original Air Jordan arsenal always looming and the hard to please Jordan fanatics out there anxiously waiting for the new model every year, how does the design team approach something so revered as creating a new addition to the Air Jordan family?

Tom Luedecke: First, there’s the athlete in sight and a great connection to the athlete, which makes the process less intimidating. So you’re not starting from nothing, you’re starting from an athlete’s insight into the game and the best athletes in the game at that, so that takes some of the intimidation factor out as well. So you start with a true insight with somebody who plays the sport or has played the sport at the highest level and is able and willing to give feedback and input to help guide the process along. So it’s great to have that guard rail to lean against.

Second is our drive to be the best in technology and performance drives some of the product design early on in a certain direction. I’ve been working on modular systems for 3-4 years before this shoe came to be, and they were in concept stages, working with athletes that are under contract with us. And there was an ask from the athlete community to come with a modular system where they’re able to replace underfoot technologies.

So there was a very strong science point of view, and that in turn allows us to have meaningful discussions with key stakeholder athletes like MJ about the concept, and in those discussions, things come up or metaphors are being thrown around that then kick off the creative process to find an aesthetic expression. So trusting that the process works that way and trusting that there will be an insight that we can drive on from a technical perspective and also on the art side and the aesthetic expression. And that comes out of conversation. It comes out of linking up with the athlete at the right time to find meaningful metaphors and insights that lead the process. So it takes the intimidation out if you have a process and an athlete that you trust and a team that’s able to take those insights and drive them all the way through the product process.

SN: When you sit down to work on the new model, do you look back at what’s worked and maybe not worked on previous Jordans or is the goal to start with a completely clean slate?

TL: With this one, it was more of the latter. In general, yes we do look at what worked and what didn’t work to be able to adjust what we deliver. I think it’s just the smart thing to do. To look in the back mirror and see where you’ve been, because it gives you a direction to move forward. At the same time, I think there are concepts like this (interchangeable insoles) that have been bubbling up from an innovation perspective, and when they’re ripe for the picking, having a vehicle like the Air Jordan 2011 to be the first to use a new technology like this is great.  And for aesthetic expression, we don’t so much lean on the past, but we are sort of informed by it.

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