Brooks Footwear Product Line Manager Carson Caprara shares his thoughts on the future of running shoes and previews the PureProject collection from Brooks, an exciting new line launching this October:
The marketplace is changing rapidly and there’s a lot of noise and confusion in the running world right now around minimal and barefoot running vs. traditional running shoes. There are many questions about which running style is right or wrong. Should you run mid-foot, forefoot, or is heel striking ok? Monologues abound from both sides of the discussion. “Running shoes are bad,” to “barefoot running is crazy!” The debate is healthy and will positively affect the design and function of all running shoes in the future. However, lately the conversation has become more about who’s right and wrong. So where does the real truth lie? More importantly, why are new runners so intrigued by this debate? What are they really seeking out of their running shoe experience?
To get the bottom of this, we at Brooks partnered with the consumer insights and design firm, IDEO . IDEO is often regarded as the preeminent design and innovation firm. This is due in large part to their unique, qualitative approach to consumer insight gathering and how they synthesize that into inspiration for design. Our team traveled the country from Chicago to Austin to NYC to talk to new runners ages 25 to 35. We immersed ourselves in their lives. We spent hours in their homes where we did more listening and less talking. We ran with their running groups, shopped with them at running stores, and even set up an “unfocused group” where they were given access to a buffet of materials to build their perfect running shoe. The process was eye opening for our entire team. As we sifted through the enormous amount of information that we had compiled over the previous months, and sorted and resorted the post-it notes that covered the walls of our working space, we began to shed light on five overarching messages that we felt the new runner was trying to tell us.
First, the shoe is the story and the story is the shoe .
Running shoes have become far too complicated with a plethora of technologies. Research has told us consumers are only able to interpret a few technologies at most. They are drawn to function that is more intuitive and design that is more purposeful.
Second, the running world is having one conversation while people (new runners) are having another.
People are tired of always being told what they NEED when picking out a running shoe. They WANT more choice. From the colors to the design to the feel, it is important to them to have a dialogue with a retailer as opposed to a one-sided monologue.
Third, people don’t know what they don’t know.
We spoke with Joe, a Chicago area runner, after he went through a full gait analysis at a local retailer. We asked him what he learned and he said, “I think that I’m a nator…” This was frustrating for me having fit shoes for many years. You are not simply diagnosed as a nator… You are an over-pronator, neutral, or a supinator. However, the message didn’t get through to Joe. He walked away more confused than when he went in. This experience perhaps underlines why the new runner feels disconnected from the current retail experience. They are clearly seeking a more simple understanding of the shoe selection process.
Fourth, people want to be more connected to the run.
This message rang loud in our ears. Since when does the new runner want to connect more to the run? Aren’t they the ones who want to plug in the headphones and get the run over with? Aren’t they solely interested in reaping the physical and mental benefits afterward? This is the point where we realized there is a total mindset shift occurring in the market. This new mindset is all about actually enjoying the run in the moment. Taking the headphones out and connecting more intimately with their surroundings. Feeling the ground under their feet, being more connected with their body, and tuning into every step. They are realizing something that longtime runners have always kept close to the vest: Running can actually be fun, enjoyable, and awakening! I believe this is why our sport is healthier than it has ever been. It is why we are staring at an amazing opportunity to reach out and connect with more people and empower them to experience running in a way that has never been so compelling.
Fifth and finally, not all runners are the same.
Yes we unveiled a new running mindset that is growing at a rapid rate, driven by new and seasoned runners alike. However, throughout our travels we confirmed that not every runner wants to run in this new way. There still are—and forever will be—a large number of those who want to experience running in a less connected way. Those who want to float through their runs, cruise above the ground with ample cushioning, plug in the headphones, or simply escape from their daily stress. This mindset has fueled our sport for decades, and will continue for years to come.
The Running Experience: Float or Feel
When I talk about a running experience, I’m talking about a choice. The choice that is so important to the new runner. There is no right or wrong here… To be honest, what I love about running is the ability to not only choose how I want to experience my run, but to be able to switch it up from day to day. Some days I feel like connecting to my run. Being completely awake and in the moment, hugging the turns, feeling the inclines and declines, and being completely tuned into my internal engine. Trust me, there are also the days when I want none of the sort. Get me as far off of the ground as possible because my everything hurts and I want the shoe to do all of the work. On those days, I totally want to float.
At this point it was clear that we needed to reexamine the product spectrum. Up until this point we built shoes solely on what we called the horizontal biomechanical spectrum. Our mission has always been to create “a perfect ride for every stride.” So from neutral to support to control, every shoe we built was tied directly to this axis. However, having a single axis leaves little room for consumer choice and experience. The runner’s positioning on the horizontal axis is determined by his or her foot mechanics, not design or experience preference. How are we providing the “perfect ride for every stride” if we aren’t building shoes that offer choice and provide a running experience that many runners are looking for? The time is now for Brooks to turn the running shoe spectrum on end with the addition of an entirely new axis that we call “Float and Feel.” The Float vs. Feel axis will run vertically over the existing horizontal axis. It is all about choice. It’s about having a dialogue with the runner about his or her preferred running experience. It’s about expanding our product breadth and functionality to be built specifically for those who seek a maximum feel experience to those who want the ultimate float experience—all while keeping biomechanics as the focal point for design on BOTH ends of the spectrum.
Our core product is what you already know and hopefully love from Brooks. The core design philosophy is centered around creating the most customized fit, most dynamic stability, and most cushioned ride possible to deliver an incredible floating experience. We will not waiver here…
Our glaring opportunity is to create a new product line designed from the ground up to provide the runner with an incredible feel experience. “Less is more” has become the design philosophy of many brands in the market right now that are chasing the minimal trend. The hard part about that for us is that we don’t feel that “less is more” is a great consumer proposition. It is no doubt an uplifting life philosophy, but a product promise? Runners shouldn’t have to pay more for less technology. We want to build a better, biomechanically sound product in a lighter package that allows the runner to feel more with less.
So on October 1, we will introduce the PureProject collection from Brooks. PureProject is a new line of footwear that promotes a natural ride and a truly unique running experience in a lightweight package. We utilize a new proactive approach to biomechanics called Ideal. Ideal technology is built into the very geometry of these shoes. It was created to promote a runner’s ideal alignment by attempting to shift force application points to align force vectors, and then load internal structures to enhance performance and decrease the risk for injuries. With this incredibly unique product line, the shoes work together with the body to put runners back in the driver’s seat. Let them be completely connected to their runs, hugging the turns, and dynamically tuned into every step.
We want to encourage the runner to choose how they want to experience their runs. There is no right or wrong with Float vs. Feel. It’s all about how an individual wants to run on a given day. It’s about creating dialogue not monologues. It’s about choice. It’s about more WANT and a little less NEED. It’s about having the conversation that the everyday runner is having, not one speckled with confusing and intimidating terms like “minimalism” and “lightweight training.” It’s about making our amazing sport more accessible and enjoyable to the world.
Carson is a Footwear Product Line Manager for Brooks Sports, Inc.