Tinker Hatfield: The Art of Shoe Design

“A basic design is always functional. But a great one will alway say something.”

Tinker Hatfield

Tinker Hatfield

As someone who played sports as a kid, be it basketball, baseball or track & field, I went through a lot of shoes. Each year, after much wear and tear in gyms, baseball fields and dirt trails, I returned once more to a shoe or sporting goods store, eagerly eyeing the following season’s newest shoes. Particular to my taste, I believed each pair of shoes had to look cool, yet work functionally; a shoe with an engaging color scheme but not too loud, ultimately matching my team’s jersey colors.

During this time I remember almost always buying Nikes for basketball season. They were the shoe to wear, both on and off the court. For some reason Nike shoes always looked so cool and futuristic. They seemed to have arrived from a place in far future where athletes ran as fast as a trains and jumping 30 stories into the air. Also, despite my current brand agnosticism as I a child, I was definitely under the spell of this company from the advertising, be it their now classic commercials with Michael Jordan and Spike Lee or their simple slogan, “Just Do It.”

This childhood admiration of Nike, however enthusiastic, never went deep enough to the point where I actually explored who made the shoes. That is, until recently. Part of the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, I happened upon an episode about Tinker Hatfield, world famous shoe designer for Nike, notably for his designs of Air Jordan III through XV.

Air Jordan III

Air Jordan III

Born and raised in Hillsboro, Oregon, Hatfield was an All-State pole vaulter for Central Linn High School. Later attending college at University of Oregon, Hatfield sustained a severe ankle injury, sidelining his future career as a professional vaulter. It was during this injury when Hatfield discovered his affinity for drawing. Fusing this skill with his academic focus as an architect, Hatfield parlayed these skills into a career in shoe design.

Tinker Hatfield's design layout for the Air Jordan III

Tinker Hatfield's design layout for the Air Jordan III

 

After joining Nike in the mid 80's, Hatfield began his subversive and trailblazing career as a shoe designer. Whether designing the Nike Air Max I's, first ever cross training shoe, to his decades long collaboration with Michael Jordan, elevating the Air Jordan shoes into international reverence both on and off the basketball court, to creating the self-lacing shoes in Back to the Future (realized years later as a real, functioning shoe), Hatfield, through his tireless work, became epitomized as the ultimate sports shoe designer.

Working version of the Nike Mag (Back to the Future shoes)

Working version of the Nike Mag (Back to the Future shoes)

For any shoe lovers, sport enthusiasts or anyone with 40 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this documentary. Tinker Hatfield inspires deeply, both with his actions, words and his everyday appearance on the feet of casual shoe wearers and sneakerheads alike.