Design Gratitude #9: Converse All-Stars
Also: Pieter Levels, the work culture at Gumroad, and the connection between car-centric urban design and loneliness.
Hello everyone 👋
I’m gearing up to take this show on the road for a bit. I’ll be in Brooklyn and Philly most of the rest of this month, in San Francisco in early December, and stopping over at my usual family spots on either side for the holidays.
For me, working remotely has been a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing of course to have been able to work mostly undisturbed by a global pandemic (and the flexibility is unmatched). But the amount of isolation has really started to weigh on me, to the extent that I can hardly stand being home anymore. I feel my creativity slipping away while I’m cooped up in the comfortable solitude of my apartment day after day.
So I’m hitting the road for a while with the intent to just exist in some different places, have some new experiences, and hopefully come up with some new ideas. If you happen to live in any of those places, gimme a shout! I’ll actively be looking for people to meet up with!
Design gratitude 🙏
This week I’m grateful for the Converse All-Star.
Few sneakers are as iconic as the All-Star. So much history and cultural impact rolled into one simple, timeless design.
All the early NBA stars wore them.
Elvis wore them.
The Ramones and Nirvana wore them.
Hell, even Sly Stallone wore them in the Rocky training montage.
There’s hardly a corner of American pop culture the All-Star hasn’t touched in its 100-year history, so if you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend watching this video from YouTuber NachoAverageFinds.
Okay, it’s popular. But why is it a good design? Let’s count the ways…
Rams’ Principle #1: It’s innovative
While we may not think of a pair of Chucks as particularly innovative in 2022, they blazed the trail for all the athletic footwear we’ve come to know and love.
If you go the whole way back to the beginning, Converse found its early success by innovating a method to cure rubber. First, this led them to make galoshes (rain shoes) but in 1917 it led them to make an athletic shoe: the “Non-Skids”. A first-of-its-kind athletic shoe for a little-followed sport called basketball.
A few years later, in 1922, Converse hired a man named Chuck Taylor as a salesman and part-time player-coach for the company club basketball team. Chuck had a big influence on the improvements found in the next generation of Non-Skid, the one that would bear his name and exist to this day: the Chuck Taylor All-Star.
So although it’s been decades since the All-Star sat at the forefront of innovation, its influence can’t be overstated.
Rams’ Principle #6: It’s honest
There was a short period after Nike purchased Converse in which they tried to introduce a new, souped-up version of the All-Star: the All-Star 2.
However, the attempt fizzled, I think largely due to the fact that it felt out of sync with what the All-Star had come to represent as a design in the minds of so many: the honest basics of what a sneaker can and should be. A non-skid sole, a comfortable but not overly plush footbed, and a simple canvas upper that lets you put your own stamp on the classic silhouette.
Converse All-Stars are really a blank canvas (pun intended). That simplicity and honesty have gone a long way toward making them so enduring.
Rams’ Principle #7: It’s long-lasting
As of 2022, the All-Star has been around for 100 years.
From its early life as a breakthrough shoe for athletic performance to becoming the official training shoe of the US Armed Forces to being adopted as a core piece of American leisure footwear, the All-Star has been reinvented over and over again, yet managed to stay substantially the same.
Now that’s a durable design.
Coffee break links ☕
Creator of the week 🧑🎨
Pieter Levels – Solopreneur and owner of Levels.io
Pieter basically never stops making things. His latest project Interior.AI is a great example of building an experiment, testing to see if it will get traction, and then proceeding accordingly based on the response.
It’s also a great reminder for both designers and engineers to get out of their own way early on. Don’t over-complicate or over-optimize. Just get something to work well enough to get some feedback and keep moving. Lots to learn from Pieter.
Intentionally different work culture 💼
No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees by Sahil Lavingia
These days I’m not that interested in what public corporations or big, venture-backed startups are doing from a process perspective. In both cases, the company is on the hook of vast quantities of other people’s money which leads them to think and act mostly the same when it comes to how to operate their businesses (not necessarily a bad thing btw).
Instead, I’m much more inspired by what smaller, privately-held businesses are doing. They have the flexibility to operate less conventionally and experiment which makes them more interesting to learn from regardless of whether or not their experiments hold up.
In this article, Gumroad founder Sahil Lavingia shares the company’s unconventional structure and work cadence which I found inspirational.
Urban design and loneliness 🚗
Too many Americans live in places built for cars — not for human connection by Muizz Ahktar
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I’m against car-dependent urban design because I feel it personally makes my life noticeably worse and more disconnected from other people.
This article from Muizz Ahktar captured a lot of salient points that resonated with me.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of times I’ve been happy to have a car and I also will geek out on automotive industrial design from time to time. But I think that overall, the knock-on effects of designing fully car-dependent places are a lot more serious than we generally talk about in the U.S.
Signing off 🖖,
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