Tinker Hatfield.  Drawing: Concept Design for Air Jordan XIII Sneaker, 1996. Gift of Nike, 2002

Building a Shoe

Inventor Tinker Hatfield is responsible for the original design concepts of Air Jordan sneakers, one of the most widely recognized and highly coveted products from the 1990s. The jagged line of color on the edge of the sole that became a trademark; the revolutionary “Air” bubble design, a small plastic window in the sole of the shoe which allowed you to see the cushioning system inside, are all ideas that came from one man who seems to know a little more about building than just shoe design.

Tinker Hatfield grew up in Hillsboro, Oregon, trained as an architect at the University of Oregon, and was a member of the University of Oregon track team under the leadership of Bill Bowerman. Bowman had an interest in Nike, a young company founded by an alum of his track program, and had Hatfield test shoe designs as well as draw his own ideas on paper.

As with a beautiful house, the design of the Air Jordan fits a function as well; “An actual basketball player will find it fits better and tighter to his ankle,” says Hatfield. “We would never make a basketball shoe and throw some lumps on it unless it had some intrinsic value to the activity.”[1]

After graduation Hatfield was hired by Nike, where he spent his first four years as a staff architect designing showrooms, trade show exhibits, and company stores. In 1985, Hatfield was invited to participate in an in-house shoe design competition; this opportunity led to his career as a revolutionary designer and his current title as Vice President for Design and Special Products. Hatfield says, “When I started designing shoes in late 1985, athletic shoes were just basic performance footwear. There was no romance, no tying in with athletic personalities, no design inspiration from outside. They were just done for sports. Then Nike came on the scene.” [2]

Nike signed up-and-coming basketball star Michael Jordan, and Hatfield got to work on a shoe design that exemplified the athleticism and star power of their namesake. Hatfield and Nike were able to drastically reshape the perception of the trainer, adding value to the idea of buying shoes: says Tinker, “you’re not really buying a piece of leather with some rubber and foam; you’re buying a part of modern culture.”[3]

 



[1] Douglas McGill. “STYLE MAKERS; Tinker Hatfield: Sports-Apparel Designer.” The New

            York Times, 7/23/89.

[2] Peter Lyle. “A runaway success as Tinker Hatfield unveils a new model ,” Irish Times, 1/22/00.

[3] Peter Lyle. “A runaway success as Tinker Hatfield unveils a new model ,” Irish Times, 1/22/00.

 

Museum Number: 
2002-1-1