Word pairings and associations can be everything; Peanut Butter and Jelly. Peas and Carrots. Meat and Potatoes. Nike and…Air.
To provide further insight for shoe nerds and design geeks into the making of one of the company’s most iconic shoe technologies, the Nike team released ‘A Brief History of Nike Air’ – a consolidated history of one of the most revolutionary design features to ever hit footwear design.
Nike Air traces its roots back to 1977, where retired aerospace engineer Marion Franklin Rudy presented an air cushioned shoe prototype to Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The idea was to add airbags to the soles of athletic shoes to cushion the user’s fall, and while other companies rejected Rudy’s idea, Knight loved it.
This led to a partnership which spurred Nike Air. The first shoes, which featured the first iteration of the air cushioning technology, were limited to a run of 250 pairs of the 1978 Tailwind. Nike created a test market during a Hawaii Honolulu Marathon to see if the shoes would sell. All 250 pairs sold out in a single day for a mere $50 each. After further testing on the shoe technology, researchers from the University of Tennessee discovered that walkers and runners using the Tailwind required less energy to propel forward than those using other—more traditional— running shoe designs.
To ensure the quality of the airbags used was top notch, Rudy helped create the Kim Tester, a machine which attacked the bags with utmost ferocity. Named after his daughter, the machine took an airbag from each production run and pummeled it repeatedly to test its durability. If the shoe design passed the test, the airbags were used in the next production line. If they failed, they were discarded, and a new batch was made.
The 80s and 90s saw more design changes to what would eventually become Nike Air. Nike Innovation Kitchen leader and all-around shoe design icon Tinker Hatfield designed the Air Max 1, which was further improved in the 90s when models like the Air Max 90, Air Max Big Window, Air Max 95, and Air Max Plus were released.
Nowadays, new Nike Air models are brainstormed by a team that prioritizes form, function, and seasonal styles for the shoe line. While the process isn’t as medieval as the Kim Tester, they still hold Rudy’s core concept at the center of their creative process.
Read the full story over at Nike.