The Reebok Design Department provides inspired design graduates with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through a one year post-graduate ‘apprenticeship’ at its world headquarters in Canton, MA. The Design Apprentice Program is Reebok’s unique effort to grow and develop young talent while bringing a fresh eye to the brand. Apprentices spend the year working with and learning from Reebok’s renowned designers—gaining experience in footwear & apparel design, graphics, and color innovation, while learning to become innovators for the Reebok brand. Seth Maxwell, a 2014 apprentice, will chronicle his experiences in a series of future blog posts. To kick off the blog series, I had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Heller, Reebok’s Footwear Design Director for Outdoor, Basketball and Classics. We discussed Reebok’s design approach and the very special nature of the apprentice program. Here’s his take:
1. What is Reebok’s overall design philosophy and how has that evolved in recent years?
“There are different sides of the Reebok brand- the classics side and the fitness side. On the classics side, everything we do is connected to our origins. We have a long and rich history in fitness and other sports. We’ve been around basically since 1895, so for classics it’s all about origins and re-connecting with our history in fresh and compelling ways.
On the fitness side, it’s really about functionality. The best embodiment of that is probably in our running and training product. We really try to speak to the old adage of “form follows function.” Everything is derived from functionality–be it, where protective material goes on a CrossFit shoe, or how you break apart the mid-sole of a running shoe.”
2. What makes Reebok’s design approach or philosophy unique from other brands in our industry? What is the Reebok DNA?
“We have the ability to focus. We’re not about ‘everything’. I think there are many brands that are about so many different things that it’s hard for them to establish an identity. When you’re about everything, you’re kind of about nothing. So the great thing is– we have the ability to stand for things. Since we stand for fewer things, it allows us to do so in a bigger and better way.
On the classics side, DNA is rooted in our icons. A lot of what we do celebrates these icons. You might look at a particular line or piece on a basketball shoe, and that’s distinctly Reebok. Through the years there are certain elements that have stood the test of time–be it the pump ball in the tongue, material or shape of a pattern piece that is used on the toe. Certain color combinations have become iconic over the years.
On the fitness side, we’re establishing that DNA. ONE Series is our approach to running and it’s very clearly defined. There are zones of functionality on a running shoe—the heel, the mid-foot and the fore-foot. There is a very clear DNA that we stay true to and we ultimately evolve it over time. However, we want to put a stake in the ground and own that DNA.”
3. Has Reebok’s reputation among the design community changed with the introduction of our DNA approach?
A city like Boston has a pretty vibrant and organic design community. There are a lot of design firms and many companies with substantial design departments– Be it in the footwear and fashion industry, or consumer electronics…etc. So, there’s a great network of design within Boston. I think we play a big part in that–we’re definitely a big contributor. From a brand standpoint, the resurgence of Reebok on the fitness side, as well as a renewed look at Reebok product on the classics side also helps from a perception standpoint.”
4. How does a fitness-focus shape our design approach?
“Being immersed in the fitness culture is a big piece of what we’re about. We don’t pretend to know what the CrossFit athlete needs. We immerse ourselves in the CrossFit culture, and help shape and define it. I would say that true immersion–be it running, street culture or fitness, allows us to really shape what that product looks and feels like.”
5. So moving on to the Apprentice program, what are your goals for the Reebok Design Apprentice Program?
“Really to expose young talent to what we do at Reebok, and immerse them in our creative process. The really great ones are going to succeed and really dig into it and get a lot out of it. The expectation is that we’re investing in young talent and hopefully at the end of the apprenticeship; they’ve absorbed what they’ve learned and brought a lot of fresh perspective to the table as well, so that we can then, in turn, bring them on as full-time designers.”
6. What role will the apprentices play on the design team – will they work across categories or is a singular focus better for professional development?
“Typically an apprentice will live within a category. So you might have an apprentice that works as part of the outdoor team or the running team. They dedicate their time, much like our designers, on a particular category to really absorb and learn as much about it as they can.”
7. Is there anything else you want people to know about Reebok’s design approach or the Apprentice Program?
It’s a great platform for young designers to really get a taste of our industry. It’s a really cool intersection of design, technology, materials, fitness, sport and fashion.”
To learn more about the Reebok design culture please watch this video.