Stefan Van Dorn

The Success of Converse – Part 1

Shoes are a major part of most of our lives, dating back thousands of years. According to a writer named, Ann Wuyt, for the UK news company Independent, a 5,500-year-old leather shoe was found in a cave in Armenia. It came with laces fully intact and was near-perfectly preserved. The “shoe is made from a single piece of cowhide and was found containing grass, which may have severed to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe”. Today there are so many different styles, colors, and designs for us to choose from. For the most part, their function has stayed the same but over time we have begun to use them as a fashion piece rather than the simple protection for our feet. With so many options available to us today, what is it that makes a shoe stand out and have lasting success? What can a designer do to create a shoe that is loved and recognized by people around the world? One shoe that has done well in terms of popularity of its design, is the Converse Chuck Taylor. It is one of the best-selling shoes of all time (Foreman). In fact, “60% of all Americans own or have owned at least one pair of these sneakers (The History of the)!”

One of the most widely recognized and iconic shoe designs in the world, the Converse Chuck Taylors, illustrates how the success of a product largely depends on the effectiveness of the design (to match consumers’ preferences and needs) through shape, function, and colors with the inclusion and feedback from the customers. 

First, we need to know what product design entails. “Product design is cross-functional, knowledge-intensive work that has become increasingly important in today’s fast-paced, globally competitive environment. It is a key strategic activity in many firms because new products contribute significantly to sales revenue. When firms are able to develop distinctive products, they have opportunities to command premium pricing. Product design is a critical factor in organizational success because it sets the characteristics, features, and performance of the service or goods that consumers demand. The objective of product design is to create a good or service with excellent functional utility and sales appeal at an acceptable cost and within a reasonable time.” (Product Design 892)

The shape is one factor of importance for design. Shape and function go hand in hand in terms of the design process. To develop a product that is designed in a shape that fits a specific need, the creators will need to be skilled in design thinking. Design thinking “provides a methodical process for anticipating problem spaces and optimizing effective solutions through the identification of contextual challenges” (Chon and Sim 188). “Design, in its many roles and articulations, translates theory into practice through the development of critical ability, perceptive awareness, and knowledge” (Chon and Sim 187). In a research article written by Chon and Sim, they discuss the importance on design thinking and its importance in solving problems such as the functionality of a product (191) and how students benefit from learning design thinking principals, not only in design but in many problems faced in our daily lives. 

The Converse shape has not changed much at all since its creation in 1917. The originally high-top silhouette is constructed with a canvas material and rubber sole and was created for early basketball players. The sport had become increasingly popular and the Converse Rubber Corporation sprung at the opportunity of developing an appropriate shoe for the game that fulfilled the needs of the players. The high-top aspect was constructed to give support to the ankles, during the demanding sport of basketball. (“The History of the Converse All Star”)

The first shoe that was released came out in a brown upper with black trim in 1917, a few years later the shoe was released in an all-black leather or canvas option. It was a few years later, after Chuck Taylor had joined the Converse team, that a new colorway was available designed by Chuck for the 1936 Olympics. This was a white, high-top model that consisted of blue and red accents, suitable for the American team in the Olympics (Foreman). This gave the shoe a patriotic feel with the fans and really generated sentimental appeal to the product. This is when the shoe really began to gain in popularity with the players and the public. Three years later World War II began and brought the company to a halt as Chuck Taylor went on to become a Captain in the Air Force. During his time there he coached basketball teams and the Converse ended up becoming the official shoe of the United States Armed Forces training camp. After the War, just as the NBA was being founded, the black and white classic that we still see today was released in 1949. With the NBA in full swing, the shoe was a huge success in professional, college, and even high school basketball players. (“The History of the Converse All Star”)

(See Part 2 for More)

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