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Three Things I Learnt From Abstract: The Art of Design – Episode 2

Episode 2 of Abstract: The Art of Design is based on the legendary footwear designer for Nike, Tinker Hatfield. Hatfield started working for Nike in 1981 and started designing shoes for them in 1985. His most prominent work for Nike includes designing the legendary Air Jordan series of shoes along with Michael Jordan.

Here are three things that I learnt from watching this episode.

Collecting the dots and making connections.

Before starting designing shoes for Nike, Tinker Hatfield was an architect and the first shoe that he designed for Nike, the Air Max 1, was inspired by a building in Paris called Centre Georges Pompidou.

The thing that stands out for this building is that you can see the internal structure of the building – including the structural beams. Tinker Hatfield took inspiration from this and designed the Air Max 1 shoe – which features the now iconic air bubble under the heel in an attempt to show the workings of the shoe to the naked eye.

People at that time thought he was crazy – because it looked like the the air bubble could easily be punctured but Hatfield stood by it. Rest, as they say, is history.

Collecting and then connecting dots is the essence of creativity. The reason I follow this series is to collect dots. Hatfield had two dots in his mental makeup – a dot about architecture and another one about footwear design and he managed to connect them both, creating something unique and epic.

Basic design is functional – but a great one will say something.

Tinker Hatfield said this towards the second half of the episode and rather predictably, it got me thinking about how true this is for our photographs as well.

Basic photography is functional at what it does – capture the moment as the camera sees it at a press of the button. There are loads of photographs that we take that are just basic. But a great photograph will say something to the viewer. A functional photograph becomes a great one can depend on, among other things, on when the photographer presses the button.

Experience life.

One of the final things Hatfield mentions in the episode is to go out there and experience life and that spending all your time is a studio is not a good idea for the artist. Experiences give us a library in our head that we translate into a new design.

Legendary photographer, Jay Maisel was once asked by a student on how to become a more interesting photographer. “Become a more interesting person”, was Jay’s answer.

We can only make photographs that say something if we have something to say in the first place. This can only happen if we are out there, experiencing life. This can only happen if we are willing to interpret things around us.

Some other lessons, notes and worth mentionables from the episode:

  • Think into the future – be the provocateur – what is art likely to look like in future?
  • If people don’t either love or hate our work, we just haven’t done all that much.
  • Tinker Hatfield had a vision of a self-lacing shoe – a shoe that Marty McFly wore in Back to the Future movie. But at that time, the shoe could not be mass produced due to the size of the motors and electronics. They had to wait for the electronics to become smaller. Wait a lot.
  • The above point ties into to the fact that we often find that our vision – i.e. what we’d like to show in a photograph very often well ahead of what our technical skills and gear can achieve. I think this is OK, though. Because if we had all the skills to take all the photographs we ever wanted, where would the fun be in this pursuit?

This post is part of a series. You can read about the other episodes by clicking the links below.

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 1: Christoph Niemann

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