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Wilson W. Smith III - Visits Orlando

Last evening I had the opportunity to join a large crowd to hear Wilson W. Smith III speak to AIGA Orlando.

Wilson W. Smith III - AIGA Orlando

Following are some notes and thoughts:

In December Smith will have been at Nike for 24 years. He says enjoyment of your job is all about the people you work with. Then he pointed out there are 600 designers at Nike. Wow. Even the CEO Mark Parker started out at Nike as a designer.

Smith started his career at Nike as an interior designer/architect before moving into footwear design. He commented that the ability to see the big design picture is much more important than the specific discipline. Referencing his academic architecture background, he said, "shoes are just homes for the feet."

Being able to tell a story with the design is critical across design disciplines.

NikeConsidered is a sustainability effort that makes an attempt to consider the total impact of every design and product decision.

Technology is helping to shorten the shoe creation cycle. Nike uses Maya and 3D printing to create mock-ups of design concepts early in the design process.

Smith touched for a few moments on his inspiration other art forms including the work of Piet Mondrain and Richard Meier. He tried to capture how Meier's Jubilee Church gives different feelings when approached various directions.


Nike has a list of maxims or ethos statements. For example: it is our nature to innovate, do the right thing, master fundamentals, simplify and go, etc. One of them is "be a sponge." The word Smith used to illuminate this maxim is curiosity. I've encountered curiosity several times recently in design literature. Curiosity is what allows us to become intimate enough  with a subject to produce good design and communication solutions. Curiosity produces interesting conversation. Curiosity is the fuel of relationships.

Smith came back to curiosity while describing his work designing shoes for Michael Jordan. Smith described "MJ" as a great listener, very sharp, extremely focused, and having curiosity that "goes deep."

As designers we need to be deliberate in creating opportunities to soak things up. Be consciously curious. Be a sponge.

Complex Simplicity

Smith's slide presented complex simplicity as a process to attract, engage and capture an audience. His product example was a tennis shoe that from a distance was elegantly simple, yet as the viewer was attracted and drawn in the complex details become evident. The process gives me the impression of high-value.

Isn't complex simplicity a description of nature? A forest is simply a large block of green when viewed from the air, but as we descend closer and closer the details become more detailed and complex. The same could be said of almost anything natural.