Uncaging the UltraBoost – Interview With Ben Herath

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The UltraBoost uncaged embodies the look of today, but it’s much more than that. In fact, it’s like a Trojan horse – so minimalist on the outside that you overlook just how advanced a running shoe it is. For the full background story, check out this interview with Ben Herath, Vice President of Design for Running at adidas, along with exclusive pictures of our favorite runner in 2016.

Sneakers Magazine: Ben, before we talk about “uncaged” business, can you give us a little introduction to yourself, please?

Ben Herath: Yeah, a few words about myself: my name is Ben Herath, I’m the VP of design here at Adidas for the running category – heading up the team here. I’ve been with the company for about 13 years now so I’ve had the chance to work on a lot of great running projects over the years, including the first Energy Boost that we launched in 2013. Also, the Pure Boost in 2014 and last year the UltraBoost, which leads to the exciting new project we’re talking about today: the UltraBoost Uncaged.

Sneakers Magazine: That’s quite a lineup of successful shoes. To be honest, our first reaction when we saw the UltraBoost Uncaged was: “Is this really a running shoe!?” Is that a common reaction and how do you feel about that as a designer?

Ben Herath: Yes it is absolutely a performance running shoe. To me it is a great question because we’re really pushing the boundaries of what a running shoe can look like, so I actually like to hear that question – it means we are pioneering new ground and changing how a running shoe can look. With the UltraBoost Uncaged, you actually struck the nail on the head: the biggest challenge we had with this shoe was how do we “uncage” the UltraBoost but keep the great performance qualities of the original. We really wanted to make sure this was a great performing running shoe for any distance, 5k, 10k or a marathon, but also to create a new style and personality to what the UltraBoost is.

Sneakers Magazine: When Sam Handy was working on the ZX Flux he mentioned in the interview that it’s “way easier to add things” – like layers or elements – to a shoe than to strip things off. Would you agree?

Ben Herath: Absolutely. One of our design ethos here is around being daringly simple and we take that on as a challenge of how can we constantly simplify our products. I think the UltraBoost has been a great example of that, where we’ve distilled it down to the essential ingredients that you need to perform and every piece works in harmony as a cohesive system. But we constantly challenge every part: do we need it? Can one part do the job of two parts?

For us that simplicity is something that we strive for here at Adidas. That’s what led us on the journey here with the Uncaged: us striving to make a simpler design; something that functions and performs great but does it with a reduction in parts.”

Sneakers Magazine: “How can we imagine the performance division and the lifestyle or fashion division at Adidas working together? Are you in constant contact with each other, exchanging ideas, or is it separate?”

Ben Herath: We’re feeding and fuelling each other I would say, and sharing ideas. That’s something I enjoy about the job here, all the talented designers from different fields and how we work together. This is an example of that – where the UltraBoost, as we finalized the design and got towards the end, became almost the benchmark for Primeknit and Boost and we were pioneering the experience of these two technologies coming together. At the time, there were designers all across the company that were grabbing the UltraBoost, studying it, deconstructing it and pulling it apart, sending me images and asking questions. “What about if you took this off?” … it was a really fertile area where we were sharing a lot of ideas around this. That kind of co-creation is something we’re really encouraging within our design community here at Adidas.

Sneakers Magazine: If you look at the journey of Boost starting from the Energy Boost to the UltraBoost to the UltraBoost Uncaged – was this part of a linear plan you mapped out or was it rather developed as you went along?

Ben Herath: I would say, with every iteration with Boost it is often at the forefront of what we know, so we’re pushing ourselves to the limit of what we can do. We’re always learning from that, which then informs the next iteration. As an example, when we launched the Energy Boost it was the first time we put Boost out there and at the time we learnt a lot about how Boost behaved and that the feel and experience you get with Boost is something we wanted to transmit across the whole shoe. So with the UltraBoost we looked at how to make every part and piece around the Boost live up to this experience as well – every piece was then considered to work in harmony with the Boost. That was a big learning we took in between the Energy and the UltraBoost.

Sneakers Magazine: “Speaking of simplifying, what were some of the biggest design challenges for you in stripping down the UltraBoost for the Uncaged?

Ben Herath: “The biggest challenge was that the cage of the UltraBoost was an integral part of the fit of the shoe – it’s a significant part of the performance – so when you cut the cage off you really weaken the performance of the shoe. Our challenge was how do we uncage the shoe but to keep its performance. What we did was to look to our track spikes for inspiration. With our track spikes we pioneer the lightest and fastest footwear we make, tested on some of the best athletes in the world – these are our basically our race cars, stripped down to nothing and built on such minimal materials. If you look at the inside of these, what we use is a soft, seamless suede with a high strength-to-weight ratio. It also feels great against the foot. So we took this construction from the track and applied it to the UltraBoost Uncaged, to the inside of the Primeknit and that allowed us to make sure it had all the fit that you’d need to run distances beyond 5k, 10k and up to a marathon.

Sneakers Magazine: “The UltraBoost has that great extended heel section near the Achilles but you completely dropped it for the collar of the UltraBoost Uncaged. Why did you do that?”

Ben Herath: “With this design we wanted to create a new collar design that was more in harmony with a simpler silhouette: creating a new silhouette that had a different stance to the UltraBoost. We actually explored a lot of different shapes for the collar but ended up coming back to the simplest and most adaptable – we wanted a construction that would adapt to different foot shapes and sizes. What we liked about that was it continued the story of the silhouette and blurred the lines between the shoe and the leg, keeping the sleek shape and wrapping it up towards the leg.

Sneakers Magazine: What kind of runner would take this shoe as opposed to a regular UltraBoost?

Ben Herath: “We actually benchmarked both shoes together so they perform the same. What we wanted to offer was something that performs the same as the UltraBoost but gives you a different style, a different personality too – something a little unexpected from us. So it really comes down to personal choice of the style of the shoe.”

Sneakers Magazine: What are the next steps for you and what can we look forward to now?

Ben Herath: Without giving too much away: the path we’re on with trying to take big steps with pioneering the performance, design and look of running shoes, we’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what we know – using as much of the technology we can to do that. It’s going to be an exciting path you’ll see from us coming up – I’m not sure I can reveal too much though.”

Sneakers Magazine: “OK, thanks Ben, it was a pleasure and please keep us updated with future milestones.

Ben Herath: I really appreciate being able to share some of our stories. Thank you.

(featured pic via Solebox)

Ben Herathboost2

 The UltraBoost uncaged embodies the look of today, but it’s much more than that. In fact, it’s like a Trojan horse – so minimalist on the outside that you overlook just how advanced a running shoe it is. For the full background story, check out this interview with Ben Herath, Vice President of Design for Running at adidas, along with exclusive pictures of our favorite runner in 2016.

Sneakers Magazine: Ben, before we talk about “uncaged” business, can you give us a little introduction to yourself, please?

Ben Herath: Yeah, a few words about myself: my name is Ben Herath, I’m the VP of design here at Adidas for the running category – heading up the team here. I’ve been with the company for about 13 years now so I’ve had the chance to work on a lot of great running projects over the years, including the first Energy Boost that we launched in 2013. Also, the Pure Boost in 2014 and last year the UltraBoost, which leads to the exciting new project we’re talking about today: the UltraBoost Uncaged.

Sneakers Magazine: That’s quite a lineup of successful shoes. To be honest, our first reaction when we saw the UltraBoost Uncaged was: “Is this really a running shoe!?” Is that a common reaction and how do you feel about that as a designer?

Ben Herath: Yes it is absolutely a performance running shoe. To me it is a great question because we’re really pushing the boundaries of what a running shoe can look like, so I actually like to hear that question – it means we are pioneering new ground and changing how a running shoe can look. With the UltraBoost Uncaged, you actually struck the nail on the head: the biggest challenge we had with this shoe was how do we “uncage” the UltraBoost but keep the great performance qualities of the original. We really wanted to make sure this was a great performing running shoe for any distance, 5k, 10k or a marathon, but also to create a new style and personality to what the UltraBoost is.

Sneakers Magazine: When Sam Handy was working on the ZX Flux he mentioned in the interview that it’s “way easier to add things” – like layers or elements – to a shoe than to strip things off. Would you agree?

Ben Herath: Absolutely. One of our design ethos here is around being daringly simple and we take that on as a challenge of how can we constantly simplify our products. I think the UltraBoost has been a great example of that, where we’ve distilled it down to the essential ingredients that you need to perform and every piece works in harmony as a cohesive system. But we constantly challenge every part: do we need it? Can one part do the job of two parts?

For us that simplicity is something that we strive for here at Adidas. That’s what led us on the journey here with the Uncaged: us striving to make a simpler design; something that functions and performs great but does it with a reduction in parts.”

Sneakers Magazine: “How can we imagine the performance division and the lifestyle or fashion division at Adidas working together? Are you in constant contact with each other, exchanging ideas, or is it separate?”

Ben Herath: We’re feeding and fuelling each other I would say, and sharing ideas. That’s something I enjoy about the job here, all the talented designers from different fields and how we work together. This is an example of that – where the UltraBoost, as we finalized the design and got towards the end, became almost the benchmark for Primeknit and Boost and we were pioneering the experience of these two technologies coming together. At the time, there were designers all across the company that were grabbing the UltraBoost, studying it, deconstructing it and pulling it apart, sending me images and asking questions. “What about if you took this off?” … it was a really fertile area where we were sharing a lot of ideas around this. That kind of co-creation is something we’re really encouraging within our design community here at Adidas.

Sneakers Magazine: If you look at the journey of Boost starting from the Energy Boost to the UltraBoost to the UltraBoost Uncaged – was this part of a linear plan you mapped out or was it rather developed as you went along?

Ben Herath: I would say, with every iteration with Boost it is often at the forefront of what we know, so we’re pushing ourselves to the limit of what we can do. We’re always learning from that, which then informs the next iteration. As an example, when we launched the Energy Boost it was the first time we put Boost out there and at the time we learnt a lot about how Boost behaved and that the feel and experience you get with Boost is something we wanted to transmit across the whole shoe. So with the UltraBoost we looked at how to make every part and piece around the Boost live up to this experience as well – every piece was then considered to work in harmony with the Boost. That was a big learning we took in between the Energy and the UltraBoost.

Sneakers Magazine: “Speaking of simplifying, what were some of the biggest design challenges for you in stripping down the UltraBoost for the Uncaged?

Ben Herath: “The biggest challenge was that the cage of the UltraBoost was an integral part of the fit of the shoe – it’s a significant part of the performance – so when you cut the cage off you really weaken the performance of the shoe. Our challenge was how do we uncage the shoe but to keep its performance. What we did was to look to our track spikes for inspiration. With our track spikes we pioneer the lightest and fastest footwear we make, tested on some of the best athletes in the world – these are our basically our race cars, stripped down to nothing and built on such minimal materials. If you look at the inside of these, what we use is a soft, seamless suede with a high strength-to-weight ratio. It also feels great against the foot. So we took this construction from the track and applied it to the UltraBoost Uncaged, to the inside of the Primeknit and that allowed us to make sure it had all the fit that you’d need to run distances beyond 5k, 10k and up to a marathon.

Sneakers Magazine: “The UltraBoost has that great extended heel section near the Achilles but you completely dropped it for the collar of the UltraBoost Uncaged. Why did you do that?”

Ben Herath: “With this design we wanted to create a new collar design that was more in harmony with a simpler silhouette: creating a new silhouette that had a different stance to the UltraBoost. We actually explored a lot of different shapes for the collar but ended up coming back to the simplest and most adaptable – we wanted a construction that would adapt to different foot shapes and sizes. What we liked about that was it continued the story of the silhouette and blurred the lines between the shoe and the leg, keeping the sleek shape and wrapping it up towards the leg.

Sneakers Magazine: What kind of runner would take this shoe as opposed to a regular UltraBoost?

Ben Herath: “We actually benchmarked both shoes together so they perform the same. What we wanted to offer was something that performs the same as the UltraBoost but gives you a different style, a different personality too – something a little unexpected from us. So it really comes down to personal choice of the style of the shoe.”

Sneakers Magazine: What are the next steps for you and what can we look forward to now?

Ben Herath: Without giving too much away: the path we’re on with trying to take big steps with pioneering the performance, design and look of running shoes, we’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what we know – using as much of the technology we can to do that. It’s going to be an exciting path you’ll see from us coming up – I’m not sure I can reveal too much though.”

Sneakers Magazine: “OK, thanks Ben, it was a pleasure and please keep us updated with future milestones.

Ben Herath: I really appreciate being able to share some of our stories. Thank you.

(featured pic via Solebox)

Ben Herathboost2

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