How sneakers inspire new concepts

Sinc Agency
Sinc Agency
Published in
8 min readNov 25, 2022


The renowned and once controversial Nike Air Max sneaker celebrates its 35th birthday this year. A perfect occasion to look back at Tinker Hatfield’s thinking process when crafting this design icon.

Tinker Hatfield — designer at Nike since 1981 — received a lot of criticism and weird looks when presenting his original Air Max design. At the time, Nike had already developed air-cushions to incorporate in the soles to make you feel like ‘walking on air’. Though, as performance technology the cushions were only ought to be felt, not to be seen. The rebellious Hatfield decided to push some boundaries and ​​remove a part of the midsole to actually expose the technology.

“I thought let’s make the bag a little bit wider, make sure it’s stable, but then let’s go ahead and remove part of the midsole so we can actually see it. It was widely discussed that I had pushed it too far. People were trying to get us fired.”

Nike Air Max. Credit: Nike.

Hatfield — originally an architect — got inspired by the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris to actually show what is usually hidden. ‘Ugly’ in the eyes of the board, progressive in the eyes of Hatfield. With the Centre Pompidou, architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers realized the first major example of an ‘inside-out’ building. Hatfield essentially applied and transferred this principle to sneaker design and created something entirely new. Something the world had never seen before. In both cases, the designs were met with a lot of criticism. Though, both the Nike Air Max and the Centre Pompidou would have never enjoyed worldwide acclaim without this controversial way of thinking.

Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris

“When you sit down to design something, it can be anything.”

Here at Sinc, this story induced an experiment in our own Sinc Lab. How could an object inspire our designers to come up with new concepts? Our designers got to work on this ‘transformers’ question, with the goal to develop our analytical and conceptual thinking. And of course to end up with a new and surprising concept, object or artwork. In this article, we will guide you through the weeklong process and we invite you to try it out yourself!

Start with brainstorming on existing objects. Things that, according to you, are incredibly important. Things that you truly hate. Or perhaps new things that you are very curious about. Consider every impulse. But more importantly, motivate why you are writing these objects down. Then finally choose one to proceed with.

The challenge is to eventually transform the essence of your chosen object into something new. First dive into the history of your item. Uncover hidden meanings and get to the bottom of its reason of existence. Eventually decide which side of the object you want to shed a new light on. Now ask someone to criticize your way of thinking, because whether it’s your grandfather, coworker or dog, every new perspective could provide you with some new valuable insights.

Now you have arrived at the biggest hurdle in the process, the actual transformation. Your new creation cannot be similar to the original — a book for example cannot be transformed into another printed object. The goal is to preserve the original essence, yet come up with something different.

In the Lab, our team has toiled for weeks. Blood, sweat and tears were accompanied with laughter and (if we are perfectly honest) a couple of beers to keep the creative juices flowing. Finally, the following gems were presented.

1. From Moka Express to diamond ring

“Diamanti sono per siempre”

Coffeelover — and product designer by heart — Benjamin got to work on the Moka Express by Bialetti. A timeless piece of ingenuity, almost being 100 years old. It is widely known that this masterpiece gets passed on from generation to generation. ‘Diamanti sono per siempre’ evidently formed the starting point for this transformation.

The result? A ring reflecting and honoring the Moka Express, where the typical shape of the water container takes the place of the diamond. Benjamin envisions different sizes, suited for different occasions. Additionally, he envisions the possibility to launch the ring as a product on its own or as a limited edition in honor of Bialetti’s upcoming anniversary.

To the marketing team of Bialetti — if you read this and you’re interested, you can find our phone number on the website!

2. From colorcards to emotional painting

The team’s interpretation vs. the original

Bobby in turn gets inspired by the hundreds of colorcards she has collected at home. You know, those colorcards you get when choosing the paint for your kitchen or living room. She has strong feelings when seeing all of those colors and was wondering if the same goes for others. Her starting point were the names of the colors and the effects those have on people. She got the whole team to participate in an experiment.

Not painting by number, but painting by name this time. An empty drawing, with in every area the name of a color, and several pots of paint of which the other team members did not yet know the names. Bobby asked the team to decide together which color belonged to which name and to color the drawing that way. Afterwards the original painting could be compared with the team’s, the resemblances were hard to find.

What’s in a name? How is it possible that one interpretation can differ so much from another? And could we somehow use this in a campaign for example? Plenty of opportunities.

3. From parking garage to creative experience

The rooftopbar

Everyone has passed a parking garage at least once. But at that moment, very few people see other possibilities apart from parking. Simon did. He saw that the parking garage in the Marnixstraat was rarely full of cars and started thinking about other ways to use the available space. Eventually, he decided that the Q-park garage would be even more beautiful if it had a creative layer added to it.

In Simon’s vision Sinc would organize a pop-up event a few weekends in a row, during the working days in between the garage can still be used as a parking space. As a visitor you would be able to follow a path to the top floor. Along the way you can admire different sculptures and interactive installations. You can conclude your visit in the rooftop bar. Aside from that, Simon also sees the possibility to deploy the building’s exceptional acoustics for various performances in a unique setting. On top of that, it would be an excellent opportunity for Q-park to present their vision on mobility in the future.

We already think it is a strong transformation. And who knows, maybe we will meet you next year for a drink on the roof of the parking garage in the Marnixstraat.

4. From imaginative expressions to emoji’s

“Wetter than an otter’s pocket” — “Hairy arm” — “You got to eat the poo poo sometimes”

“You gotta eat the poo poo sometimes” and “Wetter than an otter’s pocket” are only a few examples of the sayings on Fanny’s list of expressions from a British coworker. The language barrier causes the expressions to spark her imagination. She transformed the spoken/written language into a visual one.

By deploying her graphical skills, Fanny created emoji’s. She literally drew what she envisioned when hearing the phrases. There is probably no need to explain the fact that this led to some very exceptional drawings.

Here at Sinc, we already use the emojis on Slack, the internal communication platform. If you are interested in this unique emoji pack, feel free to contact Fanny. And someday we might design emoji’s for Apple or Android. Or for our clients, of course.

5. From cryptocurrency wallet to children’s book

‘The Magic Kingdom’ by Joel

For Joel’s transformation, he got his Ledger out of the dust. That is a kind of digital wallet on which you can secure your cryptocurrencies. The code with which you encrypt it consists of 24 words which are generated from the BIP-39 list. In itself, it is all very dry and complicated technology. However, Joel turned it into something emotional.

24 random words that have nothing to do with each other, are evidently very hard to memorize. That is the main reason why most people write down the list, though of course that carries risks. If someone were to get their hands on your list, it would be like they knew your pincode. During the transformation process, Joel wrote a story in which all of those words appear one by one. The accompanying illustrations ensure that you can read the book to your kids at bedtime, a sentimental and artistic result in other words.

Whether you will ever be able to buy the booklet, is still in question. It does remain a secret code after all… It offers mountains of inspiration and possibilities for other projects, though.

The main takeaway from this process is that everyday objects lead to new ideas and inspiration, in turn leading to other great objects. We are already working on the opportunities that have emerged from this experiment. Did you get inspired by reading this article or do you — together with us — want to experiment in our Sinc Lab? Do not hesitate to contact us for a possible collaboration!



Sinc Agency
Sinc Agency

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