You can never predict where athletic shoe design is going. While they all have the same goal of making the wearer move quicker or better, they all have entirely different ways of doing that. Adidas' springy kicks, Puma's rubberband-like Mobium runners and Reebok's straight-up strange looking "off road" sneaks are all examples of this phenomenon. But the Airia One from Sweden-based Airia Running is looking to top the list when it comes to speed factor. They've created a shoe that shaves 1% (on average) off of your running time. Check out this video explaining the testing process with Airia Running CEO Mattias Geisler:
We had a chance to catch up with Geisler, who shared insight into the 20-year development process behind his the shoe, and how the Airia One's unusual aesthetic conveys the spirit of the product itself.
Airia Running CEO Mattias Geisler
Airia claims the title "world's fastest running shoe" for its proprietary sole, which puts your feet through a wheel-like motion when running. "The most important part [of the shoe] is actually not the raised toe, but the irregular protruding sections on the underside of the sole," Geisler says. "It is this difference in sole height that gives the runner small differences in biomechanical angles. That is why some runners say they feel like the sole just rolls away under the foot and continues in the next stride." Besides giving the runner a faster times (no matter what your running style may be), this design also improves running form. Geisler explains:
The shoe accommodates the runner to be a bit straighter in the upper body and use gravity more efficiently, much as the running techniques suggested by ChiRuning and Pose running. We have not seen the forefoot runners get more out of the shoe than heel strikers. It looks like the speed increase is equal and does not depend on your running style. The sole also helps in running straight and works against crossover which is a good thing.
One of the biggest challenges, according to Geisler, was figuring out how to perfect the design for breaking in the shoe. "We worked on this issue more than one year full time before we gave up and decided to go down a completely different road, designwise," he notes—a major decision, considering that the entire design process has taken two decades to date. Geisler says really learning and understanding the function of the design and its range of motion has been a long time in the works. "It's been very difficult understanding how the inventors' prototypes work," he relates. "When you don't understand what you are trying to make, nothing works out. That's why I was especially proud of the final modification of the sole because there was a need for changes. You had to have the feeling for the product to be able to make them."
That reporter nailed it with his description.
The shoe may have been quick from the beginning, but it didn't always look so sleek. "One reporter called the prototype 'ful som stryk' which translates to something like 'ugly as sin,'" Geisler says. But how important is an aesthetically pleasing design if you're focusing on performance? "If you compare the design we have today to the prototypes, I think you would agree on that aesthetics have some importance for believability and trust," Geisler says. "We decided for a white and clean shoe, even though the trend in running shoe aesthetics is strong colors and lots of details. We feel that this more exemplifies lightness, speed and obscurity—which is how we perceive ourselves."
Svante Berggren, Inventor of the Airia One
It certainly seems like everything has already been done before when it comes to designing a faster anything. Besides a few aged patents from the '50s that loosely prefigured the Airia One's innovative design, the shoe's biomechanical properties are a first. The whole idea of putting a runner's feet through a wheel-like motion brought the shoe together. "It was the start of the invention," Geisler says. "A lot of dedicated runners can tell you about a certain feeling of flow they get from running. It really feels like your legs are like wheels propelling you forward indefinitely. You will snap out of it eventually, but it was this feeling that inspired inventor [Svante Berggren]."
The design is much more than a pretty looking shoe. "In Swedish we have this term 'running feel,'" Geisler says. "You feel strong and high in the step. As soon as you lace up in the shoes you want to run. The shoes are so dedicated to running you can't walk comfortably in them, but as soon as you start running it just feels so right."
Airia is currently taking pre-orders for the shoe. What say you designers—in a world filled with false shoe promises of faster times and easier runs, do you think this design makes the cut?