Behind the Design: An Interview with Designer Richard Kuchinsky
skorarunning.com: You’ve been involved with SKORA since the very beginning. Can you tell me how the concept for SKORA first started?
RK: I met with SKORA CEO and Founder David Sypniewski in late 2007. In 2002, David, a runner, had been sidelined from injuries sustained while wearing conventional running shoes and had started barefoot running as a part of his recovery plan. He had an idea for an extremely minimal running shoe and brand and had asked me and my consultancy, The Directive Collective, to help make his dream a reality.
skorarunning.com: So, the design and concept for SKORA running shoes was already in place at the time?
RK: Not quite. David’s original concept was a sock with a thin layer of rubber on the bottom. At the time, I was only somewhat familiar with the concept of minimal running shoes (I had a few pairs of the original Nike Frees and Prestos) and had never experienced barefoot running. David had to work hard to convince me of the potential. Initially we didn’t see eye to eye. He actually made me run around barefoot in the parking lot! Here I was, a footwear designer, with years of experience creating technical performance products to help stabilize the foot, increase cushioning, add support and more features to shoes, and he was asking me to do the opposite.
We had quite an involved discussion and while I could see the potential of the concept, it took a lot of back and forth to find the right middle ground for SKORA. With my experience in the industry, I felt it was important that the products and brand needed to have the right set of features and performance to be successful. If too extreme and minimal, it would be only appeal to a very small market, and if too conventional, it would not fit the goals and philosophy David embraced.
skorarunning.com: How did you find the right position for SKORA?
RK: From the start, we worked very strategically, to outline the position, tone and vision of the brand. We wanted SKORA to be a brand unlike other athletic footwear brands in terms of design, DNA and personality.
As the core concept was a return to a more natural style of running, we wanted to create a more natural personality. While most athletic brands are all about “faster, stronger, better,” and use a lot of technical and marketing jargon to sell product, we wanted to create a brand that was more rational, honest, straight-forward and personal. Both David and I wanted to give the consumer more decision-making credit than conventional brands typically do, and challenge the status quo of how athletic brands communicate to athletes. Quite simply, we wanted to cut out the BS.
skorarunning.com: How did this affect the design of the products?
RK: Right from the start, I knew that to reflect this new type of athletic brand personality, I had to create a new type of visual DNA for the brand. The brand was different, so the products should be too. From very early on, we started looking at non-footwear and non-athletic products for inspiration. Two initial key themes of inspiration were Natural Simplicity and Technical Formalism. I looked at everything from bent wood mid-century modern furniture to geodesic domes.
Materials were also a big inspiration and driver for the design. It was decided very early on that we would explore the use of natural materials such as leather, which greatly influenced the design language. Designing a leather running shoe presents unique challenges and potential that is completely different than conventional mesh and synthetic shoes.
skorarunning.com: How is the design of the shoes different than other shoes on the market?
RK: As mentioned, from the very start, we followed a very rational, intelligent design philosophy. The result is a design language that is very straight-forward and more refined than most running footwear. Patterns, colors, lines and details are very graphic and almost mathematical. The moiré pattern that is used in several places on the shoe is a good example of this. This is in contrast to how most running shoes try to look like a speeding alien spaceship.
This design language translated into every line on the shoe and every selection of material and color. The upper patterns are constructed with a lot of straight lines and radii. The outsole design is very much engineered around the metatarsal flexgrooves and position of the functional areas on the sole. The tread pattern is both graphic and functional. Material and color choices are minimal in variation and very cohesive.
Functionally, features are only present when needed – not for the sake of adding marketing bullets. Every functional feature on the shoe is a real feature and is informed by a real benefit. This is outlined in our 10 Real Differences.
skorarunning.com: Where does SKORA go from here?
RK: You will just have to wait to find out! No, seriously, SKORA has some amazing products in the pipeline currently under design and development for future collections. Our strong design philosophy will both continue and evolve. One great thing about designing for SKORA is that the concept of challenging the status quo is a fundamental principle, not just something mentioned in a mission statement somewhere. Because SKORA is a new brand, with a 100% focus on making running shoes that encourage more natural performance, I have a large amount of freedom in design. I’ve worked for many brands and have never once been in such a position where design is so well respected and the ultimate goal is simple as making better running shoes, not selling more pairs, making shoes cheaper, or providing marketing with “features” to sell.
SKORA really is designed for runners, by runners, and I’m proud to be on the SKORA team.
Richard Kuchinsky is the Principal and Directive Creator of The Directive Collective, a full-service strategic design consultancy. He has been in the footwear industry for more than 11 years and is involved in the branding, design, technical development and marketing of SKORA.