Daniel was born in Greece, studied in the US and now lives in Belgium. He knows his sneakers! And, if you are interested in product design, specificity footwear design, this interview is a must read!
So Daniel, how did you get into designing?
I guess you could say I’ve been attempting to design things ever since I could hold a pencil. I remember my aunt, who was an architect at the time, giving me scribbles on a piece of scrap paper when I was around 5 or 6 and making me turn those random shapes into 3D objects, which really helped me as I got older to understand 1/2/3 point perspective drawings.
It all converged when I started to play basketball and developed a love for shoes, so for me, it was a natural progression to want to design my own. For years that’s exactly what I did, I mean…they sucked…really badly in fact, but eventually I got better and wanted to make a career out of it.
What were some of the biggest difficulties that you faced when moving from being a student studying design, to a professional footwear designer?
I saw this great info graphic the other day. It explained how after you graduate from design, or some other creative field, there’s a gap. It talks about how for the first couple of years after you graduate you’ll make stuff that just isn’t good, it has the potential to be good, but right now it just isn’t. It’s a difficult time in a creative persons life, and a lot of people quit. The only thing you can do to fight your way through the gap is to work on your craft, do something every week, expand your knowledge, expand your skill base, and eventually you’ll come through the other side and beat the shit out of that gap.
Right now I still feel like I’m in this phase, working hard, expanding my knowledge and network. Most students think the learning stops once you graduate, which may be true in other areas of study, but design (especially product design) isn’t one of them.
What kind of a role does branding play, when you are designing footwear. And, how does it change between designing for someone who has their own branding needs and limitations as opposed to designing for your own brand?
Branding plays a huge role in design in general. The brand is an identity in itself and has its own characteristics, the way a design looks for a Nike basketball shoe will be completely different for say, a Converse or Puma basketball shoe. Of course, the smaller/independent brands can totally switch their look up at any given time with not too much hassle, whereas the bigger, more established brands have to maintain a certain look. When designing for a client that already has their set aesthetic, price points, etc, you have to view the entirety of the project and how it best fits their consumer, and moves the brand forward in a natural progression.
Designing for yourself creates a whole new set of challenges, living up to your vision is never an easy task, especially when you’re a perfectionist. Taking pride in what you put out to the world leads you to delivering a quality product, which takes time. Balancing the passion you have as a designer with the business aspect of having a brand can be difficult at times, especially when the project is so personal, but at the end of the day, battle lines need to be drawn and business decisions will need to be made to protect your monetary and emotional investment.
Do you find it tough to balance business and design?
Absolutely, being the typical creative type, I want the craziest, most amazing product to be released, and when I start out designing a shoe (or anything for that matter), that’s the exact mentality I move forward with. I personally think it’s better to start a little wild, have a few crazy ideas and then taper them to fit the business end of the deal. Important sacrifices are always going to have to be made, being creative in finding ways around getting what you want in the shoe as a designer, while also satisfying the men in the suits crunching the numbers, is a big part of the process.
At first it’s difficult and intimidating to understand your worth as a good designer/developer, and it’s something I struggled with for a while. Understanding your talent and being confident in your work will enable you to be comfortable with charging someone something you feel is appropriate for the time you’ll be investing in the project. Designers always under value their skill of creating a great looking, innovative & viable product. Taste & creativity is something you’re either born with, or not, you can cultivate it, but can’t teach it (everybody thinks they’re a designer, only a few are), placing a value on that is pretty much impossible.
If you could give some advice to a young designer looking to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?
Knowing what you’re bad at is just as important, if not more, then knowing what you’re good at. If business isn’t your strong point (and for most designers, it isn’t) be sure to have good business minded people around you to steal some advice from now and then, as it’s easy to get caught up in the creative process and be taken advantage of if you’re not careful. I’m lucky to have my closest friends doing similar things to myself who happen to be a couple years in front of me on their projects and companies. Learning how they conduct business, avoiding the pitfalls they fell into and molding all that into what suits my personal beliefs allows me to move forward in a good direction. So, find some great mentors and learn learn learn.
A big thanks to Daniel for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer some of our questions. Don’t forget to check out ConceptKicks! You can also follow him on Twitter to find out what the latest developments are over at in the concept world of footwear.
We will be reconnecting with Daniel in January for a video interview to see how things have progressed from now to then, so stay tuned!