How a Nike Designer Collaborates with Athletes

WITH HRAG NASSANIAN
I asked Kevin if your bag had a superpower, what would it be?

So at the time, a lot of the internal conversations at Nike were around the idea of portraying athletes as superheroes.

Today, kids look up to athletes because they’re the ones achieving superhuman things.

We needed to create a bag that would empower KD and athletes.

I had a general idea of what materials and design I wanted for the Kevin Durant backpack.

I figured basketball players (and people in general) wanted bags that were lightweight.

But the thing about collaborating with athletes on product design is that you might have some initial ideas and they’re either supportive and strengthened by the muse or have different ideas entirely.

The KD FA15 backpack was unique in that we were using a new material: an engineered Jacquard.

Nike had used Jacquard on a lot of footwear projects, but using the material on bags was still new and we were simply experimenting.

Engineered Jacquard means you can have different patterns in areas where the weave is breathable or not breathable.

The difference between Jacquard and material you’d normally use for a bag is that the Jacquard comes out in one weave, one piece, forcing me as a designer to think about the construction differently.

Essentially, we had to design the entire bag around one single piece of material.

One material to get it right.

kevin-durant-backpack-1

The Jacquard Material that's typically used in footwear (pictured: Nike AirMax Lunar 90)

When I design anything, my first instinct is to think about the materials and the properties of those materials.

So when I found out that engineered Jacquard comes out as one sheet of material, I thought that this was an opportunity — to have this continuous pattern that wraps around the entire bag, similar to a pair of shoes.

When you think about what features a bag needs to have, you normally design it into the bag.

But in this situation, it was the opposite.

It’s extremely limiting when you’re folding materials to make a bag that holds something, so the materials need to be worked with first, before the features.

It was a lot of trial and error.

Often times with other bags, we would design it so the footwear was hidden inside. But we heard from a lot of kids that they wanted to show that they were basketball players.

We had to go back to the simple question: what makes a basketball bag a basketball bag?

Kids told us they wanted a compartment to hold their basketball shoes, and didn’t mind showing it off a little bit. Not so much where someone could snatch it, but just enough of a reveal.

This was great feedback and allowed us to come up with a solution. So we said, we’ll create this fold, and the footwear will go into the fold and we’ll make a pinch in it so the back of the shoes will be visible.

Now, the whole bag is kind of a swiss army knife, it’s super covert, but it expands and can hold a basketball.

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When collaborating with athletes, the product gets built first and then you get feedback from the athletes themselves.

The first time I showed KD the bag he said it looked like a rocket ship.

He said it felt like he had this rocket strapped to his back.

We presented in a room with all of the VPs of Nike Basketball and we all got a kick out of his comment.

It was an internal win because KD liked it, and he liked it because it made him feel even more powerful than he is.

KD, the superhero, flying on his rocket.

kevin-durant-backpack-3

Hrag was a Senior Product Designer with Nike for 12 years and worked on projects with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant. He's now the founder and managing creative director of his design studio, Ignition Spring.

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