A day in the life of a footwear designer

A Day in the Life of a Shoe Designer

the daily life of a shoe designerLucky for us there is no “normal” day for a shoe designer!  The daily life of a shoe designer may be different every day! For a footwear designer every day will present a new challenge, almost every day will be a new adventure!  I can think of 10 different “days in the life of a shoe designer” that you can expect as a professional shoe designer.

The daily routine of a shoe designer will greatly depend on the size of the firm you are working for or, if you are working for yourself as an independent designer.  In a huge firm like Nike™ or Adidas™ you may find yourself in a large design group with your tasks focused on a relatively narrow aspect of shoe design and you may not find yourself working outside the department.  If you work for a smaller company your responsibilities will be wider, you will surely be working with many other departments.   As an independent designer you will be asked to work on many different design related tasks.

Also, the daily tasks for a shoe designer will greatly depend on the time of year or where you are in the footwear Design/Development cycle.  In a busy shoe design office there will be shoes in process for several different product release dates.  You may be in the concept stage for Spring delivery, while you are checking test patterns for Holiday delivery or confirming final samples for Fall production.

The Normal Office Day in the life of a Shoe Designer

There are some days for a shoe designer when you will really be sitting at your desk sketching shoes.  With so many demands on the shoe designers time these days may seem few and far between.  I have had weeks when I was tasked to just draw, 40 hours of just drawing is actually very difficult.

The footwear designers time is usually very mixed.  A shoe designers job description will be a long list of footwear tasks to work with. In the morning you may spend time making concept drawings or meeting with the creative manager to show some new logo applications.  Fed-Ex™ or UPS™ may deliver some shoes.  You may spend some time with your brands’ product manager and developer unboxing and organizing the new samples.  In the afternoon your brand team may meet and review each shoe, checking the shoe against the spec sheet or comment correction sheets.

The shoe designer may be working on a new last with the developer,  the new shoe is reviewed, fit tested or compared to reference samples.  The designer may check the new last to see if corrections were made.

The shoe designer will have meetings with the designer manger to get schedule updates, or with athletes and customers.

Travel Days

I hope you will have some travel days as a designer!  I’ve been lucky, as a shoe designer I have been able to travel the world.  Again, depending on your company, you may be parked in your office or you may be a road warrior.   The shoe designer may travel to visit factories, large dealers, trade shows, foreign distributors, sales meetings and inspiration trips.  While Skype can keep you in contact with your associates, there is no substitute for meeting face to face to work on a problem or celebrate successes.  Will you be traveling First class?  I doubt it.  Will you be traveling business class?…maybe, if you are a senior designer or design manager for a larger firm.  Will you spend many hours crammed in a coach seat on the way to China?  I would say, “Yes!  You will!” Just keep looking forward to being on the ground and working with friends.

Shoe Factory Visits

Leather for Shoes day in the life of a shoe designerMost likely you will be in a foreign county (China? Italy?), staying in a hotel close to your office or the factory.  Expect to get started early the morning.  If you are traveling with co-workers it’s very important to get everyone organized and on the same schedule.  The traffic in the industrial areas of China can be horrific, it’s critical to get started early or your factory visiting day will be spent in traffic!

Visiting factories to work on your projects or see new processes is great fun.  Expect long hours, some bad food, air conditioning or not….  Be flexible.  If there is another factory close by take the time to visit.  If you are visiting a large factory with many foreign visitors you may go about your business like a normal work day.  When you are working with a small factory you may need to spend some time drinking tea with the owners, this is standard procedure.

Depending on the company you are working for you may be invited to dinner.  Large firms have policies that don’t allow factory dinners, while for small firms the factory dinner is nessessary to create a personal bond between the companies.  Watch out!  While most factories owners mean well and just want you to have a good time, others just  try to get you drunk.  If business is good you can expect the factory business dinner to be a party.

Sales Visits

As a shoe designer you may be asked travel with a sales rep and visit with accounts.  These trips allow the designer to visit the retailer and hear first hand what they think of the products and markets.  For major dealer you may be asked to design some shoes on the fly.  You may also be asked to present your product during the sales call which is definitely a worth while experience.  If you have international distributors you many be asked to visit their market.

Trending Travel Days

Trend travel does not happen often but if you work for a large firm it can happen.  You and your fellow designers may travel to another city or country just to absorb the styles and trends.

Testing Trips

Depending on the type of product you are working on you may accompany your sample shoes on testing trips.  If you are working on hiking shoes or snowboarding boots you can expect some cold days in the snow.  Other shoes are often fit tested by your company staff or wear tested by athletes.

Sales Meetings

Shoe designers are often called upon to present the new products to the sales force.  The designers may present to salesmen in your home country or be flown overseas to educate an international sales force.

Critiques and Line Closing Days

Several times during the year the shoe designer will have to prepare for the line closing meetings.  In these meetings the new shoes are presented to CEO’s, marketing managers and sales managers.  The designer must prepare drawings, organize samples and be ready to explain why a new shoe should be in the range.

Shoe Trade Show Days

Footwear designers are often asked to attend major trade shows.  At trade shows the designers will assist the salesmen with large accounts and often help present the product lines.  You will find the customer greatly appreciates meeting the designers and will be happy to share their insights.

day in the life of a shoe designer

 To learn more about a day in the life of a shoe designer and a more complete shoe designer job description,  you can read the new book How Shoes are Made.