Why did Apple just hire a Nike shoe designer?

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We have confirmed that Shaffer is no longer working at Nike and is doing well at Apple. There’s just one catch: Shaffer wasn’t involved in the FuelBand project. He was not a “FuelBand designer”; rather, his contributions at Nike were tied to footwear innovation. In fact, I’ve been told by several Nike sources that Shaffer hasn’t even worked on the FuelBand. This is yet another example of Apple’s endless rumor mill – and serves as a sign of Apple’s intense anticipation of getting involved in the wearable computing space, and our tendency to seize on rumors and their expected connotations, whether they are even or not. true.

Ben Schaffer

First, a little background. For our recent Nike cover story, I interviewed many of the company’s top designers and executives. The purpose of the story was to learn what DNA produced innovations like FuelBand and Flyknit, the company’s new flagship line of ultralight footwear.

I was able to have a good time with Shaffer, who took me inside the company’s so-called “Innovation Kitchen”. But it was clear that his involvement was with the Flyknit, not the FuelBand. We spent a lot of time discussing – all things – the intricacies of knitting.

On the other hand, when reporting on the FuelBand, it was fitting to speak to top Nike engineers and designers such as Aaron Weast and Jamian Cobbett. I also spoke to top members of Nike’s Digital Sport group, including Stefan Olander and Ricky Engelberg, who were instrumental in bringing the project to fruition. The FuelBand has also received significant support from third-party companies, including Astro Studios, Synapse, R/GA, and Whipsaw.

The thing is, if Apple wanted to steal talent from the FuelBand project, it would probably want to start with Nike’s Digital Sport group or a design company like Astro. Yes, Shaffer served as studio director of Innovation Kitchen, but he and this group are at the heart of footwear: there are knitting machines and shoe prototypes all over the lab. The Innovation Kitchen was not responsible for work on the FuelBand; Shaffer did not work on the FuelBand, a senior source at one of Nike’s FuelBand partner companies also confirms. Instead, it was the Digital Sport group that spearheaded the development of FuelBand, an independent group that actually sits in a separate building.

That’s not to say Shaffer won’t be a valuable asset to Apple. To be clear, he’s incredibly smart and a brilliant designer, certainly savvy when it comes to branding and building product narratives given the decade-plus he’s spent at Beaverton. Maybe he’ll end up working on the supposed iWatch project, who knows?

But it’s certainly a misrepresentation to say that Apple needed him for his wearable computing expertise. It would be more reasonable, though probably equally wrong, to infer that Apple needed Shaffer to develop an iShoe.

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