It sounds back to front; electronics companies are developing running footwear for VR and sports shoe companies creating digital footwear for the Metaverse. 10 years ago who imagined running in a virtual world while sitting down at home?
The future of footwear design in the digital world is hard to imagine, because the digital economy is developing so fast. Putting aside the role of A.I for a second, could it be that in a virtual reality future, special effects will make even digital footwear and professional footwear designers redundant?
Could digital footwear design evolve into added value Avatars for the Metaverse? So will mainstream footwear companies have to become mainly Avatar companies instead? Focusing on complete character designs, instead of individual items of digital sporting goods?
If you think about it, the amount of space that physical footwear can cover your body is limited to a relatively small part for a series practical real world reasons. Firstly it should be easy and quick to put on and take off, second it should remain light and third relatively inexpensive. But in a virtual, fantasy meta world… anything is possible…with enough poly-count and processing speed (unless of course users become less interested in realistic finer details as with some video games).
In a virtual world without those limitations and where “form will not need to follow function”, digital footwear and clothes will easily be merged into a single aesthetic expressions. For example since digital footwear will no longer need to be designed within physical parameters, it will no longer need to have a sole, or a collar which could mean that it will transition into a digital expression of bodywear (or even a body without clothes). The question is what kind of body? A human body, or something more abstract and novel? We will be able to design such interesting and bold Avatars, that footwear design may not stand out as much as it does today under a plain pair of jeans, or training pants.
Here is an interesting animation from a few years ago by Adobe, which I think suggests well some of the diversity of Avatars that could exist in the Metaverse.
It will be interesting how footwear, or sports equipment companies make the transition in VR should footwear aesthetic become less interesting and relevant? And will they need to compete with video game companies and the film industry as well as each other? Will some digital footwear designers transition to character design and how crowded will the designer pool become?
Nike as usual is has positioned itself well ahead of all the other fashion companies to spear head the NFT and Avatar/Character creation/development; strategically by buying RTFKT (artifact) Studios in 2021 (probably because Nike founder Phil and Travis Knight own Laika animation studio). But also the arrival of new CEO John Donahoe from Ebay and Cloud Computing also indicates a shift towards digitalisation. So I can imagine that the company’s budget for digital initiatives will be bigger than at other footwear companies. And the design and quality of their traditional product could begin to take a backseat, or at least be equaled by it digital counterpart. And maybe a lower, or stagnating design quality of physical Nike footwear is already noticeable today, as the Time to Market (TTM) of Nike Footwear coincides with the change of CEO in 2020 and a strategic shift towards digital innovation and resource and budget allocation?
While I haven’t seen much digital footwear from Nike yet, below are some interesting examples of how I think people/avatars could look in the Metaverse by Universal Everything and notice how none include footwear.
Think about it, why will we need digital clothes, or shoes, or distinguish between them, in a world where we can look like anything, from a dragon to a pile of moving rocks? A world where our Avatar can replace our full identity, not just clothes.
It may be that eventually people will prefer to appear as clothes-less (or naked) Avatars, since a clothes will have no practical purpose and their aesthetic could appear quite old fashioned. Maybe a traditional clothes digital aesthetic will even hold people back from advancing in their journey towards their digital self-realisation, or more intense sensations. Who has seen the Black Mirror episode of “Striking Vipers” and ask yourself how relevant will athletic footwear design be in such a world?
Of course it could also be that in VR, like mainstream physical fashion, that people will generally continue to prefer more relatable and familiar forms of aesthetic and personal expression instead, like retro sneakers for example, maybe oversized just to be a little different (same, same, but different :))).
Of course it would also be possible to combine all of the above (and more) to create multiple avatar skins that you can peel off and put back on depending on the situation, like a Matryoshka doll. A bit like what we currently do with clothes and make up, but in a more amplified and transformative way. But what could the personal and social psychological consequences be of wearing and managing so many masks?
Another factor will probably be poly-count and maybe some platforms will allow more more detailed designs for more advanced, complex, or bigger aesthetics.
Nonetheless below are some more, interesting early and/or far fetched examples of how I think Avatars could look in the Metaverse by Universal Everything from 2011 to 2020…and notice how none include footwear 🙂