Huge step forward

Nike’s new footwear is created through pioneering AI and VR design
By Alex James Taylor | 28 September 2022

Having consistantly been at the vanguard of the footwear world for nearly six decades, Nike‘s secret lies in its ability to evolve with the ever-changing tides; not simply tapping into the zeitgeist, but tuning it. The US brand’s latest endeavour, the Air Max Scorpion, is no exception, demonstrating a major evolution in Nike Air technology. Created with the help of new 3D VR and AI product creation and athlete insight, the design is a pioneer in its field.

It’s among the first Nike footwear to be created entirely during the pandemic, which saw all aspects of the design process moving to virtual realms through remote collaboration. Accelerating the culture of innovation, the condensed timeline proves just how much of an impact digital transformation is having on the production process. Designed with the “Future City athlete” in mind, the shoe’s slim profile and aerodynamic qualities are a testament to the needs of the modern wearer.

According to Vice President of Footwear Product Design Andy Caine, a key player in the brand’s AI expansion, it’s “one of the most pivotal shifts in design” he’s ever seen. In the conversation below, we asked Caine about the Scorpion’s pioneering qualities and what we can expect to see in the future of footwear.

Ella Joyce: Created during the pandemic, how did the usual design process differ?
Andy Caine: This is an exciting one because our design process really changed in the pandemic. It had to. Air Max Scorpion was the first, and it’s changed everything we’ve done since. Normally, our process is very hands-on and involves a lot of in-person collaboration. So when we shifted to working from home alone, the first thing we realised was we needed a way to work collectively and digitally ideate. And then using the virtual reality-based software that we do – if you think about the complex geometries particularly of the Scorpion airbag, to be able to move it, to visualise it in 3D – it was really pioneering.

One of the big things is it allowed us to iterate really fast. You know, if you have an idea, you can draw it up, make a model, get a sample. That can take months, and here we can do that within hours. It also allows us to arrive at a much more resolved and detailed design earlier in the process, so it impacts not just how we approach design, but beyond into manufacturing. It’s kind of been the tipping point for not just this project, but for many projects, and how we design going forward for all our shoes, not just Air Max.

EJ: What opportunities did using AI open up within the design process?
AC: For more than a decade, we’ve combined human and machine intelligence here at Nike to lead design to new places and create the future of sport. With Scorpion specifically, AI helped us identify the optimal traction pattern for the sole. We’re also using deep neural networks (or machine learning) to arrive at the perfect colour formulation for the airbag more quickly and with a lot less guesswork. But this is something we’re really just at the outset of and beginning to explore more deeply now.

EJ: How does designing in such a way better impact the environment?
AC: It greatly reduces the number of physical samples we need to make and transport. And it helps us to understand our materials and their limits that much better.

EJ: Where did the ‘Scorpion’ name come from?
AC: The name comes from the airbag’s cleft toe, which is reminiscent of a scorpion tail. The form allows for a rolling sensation off the toe. We always have code words for big innovations at Nike, and this was one of the ones that stuck.

EJ: Why is it important for wearers to have greater awareness of their movement?
AC: With Scorpion, we’re thinking about our Future City athletes who cover the equivalent of a marathon in the course of a normal week. We know there’s a mind/body connection and if our designs can support that, then that’s one additional benefit we can deliver to the everyday athletes we’re looking to serve.

EJ: In what ways do you see the digital world influencing footwear design of the future? What are you currently testing and experimenting with?
AC: It’s probably one of the most pivotal shifts in design I think I’ve seen. Just the speed, the ability to iterate and the level of creative fidelity and control. It’s powerful for design, and that extends into other realms. It’s just unlocking creativity. It’s like a whole new world of creativity just opened up. It’s pretty amazing right now.

Air Max Scorpion launch globally on October 5th on



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