Asked to explain the design process behind the new Speedcross 5 shoe, Salomon’s Global Footwear Design & Innovation Sport Science Director Philippe Besnard says he and his team went back to the “source code”. When Philippe first started saying “source code”, people around the Salomon Annecy Design Center (ADC) looked at him somewhat curiously.
Pressed to elaborate recently, Besnard leapt out of his chair, ran to a nearby white board and began scribbling. (He’s a passionate guy, so he does that fairly often.)
“The source code is the fundamental origin of the shoe; the essence,” he explains. “Its definition is unique. The shoe can evolve from there, but the essence will never change. With Speedcross, you know it’s ready for outdoor unpredictability just by looking at its athletic silhouette and aggressive lugs. You can see that it will be agile and bite the ground because of the lugs. It’s like a motocross tire, with no compromise. And you can’t take the lugs from the Speedcross because that ability to bite the ground is part of the source code.”
While Besnard believes the source code of any product—whether it’s a shoe or a mobile device—doesn’t change, he firmly believes that the technology to make the product better can and must evolve. “Technology just allows us to push the design further,” he says. “That is the execution.”
Today, Salomon sells more than 1 million pairs of Speedcross shoes annually. But, like any longtime product success story, the shoe has had to evolve in order to maintain its popularity. In fact, as Salomon footwear designers worked to create the fifth generation of Speedcross, there was risk in continuing with the status quo. The challenge for Besnard and his team of designers was to magnify the shoe in a new and modern way.
“We needed the Speedcross to be more Speedcross,” he says bluntly. “It’s an icon. We know that. So we needed the simplest execution of that, but we needed it to be more expressive.”
As a result, Speedcross 5 was built to evoke more emotion. The new design might be subtle to the end-user but the goal was to display greater power, improved grip and sweeping curves. “It has more attitude than the previous design,” Besnard says. “I can’t tell you how we did that exactly because you don’t give away the recipe. But it has a higher profile, more lugs, improved comfort and fit around the foot and the heel is higher.”
While evolving a shoe that has been wildly popular for more than a decade is challenging enough, the task of doing so with the Speedcross was even more complex because in recent years the shoe has become a huge hit with urban consumers and even designers from the fashion world. Today, Speedcross shows up on Fashion Week runways in Paris, Milan and beyond. In fact, Salomon footwear has been approached by some of the most popular designers in fashion to collaborate on elaborate Speedcross designs.
“Previously, we had colors that were designed for a core sports audience and those colors would find their way into lifestyle and everyday life,” Besnard says. “But the flow is now in the opposite direction—from the person watching the sport to the person doing it. The core is so core now that it doesn’t inspire the culture. In fact, if you look at trail running today, we see all kinds of people in all kinds of styles. You come into a sport as you are, in all styles and codes.”
Because the shoe is being used much more widely today than it once was, the decision of what colors to offer had to be made with a broader audience in mind. The “wearability” of the Speedcross 5 had to reach beyond the sports world.
“The performance design is about the sport,” Besnard says. “We are certainly not making a fashion shoe for the sport. Thanks to our Innovation Sport Science biomechanists and to our simulation models, we get an acceleration of improved and quicker performing solutions and technologies. But the aesthetic design is more urban. The whole design is more emotional, intriguing, inspiring. It’s a less busy, but bolder product than before. In car terms, it’s more like a Defender than an SUV. We re-created a love or hate effect. If you try to reach more people, you please less people. More people might care, but they won’t care as much.”
Performance-wise, Speedcross 5 was built to deliver more comfort and more grip, with bigger lugs and a bigger bottom unit. The upper provides better hold in the heel and there are no pressure points or stiff areas. For Besnard, who has worked in Salomon footwear for 13 years, the fact that Speedcross’ appeal has stretched beyond the core outdoor enthusiasts to urban consumers who love the look has injected new excitement into the task of re-inventing Speedcross. Of course, not without a firm footing in the source code.
“If you are a young designer, you don’t go to Porsche to create a combination of Ferrari and a Porsche. You go there to make a newer, cooler Porsche,” Besnard says. “There are two kinds of excitement as a designer. There is working with a blank slate or working to regenerate and make something more exciting—like the fifth generation of a shoe that we sell millions of pairs of when no one knows how we can make it better.”