Supermodels

My last trip to Beaverton was short. Two days of packed meetings and seeing faces I hadn’t seen in years. But I intentionally stopped to catch up with Tanya, Mike and Amy because I would have gotten nowhere without their talent.

In the beginning I needed their eyes because I couldn’t see in 3D. It wasn’t natural for me. They shaped reality in ways I needed to learn.

As my design eye improved I learned that I would never have as good of an eye as they have. I designed 6 shoes per year. They built 3-4 midsoles and outsoles per month. They would always have better eyes than me.

So started giving them responsibilities they didn’t ask for. I started sending really basic Adobe Illustrator lines without too much detail.

Mike would snarl, Amy would look confused and Tanya would simply say, “Okay.”

If a new designer had given them something as unthought through as what I was giving them, they would have sent it back as undercooked. But my projects were intentionally unfinished because I knew their eyes were better than mine. Their hands had been shaped by 50+ years of the best designers telling them what they wanted to see. Their muscle memory was better than my best guess. So I let them finish my sentences.

“Are you sure?” Mike would ask, looking over his glasses.

“Tell me when we’re done,” I’d say as I walked off to some budget meeting.

My first job was in R&D Services with them. I knew their kids and their cars and their talent. Over 15 years in Beaverton they were the part of my work family I didn’t see enough.

Young designers see vets and complain that they don’t do much. They see them go to meetings and draw a napkin sketch and call it a day. The truth is that veterans know where the genius lies. You need to learn it yourself but once you do, you realize who is better than you and then request their talent. Respect their craft and they’ll take you places.

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