Innovation in football: An interview with Nike Football Global Creative Director, Martin Lotti

Innovation football interview Nike Football Global Creative Director Martin Lotti The Daily Street 001

Words: Ben Whelan

A lot has changed in the football since the first FIFA World Cup opened at the brand new Estadio Centenario in Montevideo on 18th July 1930. From the players’ boots to the recent inception of goal line technology, innovation has been a driving force in all aspects of development in the game. With less than 10 weeks to go until kick off on June 12th, the host nation has accelerated their efforts to be ready to stage one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. Ready or not, the build up to this year’s event has already seen a series of releases from brands competing to show off their latest products on the global stage. As you would expect, Nike are fully immersed in the build up to the event with boots, kits and advertising campaigns all recently being launched.

To coincide with the launch of the new England World Cup kit today, we we’re invited to discuss Nike’s recent football innovations with Nike Football Global Creative Director, Martin Lotti. Having worked at Nike for over 17 years across footwear, the Olympics and now football, it’s fair to say that he has an in-depth understanding of the creative and design processes behind Nike’s work. One thing that was apparent when talking with Martin was his eye for detail shown through his meticulous attention to design. Complex simplicity is a phrase we’ve heard previously from Nike designers and after chatting to Martin and seeing the kit up close, it’s apparent this it is a running theme across Nike divisions. We sat down with the man behind a lot of Nike’s best innovations to discuss design processes, World Cup predictions and what to expect from Nike Football in the future …

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You’ve been at Nike for over 17 years now, how have you found your transition into Nike Football in comparison to footwear, womenswear or your work with the 2012 Olympics?

It’s actually a very similar process with our approach as it doesn’t matter what we’re designing, it always starts with listening to the voice of the athletes. There won’t be a meeting where the founder of Nike, Phil Knight, doesn’t remind us to listen to the voice of the athlete. This keeps us pure and authentic and helps us to create new and better products. So, in many respects, there are similarities. Of course with football there is a whole other level of passion and needs that the athletes have that come on top of this, but there are plenty of things at Nike that are actually quite similar in the approach and process of creating great products.

What was the creative process behind designing a new England kit that is so rich in heritage?

It’s a combination of honouring the past to inform the future. So certainly we look into previous kits as it’s like creating a national flag; you don’t want to go off it. With the home kit we reference the 1970’s kit and then the away kit draws reference to the very iconic 1966 kit, so the red was certainly a starting point.

Then there are 4 key elements in a Nike Product – performance, style, soul and sustainability, so these where the 4 key areas we focused on. From the performance side we went super deep with the fit itself – we laser scanned the athletes to ensure we have the right fit and that they’re comfortable. The second part was around thermo regulation; data shows us that the longer you keep the body cool, the better you perform. We achieved that through multiple ways, one is the completely new fabrication which took us 4 years to develop – Dri-FIT technology. It’s a dual fabrication that has a cotton feel with the benefits of polyester, the best of both worlds with the feel and then the benefit of sucking moisture away from the skin where it evaporates quicker. We then added laser cut ventilation in areas where you need the most breathability and then created a base layer system, this helps you in either cool or wet conditions.

Style is how the garment drapes. Elements like the cross, the crest itself are the soulful details. From distance, it’s super clean and iconic, but as you get closer you discover more and more elements. The jersey is super technical and the crest is highly crafted. This rich embroidery has this position of high style and high craft … it’s where technical meets tradition, so it was all about playing off from those two worlds. As you get closer, you will discover the pinstripes that go back to English tailoring and suit making, as well as the satin tape, which is inspired by traditional amour and St. George. So it’s those elements that you would not see from a distance, but as you get closer you will discover more and more. This is true with the cross [on the away shirt] – you really have to be quite close to it and move around to discover it.

You’ve mentioned before that each of the World Cup kits must tell a story. Are these the elements that contribute to the story behind the England kit?

Yes, to me it has three things; performance, style and being crafted with guts. There is this idea of craftsmanship, but with guts so that it has this British flair to it that we wanted to incorporate. Something that is very English, but making sure it performs at the highest level. Art and science coming together was the goal.

Designing a World Cup kit appears to be an exercise in restraint. Have you had to exercise your creativity within the finer details in this kit?

You’re right, it’s very easy to over design a football kit. Our starting point was always over designed, but we then go through and we edit and edit to make it as pure and simple and memorable as possible. Elevating either the history or the country pride first, then as you get closer you discover more details. This idea of complex simplicity – simplicity from afar, complexity from close was the idea for the home and away kits, but also for other kits we have designed for the World Cup.

It’s been said recently that FIFA wanted teams to wear single coloured kits in order to improve the quality of HD television pictures from Brazil. Is this now a consideration when designing a kit?

It’s funny, I’ve read that and it’s in so many places and so overblown it’s not even funny. There are plenty of rules and regulations to go by. We make sure we abide by these and that’s one of the considerations, but it’s not the driver. The driver is the athlete’s voice and then we work closely with the federation and then we incorporate the sustainability.

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We’ve recently seen the application of Flyknit technology into football. Was it a natural progression for this to be applied to football boots?

Ever since we saw Flyknit come out of our innovation kitchen, we were like “This is perfect for football!”. We had this insight from the athletes who said “Give us a sock-like boot. In fact, give us a sock with cleats”. This gave us the north star. We had that for a long time, but we never had the tools available to create that. When Flyknit came about we finally had the tools. It became an extension of the foot rather than a shoe. It’s almost like a glove that provides the transition up the ankle. This is exactly what the Magista does – it starts and then it extends and almost makes your shoe disappear. It has this one-to-one connection between the body and the shoe.

From a design perspective, it’s such an amazing tool that we can design down to a millimetre.

How does Flyknit translate from running to football? Are there any changes to the manufacturing process or the materials used within it?

The process is actually quite different; there are different requirements when it comes to football to make sure that it works. One is that you play football and it could rain or it could be clear, so it’s key to make sure you don’t absorb water. The good news about Flyknit is that the yarn we use doesn’t absorb water, but we then add an all-condition coating skin on top of it as a thin translucent skin that creates a coefficient ratio that stays the same whether it’s rain or sunshine. This ensures the coefficiency between the ball and the boot is always the same. This is something that in running is irrelevant and not needed, so we adapted the technology to make sure it works specifically for the athletes.

Questions have and will be raised surrounding the protection the boot will provide. Can you tell us more about this?

A critical part of creating any shoe is the protection By actually coming up higher it definitely protects the ankle bone and in that respect it actually provides more protection than previously. We’re not chasing lightweight for the sake of it, it’s right weight vs lightweight. Three key components are fit, touch and traction. Fit – Flyknit provides the perfect fit. Touch – ACC provides and traction was around the new 360 degree conical plate that has a lower level of traction.

Friction is obviously a key thing to consider when designing a boot aimed at optimum ball control. Can you give some insight into this element of design and the process of getting where you did with the Magista?

That was actually one key difference between a Flyknit running shoe and the Magista; we were able to create loft within the knitting process. The surface has a bit of texture, a lot of our past control boots were made out of leather or synthetic leather and we then applied a lot of plastic parts on top of it that were kinda stuck down. With the Magista we were able to engineer all within one go, so the Flyknit texture is a functional texture that helps with ball control.

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Where do you see football technology going from here?

There is no finish line. This makes it so fun to be in design at Nike. We’re asked not just asked to do incremental work, but to create revolutions. That’s true for apparel and for footwear – to keep pushing the boundaries. We’re almost living one foot in the past and one foot in the future. It took us 4 years to develop our World Cup kits and shoes. What exactly that is and what it entails … you will have to be a bit more patient.

In that respect, pushing the limits and the boundaries is what our goal and intention is.

Lastly, what are your predictions for the World Cup?

Being Swiss, it must be Switzerland. But I don’t think we’ve got a chance [laughs].I think even growing up I always rooted for Brazil, so I would hope for an England vs. Brazil final (Optimistic). I think if Brazil does win it will be a great party in many ways, so I hope they do well.


Special thanks to Nike Football, Freuds and of course Martin Lotti for his time and insight.