Q&A with PUMA shoe technologists

Q1: I'd really like to know if you design special shoes for athletes like Usain Bolt or do they run in the model of the season? And if you do make exclusive shoes what requirements do you take into consideration? John 6

I have personally met with Usain Bolt 5 times since the Daegu World Championships! To watch him sprint up close is something special that's hard to describe. He puts an amazing amount pressure on his spikes.  While he does wear close to the in-line spikes there are some custom features we incorporate into his spikes to give him the best custom fit that the fastest man in the world deserves! Bob Michalski - PUMA

Q2: What are the main challenges you face when designing a shoe which is competing with other shoe manufacturers. How do you stay ahead of your competitors? MintyFresh

Your question is a very good one, and one that keeps me up at night. Like most things, it starts with a great team. The PUMA running design team is the best in the industry. We have a very diverse group from many different backgrounds, which we feel sets us apart from the competition. We also do a lot of market and trend research. For example, this past spring, our design team travelled to Japan to see the latest trends in consumer goods and fashion. We spent time in Japan shopping, sketching, and watching the movement of the city. We brought this back with us to the office and these findings are now influencing our latest designs for Autumn/Winter 2015. By drawing inspiration from unique experiences like this we can assure that we are creating unique product from our competition. Steven Keating - PUMA

Q3: Puma shoes wear out much, much quicker than all other brands. Discuss. Ivor

Sorry you seem to have found Puma shoes that have been wearing out quicker than some of the other brands. It would be great if you could provide us some more specifics into what part of the shoe has been wearing out. At Puma running we have some of the highest lab and wear testing standards, so we need to make sure that our product meets your expectations. In addition if you could provide us your expectation for the # of miles you expect your running shoes to last, that would better help us answer this concern. Nikhil - PUMA

Q4: Why do shoe companies yours included insist on changing the shoes pretty much annually, when you have a good shoe... Why can you not just leave it alone, and change the colour why force people into disrupting their training to get used to new shoes, seriously we don't believe you magically make the shoes better each year, it feels like shoe companies don't actually give a toss about runners, just how much they can get by forcing people into new shoes instead of letting them stick with something that works. I know you are out to make money for your company but frankly do shoe companies actually care about the runners? If so why not have a stable range that  everyone knows will stay the same except for the colour for x years? The 'stable' branch of shoes as well as your more cutting edge range that change annually. Booktrunk

Hi booktrunk and thanks for your question. To be brutally honest most if not all the running brands are constantly trying to build the best running shoes for all types of runners. Most technical running shoes are updated with a 12 to 24 month life cycle. At Puma running we use the same midsole for a minimum of 24 months (so depending on the shoe it could be 1 or 2 versions on that midsole). It’s not just about making money, if anything we are constantly trying to learn from what our consumers have to say about running in our shoes and then refining them to make them even better.

As you probably know not all runners have the same foot type or running style, so when we build shoes we target a segment of the population. We understand that not everyone will be happy with a certain type of shoe, so as we update each style we work on increasing the # of runners who love running in the shoe, full well knowing that we will lose a few runners. Our aim is to gain more runners than lose runners. Nikhil - PUMA

Q5: Are the processes you adhere to from the initial idea of the shoe through to completion the same (to an extent) or is it always good / advisable to go about things differently with each release? Todd Malloy

Thanks for your interesting question. For the most part we stick to the same process for each shoe so we can be most efficient and the entire team can execute their job within the system and deadlines we have in place. That provides a certain structure within which we conceptualize, design, develop and bring to market each shoe.

However within each function there is a certain amount of flexibility and creativity. Some projects require more time from an engineering and testing perspective and so we start those projects earlier or the development time we spend on them is much longer. Other projects might have a higher commercial relevance in which case there might be more emphasis on the most efficient construction or cost/benefit due diligence. And then there are the styles that we have a global marketing campaign behind, which means it’s all hands on deck. Nikhil - PUMA

Q6: Would you recommend having different shoes for racing and training & what's the lightest shoe you would recommend for marathon running (@ around 3.30 pace)? Isla 3

Hi Isla 3, good question! Yes, we recommend having different shoes for your race days and your everyday training runs. Just as you mix up your training to get faster, you would also mix up your shoes for your race days to get faster.

The reason being is that you would want a more cushioned and durable everyday training shoe to log your daily miles in. This shoe must be cushioned enough for shock absorption and durable enough to go the distance; as you will run most of your longer miles in this shoe.

For a race you want a shoe that is as light as possible on your feet, but still gives you the minimum protection you need. A racing shoe typically has a less beefy midsole and a lower heel-to-toe drop; this makes it lighter and encourage you to run more on your mid/forefoot to get faster. When you have been logging your everyday miles in a cushioned trainer you will feel fast just by putting on your race-specific shoes on race day!

The lightest racing shoe I would recommend for a marathon, considering that you are able to run a @3:30 pace for a marathon, would be the Faas 300 v3. This is the lightest performance racing shoe that is also worn by our elite marathoners; its 210 grams (men size UK 8) & 164 grams (women’s size UK 4.5) but can still comfortably go the distance of a marathon. Nikhil - PUMA

Q7: How can you advise minimalist or cushioned shoes if you have never seen us run? seren nos

You are right, we cannot advise specific shoes without seeing your running form or knowing what terrain or distance you run. However, as we build a whole range of shoes to cater for every type of runner we should be able to eventually recommend something that fits your needs. The best solution would be to visit your local running store. They should be able to test your gait and form and then recommend you the correct type shoe.

If you already know what type of shoe you require and what surface and distance you plan to run then we can already start to identify a couple of shoes that might fit your needs. Nikhil - PUMA

Q8: Like all normal people I have 1 foot slightly smaller than the other. Why can't I buy a single running shoe, so I can then make a pair that fit? Would also work for normal people who pronate more on one foot than the other, they could get a mix and match set where one offers more support than the other! Andy

Hi Andy, thanks for the awesome question. I think as an industry we are slowly but surely getting closer to customized footwear for the masses. With 3D printing and other cutting edge technology around the corner you will one day be able to get fully customized footwear for each foot. Unfortunately we are not there yet. It’s hard enough for us to build a running footwear product line for the billions of runners in the world where each individual runner has a different foot type, but to then be able to build a right and left foot specific shoe would be even more of a challenge. I think it’s inevitable, I just can’t commit to when it will happen. Nikhil - PUMA

Q9: Do you see "mass customisation" taking off among runners/other sports users, or will it remain mainly a fashion thing? For example, Nike iD seems to be experimenting with the ability to combine different uppers and mid/out-soles in the Free line - going beyond custom stencils and colour combinations, and into different materials/levels of support, etc. The Spammer

I definitely see mass customization in the future.  There is so much going on with 3D printing.  Like most technology, the costs are being driven lower so that eventually consumers will be able to utilize the technology.  Puma has an Objet Connex machine in our office that we use to design and build our new midsole and outsoles each season.  Our 3D CAD team keeps a close eye on evolutions and upgrades in 3D printing and the software that runs it. Bob Michalski - PUMA

Q10: How do you think distribution models will change, if at all? There seems to be increasing willingness/appetite among runners to buy online or on the basis of online information, which is in tension with the traditional nature of footwear fitting. At the same time, it seems like some of the most interesting products are quite hard to get hold of (particularly outside the US) - whether because it's not worthwhile for small specialist retailers to stock/order in niche lines, or because the large chains are focussed on higher volumes and fewer SKUs, conservatism or lack of expertise amongst buyers, etc. Do you see any changes on the horizon that will affect this situation? The Spammer

Hi Spammer, thanks for the very thought provoking question. Over the last 5+ years more and more runners are buying their shoes online. It's more convenient and saves on time and money when shipping is free. The more serious runners are probably buying their second+ pair (repeat  pairs) online after having already been outfitted by a specialty store. That's why some specialty stores have their own online business so they can try and not lose all the repeat sales from their loyal clientele.

Recreational runners might even buy their first pair online, figure out the size at home and then go from there. And the recreational runner segment is growing at the fastest rate, which means online sales will continue to grow.

We think this trend is going to increase more and more and put more strain on the run specialty stores to stay relevant. There is also still a fair amount of consolidation taking place within the retailers, but we strongly feel that the specialty distribution channel is critical to being correctly fit in a running shoe and therefore to the industry.

It's tough to say what the distribution channel environment will be in the future, but consolidation is inevitable so it's important that running brands continue to support the run specialty channel. Nikhil - PUMA

Q11: I overpronate which makes buying new trainers trickier. Obviously I'm aware of buying shoes that are right for the terrain and run type, with enough cushioning for milage and weight, but is there a type or style that you could recommend that might help this? Kat4

It's a good starting point to for us to know that you over pronate. We have a range of shoes that meet different levels of over pronation, also taking into account the distance and surface you plan to run. Our Faas products are built on a very simple cushion scale. The lower end of the scale (Faas 100) is built with less cushion for faster runs. The high end of the scale (Faas 1000) is built with the most cushion for longer, not so quick runs. In the middle are our Faas 500 and Faas 600 models.

We currently offer stability shoes with three different levels of support and cushion. The Faas 300 S is our most lightweight cushion shoe. This shoe is more of a lightweight racing shoe with support for mild over pronation. It is built with a traditional 8mm heel to toe drop. The Faas 500 S is the next stability shoe in our range, this shoe has a 4mm heel to toe drop and therefore should be used as a lightweight training shoe for someone who needs the added aspect of stability.

The top end of our stability range is the Faas 600 S. We find this product to be used by most runners who over pronate. Also built with an 8mm heel to toe drop, this shoe has the most amount of stability.

The best way to find out exactly which level of support you need would be to visit your local running store. There you can try on and compare different levels of support for over pronation from many different brands. This would be the best way to see what product best fits the shape of your foot and also find the shoe that offers the optimum amount of support for you’re over pronation. Jordan - PUMA

Q12: Why do I need a separate trainer for running specifically? And have you got any awesome design collaborations coming up?! Bree Bianca

Good question! Not all trainers are specifically made for running. Some are made just to walk around in and don’t offer a lot of cushioning and support. Some are made for playing football and tennis and are made to incorporate the side-to-side movements of these sports. Running is a straight-forward and repetitive movement which can be pretty injury sensitive. To avoid injuries, you would need a running specific trainer that addresses these specific biomechanical movements. Firstly, it is very important to have a good cushioned midsole that can absorb the shock; when running you can impact the ground with up to 3.5 times your body weight! Running shoes typically have a stable upper construction to keep your feet safely locked onto the platform. Lastly, when you look at a running shoe you will notice that the outsole wraps up onto the toe to give you a smooth transition for toe-off.

Design Collaborations is something that our Lifestyle Business Unit mainly works on. However, for this spring/summer 2014 season Puma did a collaboration with Solange Knowles; and is in stores now. Jose van der Veen - PUMA

Q13: More a set of hypothetical questions, but how would you like to change the usual product development processes, if you had the power to affect the market in that way?

To what extent do you think the most commercially successful innovations are also those which are technically most beneficial for runners/other sports users' performance? For example, it seems like there are some innovations which are purely artistic concepts or of aesthetic value - while others are incremental changes but which still end up being set up as gimmicks in order to grab attention. I imagine it must be frustrating for both designers and marketers if you come up with something that really works, but which isn't very "sexy".

Along similar lines, do you think is there enough room for evidence-based footwear innovation - in terms of the development timelines, research budgets, scope for improvement beyond fairly fundamental materials technology, etc.? The Spammer

A lot of interesting questions here!  Having been in the industry for 22 years I have seen a lot of product built.  Best function is always the main goal but it also has to look good to get placed on the retail shelves given the amount of choices available to consumers.

We do have longer term product development streams and a team focused on experimenting with new concepts and getting to 'proof of concept' prototypes without the in-line timeline pressures.  These kind of critical future pipeline ideas are important for the brand's future.  Especially with the fast change of technology it's important that we have a team that has an ability to experiement with new ideas on much longer timelines. Bob Michalski - PUMA

Q14: Thanks for your advice on a racing shoe.  If I'm racing in a Faas 300 - which shoe should I do my longer training runs in?  I think shoe brands should offer a loyalty discount for multipule purchases - is this something you offer? Isla 3

Hi Isla, if you found the Faas 300 v3 a good shoe for your faster runs and race-days then the Faas 600 v2 will be a good shoe for your longer runs. The Faas 600 series offers the right amount of cushioning for your everyday runs with a safe 8 mm heel-to-toe drop. This shoe will go the distance but still comes in a light-weight package.

Check with your local Puma store or on the Puma UK online store for seasonal sales and discounts. Jose van der Veen - PUMA

Q15: Adidas have a couple of new shoes (Boost and the bonkers looking Springblade) which seem to try to maximise "energy recovery".  Are Puma working on similar lines or is this something you've looked at and decided not to pursue? FerrousFerret

Hi FerrousFerret, as we are constantly looking at the competitive landscape we obviously know about the energy return trend that is going on in the market right now. Here at Puma, we are constantly working on innovations and are doing extensive R & D on our own before launching any new product. Therefore, we continue to innovate our technical running lines and update them as we see fit. Jose van der Veen - PUMA