If you’re a golf equipment nerd like me, then you would love to be a fly on the wall when new gear is in the development stage. But what is it like to actually be part of the process? I sat down with Richard Fryer and Jean-Marie Bidal, who are both part of the FootJoy product development team, to find out more.
You may be surprised at just how far in advance FootJoy are working on the technology for your next pair of golf shoes.
“Formally, two to three years out,” Richard explains. “But there is also an innovation pipeline of materials and technologies that don’t have a set target date. We’ll keep testing and perfecting them until they’re ready to come into the line.”
Yes, that’s right. They’re not working on next season’s shoes right now, or even shoes for the season after that. They’re already working on products for 2023 and beyond. That also means the process for the new shoes you bought this year began in 2017.
So how on earth do they go about starting the design process for a shoe that will be released so far in the future?
“We have multi-year product plans that form the structure of our product line, and when we plan to introduce new categories. Footwear is a fast-moving category, and we have to be nimble to respond and adapt to new technologies, materials, as well as feedback from consumers and tour players alike.”
Would you find it surprising if I told you a lot of the shoe inspiration doesn’t come from golf? It actually comes from anything but.
“Inspiration comes in many forms and there are several ways for me to generate new ideas,” explains Jean-Marie. “The sketch iterative process – commonly used in the automotive industry – is a great way to generate a ton of new concepts in the early stages of projects.
“Design cues may come from architecture, product design, or even bio-mimicry. The traction elements of the Flex sole were inspired by natures organic shapes yet organised elements.
“Lastly, looking at other industry segments – hiking, running, lifestyle, fashion even apparel. And see how things evolve is critical to identify global themes and trends and sometimes identify market specific opportunities.
“But the role of the designer is to be visionary and envision what the consumer may need and desire in terms of performance and aesthetics two years from now.
“The Pro SL Is a great example of a product, that was so popular on tour that pros asked us not to change it. But rather than changing it we enhanced it.”
When it comes to shoes it often seems like there is a battle between traction and comfort, so I wondered how FootJoy pick which feature is going to be the priority in each shoe.
“Consumers are getting increasingly more demanding and unwilling to sacrifice one element for another,” Jean-Marie explains. “Which is a challenge we readily accept.
“As we look at the structure of our line, we do want to dial up certain characteristics on certain shoes. Tour X to be the most stable shoe in the line, Pro SL and Pro SL Carbon to be the ultimate, all-rounder in terms of Tour Proven spikeless performance. And then you have the aesthetic element – from DryJoys Tour to FJ Flex and everything in between – it’s a tough balance, but a fun challenge at the same time.”
FootJoy have lots of tour players on their roster, so just how much are they influencing the design of your next pair of shoes?
“To quote Bob Vokey, ‘We have the best R&D facility in the world – the professional tours’,” Richard says. “And with more tour professionals wearing FootJoy than any other brand, we’re not short of feedback, and can very quickly get direction on what is liked and what can be improved.”
So are there certain players who like to get their requests in early?
“Guys like Adam Scott, Justin Thomas, Charley Hoffman are so tuned into to the role of their feet and the role of their footwear in the swing, they can pick up on the slightest material change when we share prototypes with them.
“Ian Poulter would fall into the same bracket – not only does he have a strong opinion on the fashion side of things, his input into products like the new Pro SL Carbon was invaluable.”
And did you know club golfers like us are FootJoy shoe testers too?
“The professional tours are a great go-to for us – lots of rounds in a short space of time, and golfers who understand and are in tune with their footwear,” Richard explains. “But we also have a database of thousands of avid golfers who will test prototypes for us throughout the year.
“We never tell them what we’re testing for, a white box arrives at their house with a letter and a tracking sheet and off they go.”
When all the hard work is done, how do your new shoes end up with a name?
“Honestly, this is one of the hardest parts of the job,” Richard says. “Trying to come up with an exciting name that tells a story, fits the FootJoy brand and overall product line, but that hasn’t been used by another footwear brand, not just in golf, in any market in the world – is no easy task.
“Sometimes the working name can take on a life of its own, like the Pro V1 story, other times we have multiple rounds of options, discussions, third party input and consumer research.
“One thing that is guaranteed, everyone has an opinion.”
Is it hard keeping new shoes a secret before they are released?
“It can be,” Jean-Marie says, “but we’re pretty controlled in how we test and prototype new styles.
“Sometimes the eagle-eyed consumer will spot a new pair on someone’s feet by looking at Getty Images or seeing a thread on social media, but as best we can we want to announce new shoes at just the right time.”
Finally, let’s jump way into the future. What do FootJoy think their flagship shoe for 2030 will look like and how might it perform?
“It will the best of everything that we know and love today, but on another level,” Jean-Marie explains. “More targeted cushioning, a more precise fit, increased traction and stability, lighter weight but without compromising cushioning and comfort.
“And it will look out of this world!”
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