Adidas Cleats Designed to Tell a Story

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Neon yellow isn’t a story. But it can help tell one.

Sitting on decades of tradition and soccer cleat design laden with consumer understanding, wiping away everything known and staring with a “clean slate” was a new way to create for adidas designers.

“With no risk there is no fun,” says Aubrey Dolan, Adidas’ category director for footwear and lead designer of one of three new cleats released by Adidas this summer. “The game is changing, so we started with a clean slate.”

Adidas erased its known stable of four cleat “silos” and instead introduced two all-encompassing designs and a third, a true signature boot for international star Leo Messi, the first signature soccer cleat by any brand.

Not only was the product entirely new—first-use materials, reimagined material applications and completely redesigned engineering—but the product design had to both match the fresh technical use, but also signify to the consumer a new era had hit Adidas cleats.

With the Ace cleat, a product dictated by the player who controls the ball, the tempo and the game, Dolan’s design showed new. “We needed and wanted to make a statement,” he says. “The color blocking is strong with neon yellow, a first for us.

“We felt we needed a new face with more precise lines.”

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Ace cleat development | All images courtesy of Adidas

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As with any new shoe—from soccer to basketball—the debut colorway provides plenty of first-look pizzazz. For Adidas, that was a combination of black and neon yellow in both the Ace and the X, the cleat designed for the attacking player creating chaos on the soccer pitch.

For the Ace, Dolan blocked the color for the most impact, highlighting the heel, which isn’t as technically far-reaching, in plenty of neon yellow. The forefoot, where the “magic is,” has a three-layer material that mixes memory foam, a PU material and a textile to grip the ball. Engineered as an overlay, the webbing in black highlights the neon yellow tucked underneath.

For the X, though, expect a little more craziness and a first for Adidas soccer. Long known as the company with the three stripes, the German-based brand has toyed with multiple marks. We all know about the stripes, but the brand also has a long-standing “trefoil” logo it uses on its non-performance Adidas Originals products. The third, though, is an Adidas performance logo, a variation on the three stripes with the Adidas wordmark. Right from the start of the clean slate development of the X, the performance logo made an appearance.

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X cleat development

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Marco Müller, senior product manager, says that even before he started working on “new silhouettes and different shapes, geometries on products, it was a new design language.” That called for the performance logo from the first sketch. That logo certainly didn’t remain static during the design, though, moving from an enlarged placement on the side all the way to the rear of the cleat for the finished product. “The opponent sees only the rear,” Müller says “The opponent is always behind me. It sends a clear message.”

But beyond the performance logo, Müller says the X player is defined as a game-changer, the type of “special person who wants to express himself, stand out on the pitch.”

To stand out, Adidas again embraced neon yellow. From discussions with players during design, Müller says a key point every professional player told him that “solar yellow is what the players wanted.”

Like with the new webbing material on the Ace, the chaos-focused X used “functional elements to convert to emotion.” A key technical aspect of the X includes what Adidas calls the X Cage, a lightweight, but reinforcing material overlayed on the exterior of the cleat for stability on a quick-centric cleat. The X Cage, made of a PTU film, comes in a crazy-looking black pattern overtop the new X Skin that makes up the entirety of the boot, in all neon yellow, of course.

While a mix of neon yellow and black was an entirely new design language for Adidas soccer, so was the blue that makes its debut on the first-ever true Messi signature. A third cleat design, one that mixes some of the key insights of the X and the Ace, but also has Messi-specific technical features, comes in Argentina blue to tell the star’s backstory in an introductory way. “The cleat is so new and different, we wanted a different color story,” says Dave Surace, senior design director. “There is a little bit of yellow (on the cleat’s studs), but we wanted to have him stand out.”

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Messi cleat development

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The Adidas performance logo makes its second appearance in the soccer line, playing on the heel of one shoe and the tongue of the other. Messi’s personal logo adorns the opposite locations, mixing Messi and Adidas equally.

With Messi actively involved, Surace says he started with a “blank piece of paper,” using insights from one of the world’s best players and the rest of the Adidas team to create a technical design to match the star’s game, in both performance and feel. Messi, for example, loves leather, so the new Messi Skin mimics the feel of leather with a soft waffle-like texture and the low collar embodies the feel Messi craves.

Using the back-and-forth with Messi, the new signature look took 24 months from blank paper to finished product. The X and Ace project was even faster, moving from blank slate to final in about 16 to 18 months, a shift for the tradition-laden company that would normally take up to an additional year to bring a new cleat to the market.

During the process of creating a completely new design strategy, Adidas cleared a blank slate. The neon yellow helps fill in the story.

Tim Newcomb covers sports design for HOW Design. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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