“Omni-Fuse” by VIBRAM and Hankook Tire – Interview with Designer Robert Lee
The result of the collaboration between the American company VIBRAM and the Korean company Hankook Tire is Omni-Fuse, a design concept awarded with the Red Dot: Best of the Best. Omni-Fuse is a self-adapting concept of a shoe that uses innovative components for easy hiking. With over six technological features, it is well suited for uneven and unexpected terrains. The concept is based on the idea that the user can easily slip into it and directly start walking. This is possible because the shoe has no laces and doesn’t have to be cleaned or adjusted. May this be the future of the hiking industry?
The Omni-Fuse project is the reason why in 2016, Hankook Tire is listed for the first time in the Red Dot Design Ranking for companies. Every year, the three global Red Dot rankings list the top 15 companies, design studios and universities that have demonstrated above-average design achievements and constantly invested in design and innovation. In order to determine them, the Red Dot Institute uses a formula, considering the cumulative number and classes of awards over the recent five years. Red Dot talked to Robert Lee (VIBRAM), the designer of Omni-Fuse about his motivation, his life and his aspirations as a designer:
Red Dot: When did you first knew that you wanted to be a designer?
Robert Lee: I wanted to be a designer ever since I was a little child. My dad loved cars and took me to a variety of car dealerships when he was looking for a car. I played around with everything from doors and buttons to knobs. During the test drive, we discussed what we liked, disliked, and what could be done to improve the driving experience. From then on, I knew I wanted to be in the design industry so I could improve the designs I did not like.
If you had any advice to pass on to younger designers, or those considering to enter this field, what would you say?
Research and practice. Always go out and try to do something different. Find out what is trending, what needs improvement, and why certain designs are working the way they do.
What has been, thus far, your biggest moment in your design career?
Designing the “Made in USA” outsole for the Ralph Lauren boat shoes that all athletes from the United States wore for the Olympic Games in Rio 2016.
At what point do you decide that your design or product is a success?
If it’s a big seller, is published or is shared on social media a lot. Especially nowadays in the modern digital age, I then know that my product is a success.
How would you define a well-designed product?
When instructions of use are not needed and anyone can clearly understand it, no matter how old they are.
How do you predict the future of design to be? What do you foresee to be the next big thing?
Sadly, analog designs are fading away. Holographic sketching or design in the virtual space will be the next big thing. Everything will be in 3D or 4D.
How long have you been in this industry?
I went to a design school and got a job just before graduation in the footwear design field. It’s been about six years now.
What is the first step you take when you are preparing for a design competition?
I do research and see what worked for others in previous years or competitions. Then, I see what is trending.
How do you say “no” to people or teammates while working on a project?
You have to give them the answer they don’t like to hear. At the end of the day, you have responsibilities.
Tell us more about your work culture.
Fortunately, I work with great people in my team and since it’s a small group, it feels like we’re a family. We even hang out on off-days. The corporate culture in VIBRAM is fast, frustrating and fun.
As a designer, what comes to you first, your business or your customers?
Definitely the customer because in my field, they’re the ones driving the industry. They buy the products and the ones that end up becoming a hot item will influence consumers’ next choices.