Zhanar will come up with clever text or Karina... Definitely not Darina
DAVID FORLAND, NIKE'S DIRECTOR OF CUSHIONING INNOVATION, JOINED THE TEAM IN 1985.
IN MANY RESPECTS, FORLAND IS THE WORLD'S FOREMOST EXPERT IN VISIBLE AIR. ÉTAGE TALKED TO DAVID
ABOUT THE HISTORY OF HIS INNOVATIONS.
— How did you come to work on the Air Max franchise?

— I had just been hired around the time development started for visible air. It didn't take very long to figure out the company was really interested in showing Nike Air Technology to the consumer.

— What was it like working on this project during the early days?

— The first couple of years were full of hard work. From '85 until we actually launched the Air Max 1 in 1987, we were dedicated to research and development and inventing what became Air Max. After all that time the idea sort of came together in one thought. Kind of like when a cartoon character has a light bulb above his head.

— What was your 'aha' moment during the Air Max development process?

— Back then we had to make all of our encapsulated air prototypes by hand. While hand welding a prototype, another designer walked into the lab and asked what would happen if I rotated the bag so the seams were on the top and bottom instead of the perimeter. At that exact moment my light bulb turned on and I thought to myself: "Yeah, I could do that." I built a new prototype right there on the spot, which included building a setup that would allow me to maneuver the air-bag film in a way that I could make the necessary welds. What we had stumbled on and created was an encapsulated air unit with smooth sidewalls on both sides, the very first prototype of what would eventually become visible Nike Air technology.

"WE CREATED THREE PRESSURE AND DUAL PRESSURE PROTOTYPES TO HELP FIGURE OUT THE BEST RIDE AND PERFORMANCE. IN SHORT, IT WASN'T AN EASY OPERATION EITHER"
David Forland
Director of Cushioning Innovation
THEN
Air Max 1: the first but far from the last.
Visible Air made its debut in 1987
NOW
Air Max 2015: Engineered mesh and full-length visible Air for ultimate flexibility and cushioning
— Why was having the seam on the top of the unit a seminal discovery?

— That discovery allowed us to not have a seam along the sidewall of the unit, and provided an un- obstructed view into the unit. With that in the bag all we needed to figure out was how to seal off the foam so it wouldn't block the side of the Air-sole unit.

— So that covers the visible end of the story, where does 'Max' come in?

— Before visible air, Air-Sole units like the one used in the Air Tailwind were becoming thinner and thinner to make the manufacturing process easier. What we wanted. to get back to was injecting more air in to the sole to achieve a strong cushioning sensation under the foot. That thought process was the first time we started talking about it as "maximum air" or "Max Air".

— What amount of pressure goes inside a Max Air unit?

— Fifteen to 20 psi is what goes into most Air-Sole units, Max Air or regular Nike Air units. As I touched on before, the difference is the volume not the pressure. "Max" stands for the maximum amount of air that we can put underfoot. If you look at the history of Air Max, especially from '87 to '93, one of the main things that separated each model was how each model held a greater volume of air than the last one and conversely the least amount of foam. Foam breaks down, air doesn't. To us Max Air technology provides the highest volume of impact cushioning or in other words, the maximum amount of air under your foot.

— Max Air technology started being featured in a visible sense only in the heel. As the franchise progressed air started to become visible in the forefoot. Can you describe the journey to full-length visible air?

— Unveiling more and more air was the primary directive for us. The Air Max 1 and 90 both had Air-Sole units in the forefoot, but it was completely encapsulated and we didn't have a way to make the forefoot visible with the technology that we used to make the Air-Sole units at that time. We weren't close to achieving full-length air until we developed the blow-molding technology, that was first was used on the Air Max 93.

JUST DO IT.
"FROM '85 UNTIL WE ACTUALLY LAUNCHED THE AIR MAX 1 IN 1987, WE WERE DEDICATED TO RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AND INVENTING WHAT BECAME AIR MAX"
"FROM '85 UNTIL WE ACTUALLY LAUNCHED THE AIR MAX 1 IN 1987, WE WERE DEDICATED TO RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AND INVENTING WHAT BECAME AIR MAX"
— What is blow molding?

— Blow molding is the process that gave us the ability to create Air-Sole units that were three- dimensional and held their own shape. Before that it was the air pressure that determined their shape, they would inflate like balloons. With this new method the air pressure would only add the cushioning properties to the Air-Sole unit. This allowed us to make the shapes needed to fit the curvature of the footwear's forefoot. The first time we used this was in the Air Max 95, which still consisted of two separate Air-Sole units. Once we made it that far the only step left to make was full-length air.

— What about the Air Max 180? It featured a very unique Air-Sole unit, where did it fall into the mix?

— The Air Max 180 was one of the most difficult Air Max sneakers to create. It was created with the same kind of tubing technology we used in the Air Max 1, but just like with the 90 and 93 we wanted to make the Air-Sole unit larger. The idea was to eliminate the foam under the Air-Sole unit and mate the outsole directly to the Air-Sole unit. The idea was much easier said than done. Controlling the geometry of the air sole and the clear rubber outsole to get them to join together effectively was a very difficult technical challenge. On top of that we still had to figure out how to wrap the rubber around the window to allow the Air-Sole unit to be visible from 180 degrees.

— When did you finally achieve full length Max Air?

— We didn't get there until 1997. In that two-year span we figured out how to create an interconnected unit where the heel and the forefoot were integrated. To do this we had to invent a way to hold the molten film we used to create Air-Sole units long enough to close a full- length three-dimension mold on it. Tons of manufacturing development went into the process. Obviously, there was a lot of design that went into it as well. We still needed to solve the problem of how we would break up the pressure. We created three pressure and dual pressure prototypes to help figure out the best ride and performance. In short, it wasn't an easy operation either.

— Air Max didn't stop there, what was next for the legendary family?

— Once we achieved our goal of full-length Air- Sole units the company began to focus on other forms of cushioning. This was right around the time when we began research and development for Nike Shox. From 1998 to around 2006 we had the opportunity to have some fun and experiment with our Air-Sole units. In that time we created some really interesting renditions including Tuned Air and Tubular Air. Tubular Air, like that used on the Air Max 2002, experimented with the shape and number of units to control the ride experience while Tuned Air, used on the Air Max Plus, was more of the intersection of mechanics and air cushioning. Imagine Nike Shox and Nike Air combined. It works by adding mechanical hemispheres to the medial side of the Air-Sole unit, which increase stability in the shoe. Each hemisphere has precisely engineered wall thicknesses that control how rapidly that area of the sole collapses. Then came the Air Max 360.

— The launch of the Air Max 360 was huge. What made it so special?

— The objective of the Air Max 360 was to try and completely remove foam from the shoe making equation. As I said before, over time foam will break down but air never loses its properties. Also with less foam we can put more air underfoot, which was one of our original goals as well. At this point we knew very well the performance attributes of Nike Air. We had done so many tests in the years prior that we knew it would provide great impact protection, a stable platform, and provide unmatched durability. What we now wanted to achieve was the sensation of riding on air. Taking the place of foam in the 360 was a caged Air-Sole unit. In fact, the Air Max 360 was the only Air Max sneaker featuring Caged Air, Caged Air that is traditionally used in Zoom Air applications. The cage acted as the stabilizer instead of foam, allowing us to create our first foamless Air Max sneaker.

— How does it feel to know you were and are a part of the team that helped revolutionize sneaker design?

— It's exciting. I remember the first blow-molded Air-Sole unit, we worked so hard on that and had no idea if people would embrace it. I remember being in an airport right around the time the first Air Max sneaker launched. I was calling a tech in the lab when someone walked by wearing a pair they had bought. I can remember staring at him from the phone booth saying, "Somebody bought them. I see them going up and down." That was back before cell phones, such a long time ago. Just the other day I was in a meeting about the Jordan 30 and the guy doing the presentation says, "All right, think about this. We have been making Jordans for 30 years. Think about what you were doing 30 years ago." There was a brief silence and I said, "I was working on the Jordan 1."

Interview: Étage Group
Date: June, 2015