Just [keep] Do[ing] It

Eric Avar is somewhere thinking...
Eric Avar is somewhere thinking…

By Chris Patterson

He’s the guardian of the creative integrity of a globally-respected brand, banisher of all things unimaginatively boring and chances are if he stood behind you in line at 7-Eleven you wouldn’t even know who he is, which can only mean one thing.

Eric Avar is Nike’s Clark Kent.

Okay, a more logical answer would be that Nike’s creative director cares more about how every product the company creates makes you a better athlete than you were without it than he cares about stepping in front of cameras. But Clark Kent sounds better.

Yes, the mild-mannered son of a mechanical engineer and a fine artist who grew up loving sports and at one point had to beg the dean of the Rochester Institute of Technology to allow him to transfer into the design school has become the granter of dreams to millions. Sure, he may not actually be from Krypton but what he is able to create with the help of his team becomes part of the lives of athletes and enthusiasts everywhere by continually asking ‘how can we go further?’

Avar knows that what makes his products special is there is a good chance that when you put on something of his you are at your very best. You are sweating to succeed and achieve goals. Whether you just want to get through your reps to get back in shape or to pivot and drive down the lane to win a NBA championship, Avar knows that you rely on him. He lives for it. It may seem like an overwhelming responsibility but rest assured he has been waiting his entire life for you to lace up.

What is it like to have to juggle the hopes and wants of both players and consumers?
I think as a designer you have to be open to everything. You have to be a sponge and realize that there are many facets to the process. I always try to break it down to an art and a science of design, the technical aspect of science to make something perform better or more fluidly. We are privileged here at Nike to have a fantastic sports research lab, which is diving deeper and deeper into the world of the science of performance all the time. We are constantly trying to educate ourselves and learn more about that.

Another aspect is sitting down and talking with an athlete directly. We approach it from an intuitive prospective of what that athlete is thinking and feeling as it relates to performance.

Then when you flip over to the art side we are always working to make everything as simple, as beautiful, and as  provocative as possible. That taps back into the athlete because there is the performance side of the athlete and there is also the style side. And to your point, then you have the whole market and culture standpoint. You have to be aware of what people like and dislike, but I really believe that if you follow the voice of the athlete both from a performance standpoint and from an imaginative standpoint form it truly does follow function. You can create something that is both relevant to the culture but can also lead the culture. I think that’s the mark of good design.

How quickly do people accept new designs? Is it generally open arms or does it take some nudging?
[Laughing] Oh yeah, there’s normally a fair amount of nudging. On some projects there’s some nudging – maybe shoving– involved both internally and externally. As a designer you have to be thoughtful. If you try to do too much, too fast you might not be able to execute it the way that you would like whether it’s from a manufacturing standpoint or you might just push the market too far and they’re not quite ready to accept something. It’s a fine balance of pushing the limits of performance, imagination, and style to capture the athlete and the consumer.

What feeling do you want people to have when they put on something that you’ve created?
A quote that we talk about around here quite a bit is “imagination transcends culture.” I am a big believer in that. If you captivate someone’s imagination you make them pause for a second and say. ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like that.’ But at the same time they also wonder, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ Think of the things in your life that you’ve seen that are simple and profound. The things that as soon as you saw them you thought, ‘That makes sense.’

Coolest part of your job right now?
It would be really hard to pin it down to one thing, but there are so many amazing people here at Nike. I know designers can be held as kind of the ones responsible for bringing something to life, but it’s not a cliché I can stress enough what an unbelievable team effort things are with amazing collective collaboration. When we are at our best we are really tapping into that collective imagination, that collective genius and that’s one of the more exciting things for me in my job right now. Then there’s always the ability to be able to work with some of the best and most creative athletes like Kobe Bryant to up and coming athletes and youth athletes. You can see the power of sports, the power of dreaming inside of these athletes and if we can help in a small way to help them achieve their goals and their dreams is a pretty amazing experience also.

The greatest love of your life
The pursuit of what could be next. That can apply in almost any dimension – loved ones, your wife and kids, you as an individual always wanting to grow and learn more, your profession, etc. I don’t mean being better always from a competitive standpoint of being better than the next person, but a much more intrinsic, internal expansion. That’s a pretty theoretical answer.

But it makes sense.
That’s what I feel and when I’m doing that, that is the love of my life.