SHIGEYUKI MITSUI, better known as MATSUI-SAN, is the Managing Designer of the Innovation Works Lab at ASICS JAPAN. In 1990, five years after joining the brand, he created one of the most respected footwear designs in sportswear history: the ASICS GEL-LYTE III. Running his name through the patent archives brings up a plethora of inventions and creations, many of which have become acclaimed examples of design technology. As the Gel-Lyte III begins its anniversary celebrations, The Drop Date caught up with Matsui-San for a chat about footwear design and how it’s evolved since his early days at ASICS…
TDD: Do you find it easy to apply traditional design learnings to footwear development? Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
When I think about a design, I take inspiration from lots of places. For example, when I play sports, I think about the movement and whilst I am out sightseeing, I take inspiration from nature. I try and use these ideas in my designs.
TDD: When we look at the Gel-Lyte III it still looks innovative and modern. How does design today differ from when you designed the Gel-Lyte III?
When I was designing the Gel-Lyte III, I used pens and markers, so it was analogue, but it had a unique style. Today, designers use Photoshop and Illustrator and one of my concerns is that when you use a computer, design gets very fixed and things get a very similar look. There are good differences as well, but shoes need work to keep them looking fresh. I think a good example is the Gel-Lyte Evolution. I did not design that one – the ASICS team designed it – but I think it’s really cool. It has a modern treatment with its no-stitch technology and it looks very good.
TDD: What was your starting point for designing the Gel-Lyte III?
Break the theory. ASICS were generally very conservative with design because they have two main divisions: one of them is a sports institute, where they research sports science, and the other is the ASICS production department, which produces high level technology. Although they are both great departments, they are both very theoretical, which means if they have too much influence on the designs it can become very boring. So when I designed the Gel-Lyte III I was thinking, ‘break the theory’.
TDD: So you wanted to step away from traditional Japanese theory-led design?
Yes, I just wanted to draw the design.
TDD: The split tongue, made famous by the Gel-Lyte III, remains a truly unique design element. How did you come up with that concept?
The split tongue was created with my senior developer and I chose to use this structure on the Gel-Lyte III. His reasoning for the split tongue is that he felt it was a more advanced design: the normal tongue design often slips to the lateral side, but because the split tongue is in two parts that are fixed to the lateral and medial side, it has good function for performance. The real reason I chose the split-tongue is because when you put on a normal shoe you have to use both hands, which is very troublesome. With the split tongue, I don’t have to.
TDD: So you wanted to make it more like a slip-on?
Yes – easy to slip on and wear.
TDD: Are there any changes you would make if you were starting the Gel-Lyte III again?
Oh… that’s a very good question! If I could start again, I would want to make a more smooth style, like an egg… Something more sleek and, like the Gel-Lyte Evo, something that uses a no-stitching smooth structure.
TDD: How do you feel about collaborations and the culture today?
I welcome collaborations on the Gel-Lyte III and other shoes – it’s good. It was not so common 25 years ago. Back then, the designer designed and the people bought the shoes. Now you have shops that design and the consumer chooses how they wear the shoes – they change laces or even paint the shoes to their own design, which I think is a really good situation.
TDD: Can you see differences between the designs depending on which continent they come from?
The culture is very global. You can see the personality in the designs from different places, whether it’s European, American or Asian. I think that is very cool.
TDD: What do you think is the most important aspect of design in the modern ASICS Tiger design studio?
The most important thing is still to break the theory. Each brand has a theory on how to deliver shoes, but sometimes that can become old and there is no need to stick to it. It is up to the new designers to break that theory of how to create the new shoes.
The ASICS GEL-LYTE III celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2015. Keep checking The Drop Date for all the latest news on the forthcoming ASICS collaborations. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a very exciting 12 months…