S2 E7: DAVE DOMBROW – SHOE DESIGN GURU

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Dave Dombrow grew up near San Diego, loving basketball, self-modifying RC cars, and taking things apart/putting them back together to see how they worked. He was interested in cars, buildings, products, and tinkering. He wasn’t interested in design; at least he didn’t know he was.

When he went away to college, he believed he was on course to become an architect. But the road took a turn and he ultimately found himself at the ArtCenter College of Design in California, a place known to have put out some of the best car designers in the world. During his time there, he earned a scholarship at Salomon, the outdoor brand, where he thought he’d be working on ski boots or something like that. When they placed him in the trail running shoe category, his big unlock happened. He learned that he was a conceptual thinker and a shoe designer.

The rest, as they say, is history. And it’s a history that saw him design shoes for the likes of Stephen Curry, Cam Newton, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson…for Nike, Puma, and Under Armour. He has launched entirely new concepts that have origin stories relating back to NASA’s Apollo missions and fat tire mountain bikes. His ideas have inspired multi-million dollar ad campaigns, and they’ve been involved in winning championships on stages of many kinds.

Dave’s insights are vast and valuable for anyone interested in learning more about creating a vision, telling a story, or designing a product that can make the wearer better. Here are Dave’s Three Big How’s:

THREE BIG HOW’S

FUNDAMENTALS

Dave is a pragmatic guy, which is why starting with the fundamentals makes a lot of sense coming from him. There are people who want badly to become something, but if they don’t put in the time to learn those base skills, they’ll find it hard to compete and succeed. Dave stressed education and repetition as the best ways to make sure your fundamentals are solid. Maybe obvious but often overlooked.

THOUGHT PROCESS & APPROACH

Designers who separate themselves from the rest generally don’t get there solely based on design. Dave believes your thought process and approach to design are keys to unlocking better design. Starting with a narrative, a story, or a concept will work even better than simply sketching or diving right in. If you have that concept or story in mind all the time, it will help with everything from research to design decisions, and it will crystallize in a product that has a story to tell visually.

 PREPARE FOR SUCCESS

Dave was once told that he wasn’t out-talenting other people, he was out-working them. He took it as a compliment, which it was. A lot of people have talent, but if you’re not putting in the relentless work to finish details and actually make a better product, your talent will not save you. Dave calls this “preparing for success,” doing everything right along the journey so that the end result is the win you were working for.

BONUS: HAVE FUN

Very simply, if you’re not having fun, it will be obvious in the work. And if you are having fun, your work and your attitude will show through to others. That’s the goal.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Dave in the past on some incredible projects, and they have generally started with the story of the products he designed. As people whose job it is to tell stories often about products, it helps when the product has a story from the outset. Nobody’s better at that than Dave, as this episode clearly illustrates.