Tinker Hatfield started to define what working with athletes was like. It was about getting to know them as athletes and their performance. They had to build a product that catered to the athlete at the highest level such that the player could play with the same show after thirty years as well.


Tinker was never focused on design but athleticism. He received a full sports scholarship to the University of Oregon. He met Bill Bowerman who was one of the two founders of Nike. 

Tinker admits that pole vaulting needs a strong sense of commitment and confidence. This mentality that you can’t back off, your goal is to fly through the air. 

When he was Seventeen years, Tinker fell and tore his ankle in half. After five surgeries, two years of rehabilitation, “ he felt his career was over.” 

And then he learned he could draw on accident. His discipline was architecture and he also worked for Bill. He would tell, draw, and interpret his design when he presented his ideas to Bill. He was learning how to design shoes and solve problems for athletes since his university. 


He realized that design did involve art but art was a form of self-expression whereas, in design, the end goal is to solve a problem for someone else. Nike had developed very fast. And they were recruiting members by hosting a competition. Other designers started and tweaked some of their existing designs. But, Tinker worked for twenty-four hors and was unique in his storytelling. Two days after the competition, he was told he was a footwear designer for Nike. 

His first project was the air max. He became the lead designer. He drew inspiration from the building whose inner mechanics were visible. The building itself was painted in primary colors, which people seemed to hate more than adore.

Andre Agassi 

  • A basic design is functional, a great design will convey something. Andre Agassi was an upcoming star tennis player who was Nineteen years old at that time. He hadn’t started in country clubs and he didn’t always wear white. 
  • This created speculation and Tinker had never worked with a tennis player like him before. So they created the new Nike shoe called anti-country club which was outrageous and pink and bright.
  •  With the right athlete, they challenged the perception of the entire sport.


Michael Jordan was Nike’s biggest client. Tinker got his new project for designing brand new Air Jordans. It was supposed to feel already broken into even though it was new. So they had soft leather, elephant print, he had also designed apparels to go with it. It was unlike any basketball shoe.

They’d progressed to Air Jordans VIII and Michael kept winning championships. 

Air Jordan X had ten stripes that signified Michael’s ten yrs as a pro.

Air Jordan XV was the first one that had negative reviews, it was a sad time for both Tinker and Michael. After that shoe, Tinker withdrew from the Air Jordan projects. So he had to find a new direction for himself. 

In 2005, he designed the Jordan XX. because of something special. He wanted Jordan to talk about the last twenty yrs of his life. He wanted to design a symbol that would define each of his stories. It was an avant-garde approach. it was the best storytelling product they’d ever done. 


Design is about predicting the needs of the future. The E.a.r.l.- Electro adaptive reactive lacing, was inspired by a movie. He wanted to make something that would excite the people about the future. 

They applied the auto-lacing technology after several yrs. After the problems were discussed and solved by Tinker and the mechanism was foolproof, it was then applied in the shoe. The launch turned out to be very successful.


Get out there and experience life to translate that into unique design work. There are multiple designers who know how to interpret designs and slightly change them. But his job was to be provocative and problem-solving for a specific customer. If people don’t completely love or hate your work, know that you haven’t left an impact.

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