In order to successfully reinvent the classic design of the high heel, it was of the utmost importance to start from scratch and focus on a human-centered design. Beyond just the fashion but to develop a design that would improve the user experience from every aspect of the product.
Research began by going straight to the end users: women. Eighteen women were interviewed, shadowed throughout their daily routines in order to obtain more than just testimonials. Instead, the daily relationship of the user (women) and product (high heels) were monitored in real-time.
From work to leisure, a few key patterns stood out and were analyzed:
"While walking on heels for hours the feet get used to the high heel position, but once I change to flats you get a sense of release but your feet are cramped and swollen. Not a pleasant feeling!" - Nazli Goksu, New York
“No matter how comfy a pair how high heels are, they will starts hurting soon or later…” Maya Sitti, Shanghai
While walking on heels for hours, a person’s feet can get used to the high heel position. Changing into flats often provides a sense of release. Relief, however, is incomplete as feet can remain cramped and swollen. It’s not a pleasant feeling.
Wearing heels for long periods of time can cause many health issues. These issues are caused by shifting the weight of woman’s body into an unnatural position for an extended period of time. This causes pressure and tension on the feet and can lead to problems with the knees, muscles and tendons in the legs.
Some of the most severe injuries associated with wearing high heels — such as Morton’s Neuroma and Bony Growth — are irreversible or treatable only through surgery.
The second phase of research entailed evaluating what made some heels more comfortable than others, despite their height. Some correlations to comfort were found relating to the pronouncement of (i) the arc in the shank, (ii) the shape and form of the heel and (iii) the thickness of the outsole of the heel (i.e., platforms).
The shape of the heel plays a huge role in affecting the comfort of footwear. Different heel shapes offer different support and structure. Generally, the stiletto is the most uncomfortable and difficult for walking because, due to its lack of structure, a person’s body weight is shifted completely to the phalanges bones of their toes. In heels 4" or higher, the wearer has to support between 90 and 100% of their weight on their toes.
On the other hand, one of the most comfortable designs is the wedge. It offers a better weight distribution and the heel has more structural integrity. Additionally, shoes that have at least some platform are able to better absorb the impact of walking.
Another factor is the underlying the structure and ergonomics of footwear is the arc supporting (or shank) the foot’s tarsals and metatarsal bones.
The higher the heel, the more pronounced the arc has to be to offer significant support for a person’s body wight.
Most high heels in the market are uncomfortable, primarily because they lack arcs sufficient to provide real structure.
Making a high heel more comfortable only mitigates the problem. I wanted to find a more complete solution — one that would allow a wearer to use high heels when necessary but easily switch to a low heel when appropriate. This would help prevent overuse of the high position that creates so many problems.
The central design idea was to create a system that contains all of the necessary functionality embedded within the footwear and heel itself, making height transformations easy and intuitive.
During the solution development process, it was critical to find the right materials in tandem with the right mechanical system. To achieve this, the design strategy focused on four main points:
User Intuition - A user simply pinches the back of the heel to change its hight. It’s the same common, natural move everybody has used to take shoes off. Making the task intuitive and familiar.
Biomechanics - Adaptability of the foot arc to different heights provides support and comfort. The arc become more pronounced when the heel is in its high position, offering more support.
Mechanical Engineering - A simple but strong mechanism built into the heel holds up to 275lb of weight. The nature of the mechanism also allows the load to transfer throughout the shoe, preventing damage to the heel locking systems and the integrity of their mechanics.
3D Printing - The insole material provides a strong yet flexible form to support the the footwear’s transformation. Thanks to the composition of the resin, the insole is also able to absorb some of the impact of walking.
High heels represent many things for women: confidence, investment, status, lifestyle. However, wearing high heels forces the body into an unnatural position. Women are often forced to chose between switching to more comfortable shoes, which can be inconvenient, or bearing the pain of high heels, which is unhealthy.
To address this problem, I sought a solution that could be used all day long — a shoe that switches heights in seconds, from 1” high, in its low position, to 4”, in its high position. High for business presentations, cocktails and whenever making an impression is necessary. Low for walking long distances, standing for long periods and other times when comfort and natural movement is essential.
These shoes — and transformable fashion itself — are all about pushing the boundaries of design and engineering to create a product that is truly functionally, easy to use and makes a health difference in people’s everyday life.
Pictures and Video by David Goddard