Sneaker Icon Tinker Hatfield and His Design Process

tinker hatfield

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Tinker Hatfield, but you’re likely familiar with the one-of-a-kind sneaker brand Nike. Hatfield has had a massive influence on the Jordan brand collection and continues to work for the company today as the Vice President for Design and Special Projects.

A track scholarship from Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman led him to study architecture at the University of Oregon. And his inventive imagination later realized that his architectural skills, combined with being one of Bowerman’s favorite test subjects, could be applied to the production of high-quality sneakers.

But he officially began working at Nike in 1981. After winning a company-wide shoe design competition for adaptive products, he was awarded a position within the design department. 

Tinker Hatfield’s claim to Air Jordans shoes

Over the past four decades, the design visionary has been responsible for creating countless iconic basketball shoes. These include the original Air Max lineup, the Air Jordan collection, and was the brains behind the entire Cross-Training category of sneakers.

Many sneakerheads have dubbed the Jordan III and Jordan XI as Hatfield’s most outstanding designs. The famous Jumpman logo was introduced on the Jordan III sneaker. Not including sneakers from the Air Jordan collection, his design innovation of the Air Max 90 also brought Nike great success.

Even the most legendary designers have created something that they aren’t proud of. For Hatfield, his most hated design was the Air Jordan 15s. He revealed that he intensely disliked the design in an interview, and modeling the tongue after Michael Jordan’s actual tongue wasn’t the best idea. However, he did tell the interviewer that the Air Jordan 11s were his personal favorite.

So, what was Tinker’s weapon of choice in a time of champion athletes and emerging tech?

A designer relationship unique to Tinker, Michael Jordan, and Nike

Hatfield prides himself on his ability to thrive under pressure. His most signature sneakers were designed in short periods with high levels of anticipation from the public and those at Nike. When he first started developing products for Nike, his only obligation was to incorporate the Nike Air tech, which was compressed air in a sealed bag within the shoe’s sole. This would give each shoe added flexibility and spring while keeping its structure. 

His personal goal was to create technologically advanced functional footwear designs that were aesthetic and visually appealing, similar to a luxury sports car. Before starting on a new design, Hatfield would reflect on the individual wearing the shoe, the customer. This way, he removed his own preferences from the shoe, creating something that would sell and become popular among the target demographic. 

Hatfield would source luxury materials from all over the globe to create exceptionally functional athletic shoes that appealed to Michael Jordan himself when it comes to the Nike Air Jordan collection. He introduced patent leather, reflective tongues, and the visible air bubble sole to Nike Air Max. 

In 2018, he designed and released a self-titled Jordan 3 sneaker that is a nod to his first shoe designs. It’s genuinely a vintage throwback that features the signature Nike Swoosh.

Hatfield’s unique outlook is what has propelled him to fame, sharing that “if people don’t love or hate your work, you just haven’t done all that much.”

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