Since the Ultra Boost was launched in 2015, the innovative adidas flagship runner has been embraced by sneakerheads that have gravitated towards the lightweight minimalist design. Over the last month, the UltraBOOST Uncaged – inspired by customisers that would remove the shoe's lace cage – has quickly become one of the most coveted sneakers in recent memory. To give us an insight into the development of the new UltraBOOST Uncaged we caught up with Ben Herath, the VP of design for both the Ultra Boost projects.
The UltraBOOST Uncaged highlights the fact that adidas embraced what consumers were doing to customise their own Ultra Boosts. When did you first hear about kids cutting up the original design design?
We actually saw people cutting the cages off their Ultra Boosts pretty soon after we launched the shoe last year – it was really great to see such creativity from people out there. What we didn’t expect was just how excited people were by this idea, and the uncaging movement had a real momentum behind it. We saw images popping up all across social media and there is even a Youtube tutorial that is up to around a couple of hundred thousand views. It was really inspiring for us to see people customising and personalising their Ultra Boosts and I felt really proud that we had somehow enabled that creativity out there.
When did you then decide to incorporate this into an actual adidas design?
It was actually an idea we had been toying around with ourselves early on when we created the Ultra Boost. One of our approaches to design here is around being 'daringly simple'. We are constantly challenging ourselves to make simpler designs – to do more with less. That one part can be better than two parts. The Ultra Boost is a great example of this and was always about simplicity and distilling the design down to the essential ingredients – then letting those parts work together as a cohesive system.
Throughout the development phase we kept challenging ourselves to make the Ultra Boost simpler with every prototype. At one point we stripped the Ultra Boost right back to the sock and we were all captivated by the simplicity, stance and silhouette. We knew we were onto something but just wasn’t sure then how to bring it to life. At the same time, the Ultra Boost quickly became our benchmark here at adidas for comfort using Primeknit and Boost. Designers from across the company were studying the Ultra Boost and deconstructing it themselves.
It was an incredibly exciting time as we were sharing lots of ideas between designers in different areas about what might come next. Then, when we saw similar creativity and enthusiasm from our fans out there by uncaging their Ultra Boosts, it really inspired us to bring this idea to life.
This cross-collaboration with the brand and consumer is a new model that adidas and other companies have embraced. Do you think adidas will adopt this method with other products in their range in the future?
Absolutely! You might have seen this already with the PureBOOST X which we launched earlier this year. This was a new women’s running shoe which was the result of co-creating with hundreds of female runners from around the world to shape the look and feel of the design. Moving forward, we want to continue to open our doors and invite our fans in. We want to inspire, enable creativity and shape the future of sport together with people out there.
The previous ‘Uncaged’ releases with collaborators kept the original Primeknit upper, why did you decide to opt for a brand new upper design for the new UltraBOOST Uncaged?
We invited partners like Solebox, sneakersnstuff and Hypebeast to join the uncaging movement and to create their own stylised streetwear versions of the shoe. The cage was an integral part of the fit and the performance of the Ultra Boost. So by cutting the cage off, the performance of the shoe is significantly weakened. However, with the new Ultra Boost uncaged, we wanted to continue the performance legacy of what we believe is our greatest running shoe ever. Our single biggest challenge therefore became how to uncage the Ultra Boost, but keep the great performance of the original.
Can you explain the internal mid-foot skeleton that allows the UltraBOOST to be, well, cageless?
We were actually inspired by our track spikes which pioneer the fastest and lightest constructions we make, they are also tested on some of the best athletes in the world and through a range of movements and distances. These track spikes are our Formula 1 race cars – stripped down to the bare minimum and a great example of simplicity in design and construction. On these spikes, we reinforce the back side of the mesh with a soft, seamless, synthetic suede that has a high strength to weight ratio and also feels great against the foot. We took this construction and applied it to the back side of the Primeknit to support the foot, from short runs right up to marathon distances. We continually tested and benchmarked the new design against the original Ultra Boost to ensure we had the same level of comfort and performance.
The multi-tiered lacing system is unique also. What was the inspiration for that?
We wanted to continue to give people a chance to personalise the shoe. Firstly to accommodate different foot shapes and give a range of different fit options. The medial side of the foot is quite a sensitive area and you can really change the supportive feel by lacing in different ways. We also wanted to enable people to change up the look of the shoe simply through different lacing configurations. I am looking forward to seeing what people do with this and how they might personalise their laces to change their style.
Without the branded tongue and cage, the only visible branding is the minimalist welded overlays on the toebox. Why did the team decide to keep adidas branding to a minimum?
This shoe was inspired by hacking - by people defiantly repurposing the design. We were inspired by this rebellious spirit and wanted to reflect this in the attitude of the design in a way that feels more personal and a little less expected. So we placed the Three Stripes in a more unpredictable and disruptive position that was more in-line with the character of the shoe. When looking for the right spot, we were inspired by the way we see people photographing their shoes from above on social media. The view from above is also an important one that grows with you over time and so we felt this position deserved the Three Stripes.
The new red colourway is also the first shoe to sport a coloured BOOST unit, was this also inspired by people customising their shoes by painting the midsole?
Yes! We have also seen people colouring their Boost soles and have seen the demand for coloured Boost from our fans out there. As Boost is such a new material, it has taken us a long time to find a way to add colour without diminishing the performance. It has been a long journey but we are excited to be able to bring colour to Boost soon.
The UltraBOOST Uncaged is probably one of the lightest shoes we’ve ever seen! Is it even possible for the shoe to get any lighter? Where do we progress to after this?
That is a great question! We are always striving to improve the feel, the comfort and the experience of our performance products. As we aim toward more simplicity in our designs, our shoes do become more lightweight as a result. It is a nice way that style and performance go hand in hand. This quest we are on will continue, so you will continue to see us finding new ways to improve the performance of our products.
Lastly, what else have you got in-store for UltraBOOST fans for the rest of 2016? Any exciting secrets or previews you could share?
Well, I don't think I can give too much away! We are very excited to be able to launch the UltraBOOST uncaged this week after around 20 months in the making. I want to thank all those people out there who cut a cage off an Ultra Boost. You inspired us and helped us to bring this idea to reality! Over the coming months, you will see us continue to bring new exciting colours to the Uncaged. We will always be pushing ourselves to innovate further and pioneer new materials and designs. So I guess all I can say right now, is stay tuned!