Designer Minds: A Chat With The Creator Of The New Balance 574S
When an all-time New Balance classic steps up for a total redesign, it’s no simple task, as Hidetaka Yamada will attest. In his role as footwear design manager of New Balance Japan, it was Hide’s responsibility to oversee the development of the 574S. Having been with the company since 1996, Hide knows the process better than anyone, and we were lucky to grab a few minutes to discuss what it took to develop the New Balance 574S.
Prior to the 574S, what other New Balance projects have you worked on?
In my first 10 years with New Balance I designed shoes for the Japanese market. These days my job is more focused on managing and directing a team, although I continue to work on SMU (special make-ups) projects and occasionally contribute new upper designs for tennis and walking shoes, as well as colour-ups and materials for NB lifestyle when needed. I have a long history with the 574, and a deep understanding of its importance in Japan, which I believe is why I was asked to participate in the design of the 574Sport.
How important is the brand’s heritage and how does it affect your own design ideas?
I think heritage is really important for lifestyle footwear designers. Designers have to know their brand’s history, philosophy and product every time they start a new design. New Balance has a rich history, each model has its own unique technological story. One of our most useful tools is a book put together by Brad Lacey (New Balance lifestyle footwear design director) a few years ago. But before you get too excited, it’s for employees’ eyes only!,
New Balance Japan also has an archive of over 1300 shoes going all the way back to the Trackster. When I began the process of designing the 574S, I referenced the original M576 and 574 along with old catalogues for inspiration.
The 574 is such an iconic silhouette. What are your impressions of the shoe?
The 574 is one of best running shoe designs of the 80s. In my opinion, it has a perfectly balanced and timeless design – tip, saddle, foxing with a top eyestay and underlay. The design utilises different materials and great colour blocking, which has given the silhouette longevity.
The 574S is a lifestyle shoe, not a performance shoe, so my main aim was comfort. Although consumers say the OG M574 is a comfortable shoe, the design is still based on technology from the 80s. I wanted to update the design with our latest innovations. Our performance footwear design and development team have a done great job with Fresh Foam – especially the Fresh Foam Zante series – and I wanted consumers to experience that same level of comfort. For stability, I used an ABZORB crush pad which is similar to how the original 576 had hard EVA in the heel known as ‘V Channel’ at the time. This increased the width of the outsole for even greater stability.
The sole design is our favourite part for sure! How has Fresh Foam been modified from a performance sole into something that suits a lifestyle sneaker?
I tried to merge the Fresh Foam format with the classic 576 and 574 by translating iconic elements. I was looking for a balance between the two. The Counter Reinforce, the Forefoot Filler (harder EVA for toe-off stability), and V Channel (harder EVA for heel stability) all made their way into the new design.
The original 574 was built for the outdoors – how did you reimagine that trail DNA for the modern urban consumer?
It was important for me to keep that outdoor DNA, especially the rugged outsole and structural midsole design. I guess you could say I was trying to combine that outdoor design aesthetic with something more refined and sophisticated.
A noticeable 574S update is its bootie-based silhouette. Why did you decide to move away from the traditional tongue and low-top design?
Early in the design and development stage, we (me, a product manager and a developer) knew we wanted to update the upper for comfort, not just the sole unit. At the time our developer was working on a soft stretch mesh that we made good use of in the bootie construction. The new design reduces stress on the foot compared to a traditionally constructed upper.
What other things were improved on the upper that people might not notice?
Haha, I don’t have any secrets to share unfortunately. Our developer did put in a lot of time with the factory to make sure the upper pattern truly fitted our last shape – it’s not something you might see but you will definitely feel it.
The new Fresh Foam midsole is a highlight of the 574S design. Is the pattern purely aesthetic or does it have a functional purpose?
Both. The 574S Fresh Foam pattern follows the same rules as a performance shoe. The lateral side is concave for cushioning and the lateral side of the heel area has a bigger concave pattern for heel strike; the medial side has a convex shape for stability The original 574 was designed for heel strikers so I followed that same idea.
What is your favourite part of the shoe?
This is a difficult question… I like it all! But if I had to pick one thing it would be the outsole. I love the rugged pattern with the off-road DNA from the 576/574. I’m also very fond of the launch colorways we produced. For those, I took inspiration from the 90s-era New Balance boxes, which were in use when I joined the company. It’s a great design and I always think of that box when I think of the 574.
How do you see the 574 evolving in the future?
For now, I don’t have any new plans for the 574S. If we ever update the design, I would like to work on the look, but more so the comfort. It’s one of the key things NB is known for.