July 24, 2012
Ettore Battiston and Crocs, 2002
Reviled as homely and acclaimed as comfortable, Crocs shoes play in what can be called the comfort wear movement — a movement that puts comfort first and foremost, and fashion second, if at all. Crocs began its life as a humble boat shoe, but word spread fast about the remarkable comfort of the odd-looking clogs. Demand grew, and distribution quickly moved from boating conventions to small retail outlets to Nordstrom and Dillard's. Crocs became ubiquitous, achieving global footwear phenomenon status in less than two years. But what goes up must eventually come down, and as of this writing Crocs (the company) is facing several challenges: invalidated patents, market saturation, and a fashionista backlash, all resulting in a drop in stock price and sales. Can Crocs regain their phenom status? The answer hinges on whether management comes to realize that, contrary to appearances, their competitive advantage never really had anything to do with shoes.
The heel strap rotates and stretches, enabling easy foot entry and securing the shoe to the heel when walking, differentiating the shoe from common clogs and avoiding the "flop" of flip-flops. The strap is hinged to the shoe with a pin that bears the Crocs logo, a cartoonish crocodile that, when coupled with the bright uniform colors of the shoes, emanates a decidedly childish quality — an idiosyncrasy that threatens the duration of the Crocs' fad cycle. Teen and adult models would be well served to either change the logo or lose it altogether.
The shoe is roundy, cloglike, and uniform in color, presenting a friendly effect. It makes feet appear larger than they are, but its large size minimizes interior contact with the foot, making it a viable option for those with foot sores or circulation problems. The holes and applied surface textures appear reptilian, visually reinforcing the brand name. The principal innovation in the shoe design regards its material, a proprietary closed-cell resin called croslite, which is waterproof, odor-resistant, antimicrobial, nonmarking, comfortable, lightweight, recyclable, and warms and softens with body heat — one wonders why the manufacturer limits the application of this amazing material to shoes.
Aside from Crocs' croslite construction, their most interesting element is their holes. Originally designed to drain water and promote air circulation, the holes inadvertently enabled a secondary market: the creation of decorative buttons, most popularly known as Jibbitz, that snap into the holes, enabling the wearer to personalize and decorate the shoe. Not only does this help address the wanting aesthetic of Crocs, it lets the wearers do the addressing, empowering them to remedy the key design flaw of the shoes they so otherwise love: to make beautiful what was once ugly.
The shoes contain an orthotic, molded foot bed and built-in arch support for comfort. The insoles of the shoes are lined with nubs to provide traction, stimulate circulation, and displace accumulated moisture. This is a subtle but interesting feature. Had the design used dimples versus nubs, a plausible design, foot stimulation and water displacement would have been sacrificed. The difference between product success and failure is often as small as a 1 mm nub versus a 1 mm dimple.
The rounded, exaggerated toe box; punched holes; open back; and choice of rubbery, plastic-like material make Crocs look comfortable and casual. These elements also give Crocs a sweetly goofy feel in a bumbling cartoon-character sort of way. The variety of colors and cartoon-like, smiling crocodile logo on the heel strap add to the fun-loving appearance of these shoes. Crocs are the opposite of a high-heeled shoe — Crocs are not at all sexual, not at all threatening, and not at all streamlined or sophisticated.
Interesting because it is a material-driven design. Every good design has its "revelation," and the Crocs' revelation is the choice of the material they're made of. Keen footwear, for example, combines the idea of a sandal with a steel-toe boot. The Croc combines the idea of a rubber flip-flop with a clog that covers your whole foot, and it's because of the material that it is made from that we notice the design as unique.
Comfort reigns! These crazy-looking shoes have several things going for them. First, they have a very wide toe box (ladies, look at your feet — your toes do not end in a point!). They also have ventilation on top and traction on the bottom — no wonder they are comfortable. They come in a wide variety of fun colors and have been marketed along with those clever pop-on "charms." Functional and fun — naysayers, lighten up!
Walking through any U.S. suburban mall in the summer, one will find a family of grandparents, parents, teens, and toddlers all wearing Crocs shoes. One does not think of shoes being the exemplar of universal design principles, but these light, comfy, nonslip, colorful, and durable shoes represent the highest principles of universal design.
Source: Deconstructing Product Design