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Designing for Deckers

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Examples of Deckers Brands shoes on display. Photo by Alex Madison.

Two School of Industrial Design (IND) students went from wearing Deckers Brands shoes, to helping design them. Laurel Ebert and Russ Donida haven’t even graduated from Academy of Art University, however they both have full-time jobs as 3-D designers at one of the top shoe companies in the world.

Starting as interns last fall, the two students stepped into the world of Deckers Brands, which owns brands like UGG, Hoka One One and Teva. In one year, the students gained invaluable skills in the realm of virtual prototyping, a technique the shoe industry is catching onto, but something Deckers is at the forefront of.

In hopes that their stories would inspire other students, the pair traveled from Goleta, California, where the Deckers headquarters is located, to share insights and advice with Academy students on Nov. 27. Three Deckers shoes laid perfectly on a table while a small crowd began to fill the black and orange chairs on the third floor of the Academy’s Automobile Museum on Van Ness Avenue.

“We try to push the progress of designing shoes and create a more accurate product,” Donida said during the presentation.

“We strive to make products better along with the relationship between consumers and that product,” said Ebert, while wearing a pair of Deckers shoes. “There are always opportunities for products to improve or how they are built.”

This is the objective of 3-D modeling, design and printmaking at Deckers Brands. The company is one of only three shoe companies in the world which use Romans CAD, a 3-D design software used exclusively for shoe and leather products.

Ebert and Donida explained to the audience how 3-D designing is revolutionizing the shoe industry. The traditional design process for a shoe usually begins with a sketch that is then converted into a 2-D digital rendering. From there, the 2-D design is sent to a manufacturer which creates a physical prototype of the shoe. This can take up to six weeks, with a lot of back and forth between designers and manufacturers.

3-D modeling allows designers to create a more accurate, comprehensive digital shoe sample that can also be fabricated using a 3-D printer. The sample is created in the span of a week, cutting out the manufacturer, reducing costs and the amount of material that would have been used for the physical sample.

“It saves a lot of money, prevents waste and really gives a more accurate sample,” Donida said, as a big rendering of a Hoka One One shoe filled the screen behind him.

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(L-R) Academy IND students Laurel Ebert and Russ Donida during their recent Deckers Brands presentation at the Auto Museum. Photo by Alex Madison.

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(L-R) Students Irene Arnada and Bryce Kilmer speak with Decker Brands' Laurel Ebert. Photo by Alex Madison.

As the presentation continued, students in the audience were eager to ask questions about how the Decker employees balance the elements of 3-D and industrial design, technical questions about Romans CAD and the culture of the company.

For one student in the audience, Irene Arnada, the presentation sparked the confidence to go out in the real world and start chasing down jobs.

“I really liked everything they talked about. It’s interesting to see how the footwear industry is evolving,” said the senior industrial design student, who also took away some industry language from the event. “I feel more confident to go after work. Understanding the language is very useful.”

Bryce Kilmer, who’s nearing graduation, also attended the presentation and said events like these are valuable to a student like himself.

“It’s interesting to hear the ins and outs about a position in the industry,” the industrial design student said. “I came here not familiar with 3-D design at all and now I know quite a bit more.”

The presentation ended with the encouraging message that every great shoe design starts with a sketch. Before the Deckers pair headed back to headquarters, they dished out some advice to the students.

Ebert’s advice was take opportunities when they come. She was encouraged by her industrial design instructor Shane Koo to apply for the Deckers internship, something Ebert felt she wasn’t ready for at the time.

“I didn’t feel ready,” she shared. “I said to myself, ‘I’ll just do the interview for practice.’ I wasn’t confident I would get the job, but I did.”

Russ’ advice was keep an open mind. He shared how he didn’t have a passion for 3-D design and, in fact, didn’t care for it before Deckers.

“Be open minded to learning new things and look into different parts of design you might not like at first,” he said. “I accepted my weakness and now I am designing for one of the biggest companies in the world.”