Ankle braces are often very uncomfortable to put on and wear underneath your shoes (not to mention an eye sore). Why can't athletic shoes have ankle braces built into their design to eliminate the need for separate supports? I set out to address this problem.
During the research stage, I spoke with Joseph Crisco, a Brown University professor of Orthopedics and Engineering Research who also has expertise in musculoskeletal biomechanics, to discuss the legitimacy of my idea. From there, I researched lower body anatomy, learning the nuances of a sprain verses a strain or break, and conducted a user survey at my club basketball team's tryouts. From that survey, 73% of the players said they had suffered an ankle injury at some point while playing, 100% of those players wore an ankle brace after the injury was sustained (McDavid was the most common brand used), and 50% of those players said they still wear braces today.
Next, I began sketching—making paper templates and muslin models, designing in CAD, creating a velcro strap that will wrap around the ankle to mimic the function of figure-eight straps seen on medical braces, and finally moved on to the final iteration.
Shoe Design - Luke Gordon
Yellow Backdrop Photos - Luke Gordon
Black Backdrop Photos w/ Basketball Player - Lucas Vasilko
Model - Dexter Foster
Shoe's webbing strap wraps around the shoes externally, just like an ankle brace strap or medical tape wraps.
Early process images, from sketching, to last tape templates to upper and lining paper templates.
Ideation in Rhinoceros, visualizing how the shoe design could potentially look.
The soles were casted in silicon rubber, poured into stacked sheets of laser cut acrylic that were held together by reference pins.
Having played varsity basketball and volleyball, along with playing on the club basketball team as RISD, I've suffered from multiple ankle sprains, and they've been occurring more often. This is because when you suffer a sprain, the ligaments that hold your bones together either continue to stretch or tear.
Image that the ligaments in your ankle are like rubber bands. The more the rubber band is stretched, the looser it becomes. And because of this, the chances of you rolling your ankle outside of its range of motion increases, making future ankle sprains more likely. To avoid this pattern, I have to wear cumbersome, stiff ankle braces underneath my basketball shoes, which is uncomfortable, but unfortunately necessary.
This is where my idea to create these shoes originated.
Noticing that top brands are focusing on developing shoes with an aesthetic first mindset, shoes are moving further away from their main purpose of support, and continuing to move more towards lifestyle branding and graphics. Why can't shoes be both stylish and structurally functional? As designers, we have the ability to make crude and mundane medical features and innovations more approachable, allowing the user to feel confident and comfortable wearing them, seamlessly fitting into their activity.
Through these ankle stabilizing shoes, my design challenge was to create a pair of athletic shoes that not only offer external ankle supports as part of the shoe, but also to look visually engaging to the user.