Updating a fan-favorite model is no easy feat. From initial concept sketches to the construction of prototypes to wear-testing to the final product, years of work from multiple teams at HOKA all collaborate to bring you the best possible shoe. The all-new Mach 4 was no exception, so we sat down with HOKA Footwear Designer Ryan Crouch to learn a bit more about the design process, and what makes this new update to the Mach line so great.
Hey there! I’m Ryan Crouch.
When Matt Head (Design Director) and Odile Boyer (Senior Footwear Designer) started to build out the internal design process at HOKA, they hired me on as the first design intern for the brand. It has already been over three years since then, but I still remember my own excitement vividly. We were given the opportunity to bring a new perspective to this rapidly emerging brand. After I graduated from the University of Cincinnati (OH), I started full-time as a footwear designer. Since then, the design team has grown even more, and the work has been a ton of hands-on learning (and fun).
What I love about being a designer is that every day demands something new from my skillset. Some days, I am taking pen to paper and sketching on a new project for the season. Others, the team is meeting with suppliers overseas to discuss new innovations in shoe materials. Overall, I would say that my day-to-day is highly collaborative. I might create the drawing of a new shoe idea, but there is an entire team dedicated to bringing the HOKA experience to life.
It can take up to two years from the first concept of a shoe to seeing it on a shelf or online. The crucial time frame for designers, however, is the first couple of months of the process. When updating a model, our Product Line Managers (PLMs) provide the designers with briefs. Product briefs are detailed documents that set goals for aspirational consumers, materials, constructions, and more. Additionally, there are always reviews and feedback from previous shoes that we consider when creating new products. Whether we are intending to revamp the experience or create a new one altogether, we definitely are a performance-first brand.
Following weeks of sketching, reviewing geometry, and sharpening details with the team; our factory partners in Asia step in to help us construct prototypes. In the US and overseas, we have a dedicated team of developers who communicate to ensure that our designs can be produced as closely to the original intent as possible. Their expertise completes the Product Team and ensures a responsible and efficient process.
After months of refining the performance of our products, we pass on our work to some pretty capable hands. We have all sorts of teams at HOKA that control processes like distribution, merchandising, and creating communications content (like this blog post!) to name a few. Their contributions bring our products to consumers where they can take on a life of their own.
Updating the Mach 4 was no easy feat. The former iterations by Matt Head and Odile Boyer established the Mach line for training, responsiveness, and cushion. When developing the 4, we constantly questioned how to amplify that energy to its full potential. It became clear that we weren’t just looking for a slight update; we wanted to revamp this trainer from the ground up.
The original Mach spirit is the same, but it feels like we changed everything. A new underfoot foam, extended heel geometry, and an engineered upper with our Achilles heel tab are newer HOKA elements that we injected into the Mach 4. The SwallowTail™ Construction in the heel provides a smoother landing through the gait cycle whether you’re on a recovery run or picking up the pace.
I cannot thank Matt and the product team enough for trusting me with such an intensive project as a young designer. I would also like to shout out Odile again, because her design mentorship on the upper streamlined it and brought it to the next level.
The path to the finish line wasn’t easy, but the team was always receptive to my designs as they evolved and took shape. I would say that I’m most proud of the new bottom unit (midsole) of the Mach 4 because so much trial and error went into it. I remember the first prototype was way too heavy, and I felt like I had failed on the first round. With plenty of scrutiny and adding more grooving to the outsole, however, we were able to create a special experience that combines light cushion with the right amount of snap.
When we were briefed on what we wanted the Mach 4 to be, I took a lot of inspiration from run clubs in my own community and around the world. I have always found them to be a positive source of self-improvement in a team setting. The healthy competition, friendship, and upbeat energy seemed to align with the ethos of the Mach 4. We hope that the Mach 4 resonates with as many people as possible. It is for runners who are training to beat their personal records, but above that it is for people who are just excited to move.
You can shop the all-new Mach 4 HERE.