Martin Lotti XWHY Magazine

Martin Lotti: Designer Just Doing It

Mr Mike meets Mr Lotti, Nike’s Global Creative Director, to talk egos, sport’s superstars and just darn doing it…

As you would expect from a leader in his field…and creative director of one of the biggest, coolest and most influential brands in the world, Martin Lotti is passionate, self-assured and extremely, sometimes intimidatingly, knowledgable.

As ‘creatives’ go, it’s a field dominated, arguably, by the self-satisfied and self-aggrandising – ahem…Russel Brand – but happily there’s not a hint of this about Lotti. As boring as it is to say…he seems like a bloody nice bloke!

Lotti, a family guy who married his college sweetheart (who also happens to work at Nike) is, to steal a football term, a one-club man. Nice…appropriate even, but all very run-of-the-mill so far… Toeing the line isn’t the substance that lands you at the creative helm of one of the most recognisable brands in the world…

The Swiss born designer has had to prove his mettle in a number of tough arenas.  He steered the London 2012 Olympics campaign and developed the revolutionary Fly Knit designs, showing that getting your head down and “just doing it” – plus, obviously, oodles of very specific talent, without the peacocking and self-congratulation, is a much more dignified recipe for success.

His next challenge will be: oh just a little matter of the World Cup in Brazil, 2014. No biggie.

Martin Lotti Flyknit

I imagine, given your role and involvement in these great sporting competitions like the Olympics and up coming World Cup, you’ve come across some pretty big sporting names. Do you ever get star struck?

You know thats the beautiful thing and the power of sport. Being part of Nike you are bound to work with a lot of amazing athletes like Neymar, or Ronaldo last week or Carl Lewis. I remember being glued to the TV screen and seeing Carl Lewis soar through the air and Ronaldo playing in his prime. It’s a pleasure to work with some of the best in the game, they inspire me to be the best when it comes to designing too.

So if you were pushed to pick one of these as the greatest sportsperson of your time?

Being Swiss, it has to Roger Federer when it comes to tennis and then track and field it would be Carl Lewis, so its more by sport than there being a one and only. (NB: Images of Chesney Hawkes flash in my mind at this moment for some reason).

Have you seen the Film Any Given Sunday by any chance?

No I haven’t.

Well in it, Al Pacino gives a very famous speech about inches being the difference between winning and losing in sport and in life. How much does that sort of philosophy come into your designs and process?

You know what, at the end of the day for us, there are four pillars to are designs; doing the country proud,  performance, sustainability and lastly Soulfulness. Making a good Nike product is checking all four of these boxes. We need to help our athletes to gain every possible advantage.

How much time is spent with elite athletes garnering opinions and testing?

Actually, we get the athlete involved way before testing. It’s not about picking up my piece of paper and thinking what do I want to design today. It’s an intensely collaborative process.

So where did your creativity start? Drawings? Writing stories? Imaginary friends?

Haha you know my Dad was an architect and my Mum a psychologist, so I feel I got a blend of the both. One is art and one is science, which I believe is what design is. Growing up, my Dad had his office right in our home, so the first thing I would do when I came home from school was run into his office. So I think thats where I started. When I design products, I feel like I’m building little buildings.

From an outsiders point of view. Your career looks pretty much perfect.  Have there been low points along the way or have you really been living the dream?

Nothing is ever a straight line. That’s what innovation is. It’s three steps forwards and two steps backwards. You just have to embrace it. There is no right or wrong and the only thing I try to do is my best. I always said the harder I work, the luckier I get.

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Advice for designers?

Keep your eyes open. Look at the world around you. I always tell my designers to go out, act like a sponge and bring everything they see back to Amsterdam or Beaverton where our design studios are. Be curious and absorb, the rest is kind of magic.

But have you actually enjoyed the journey?

I’ve designed many shoes for Nike and there has never been a boring moment. Every time there is a new challenge that is thrown at you. When I arrived I had never designed a shoe before, or looked after a division and I certainly hadn’t done anything on the scale of the Olympics. And now we’re going into the World Cup!

I enjoyed talking to Lotti. And it strikes me, as the interview comes to an end, that Nike have hit on a clever formula. To start with, they have become a brand recognisable for their joie-de-vivre – they are colourful and flavoursome, making it infinitely fun to work for them and ensuring their team have a swoosh on their hearts as well as in their heads, but they’re also smart about who they take on.

If Lotti is anything to go by and, let’s face it, as their Global Creative lead he certainly should be something to go by, they pick people who are full of the right kind of geekery, but less full of themselves. A show-pony designer might, arguably, have the odd lightning bolt idea to out strip all others, but perhaps also an ego that needs constant massaging and the odd wrestling match. As prosaic as it sounds, by picking people that “just” get on and bloody “do it”, they ensure the regularity of quality output. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

For more XWHY-NIKE – have a read of Mike’s interview with David Luiz HERE.

Check out the Brazil 2014 kit at NIKE’s WEBSITE.

WORDS: Michael Thomas

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