How to Become a Shoe Designer: 10 Steps

Do you want to learn how to become a shoe designer for Nike, Adidas, Converse, Puma or Vans?  You can do it!

Shoe Design RenderingI’m going to be totally honest with you, landing a shoe design job at a top brand is hard but if you work hard and don’t give up you can get into the business. Don’t be afraid to start your professional shoe design career with a small company or work as a free lance designer. I landed my first shoe design job as a free lancer after spending 4 months unemployed, while I did not have a job I spent over 50 hours a week just drawing shoes!

Here are the 10 steps to become a shoe designer.

Learn to draw shoes…

1. Learn to draw…. shoes and everything else:
If you want to be a professional shoe designer, of course, you need to learn how to draw shoes! This will be your language, you must know it well. Your shoe drawings are how you communicate your ideas. You have to be good! Your drawings need to show your passion and creativity to others. In a design meeting, the drawing that captures the imagination but also shows real possibilities will be the design that makes it!

You need to master concept sketching and some rendering skills.  Do you think hand drawings are old-fashioned?  Think again! Check out the Render Demo series of book and videos.  Pro tip: Make sure to spend time drawing outsole bottoms and midsole. A designer that can draw outsoles will always be in demand! Work hard to draw shoes that are fresh, creative and break the rules of shoemaking. However you must show that you know and understand the rules of shoemaking!

2. Go to school:
Is design school a must for shoe designers? …maybe not.  But the skills and experience gained at a 4-year college or design school will really give you an edge. There are many great programs for Industrial Design or ID.  Industrial Design is what you are looking for, NOT engineering. ID programs include classes on materials, drawing, human factors, etc…  In design school, you will work with many creative people and you will definitely be challenged. Design school will help you to become a shoe designer. Shoemaking schools to exist, But you may need to study in Europe or China! You shoe look into the shoe design program offered by

Find a mentor…

3. You will need a shoemaking mentor:
I have been very lucky in my shoemaking career. Along the way, I have met and worked with many great people. If you are not afraid to ask questions, and patient enough to listen, you will learn a ton from mentors and coworkers. I guarantee that working in the shoe trade you will meet people from all around the world with many different experiences. I count a Canadian, an Englishman, Korean, and many Chinese men and women as great friends and mentors in the shoe trade.

4. Learn computer software: Start with Adobe Illustrator
There are many drawing programs you can use. Adobe Illustrator is easy to learn and is a great tool for refining and detailing your designs. While Illustrator is not a 3D CAD program it’s still critical for you to master it.  If you are an engineer, use 3D modeling software. As a designer, you should start with Adobe Illustrator for drawing shoes. 

5. Build a great portfolio to get a foot in the door:
There are many ways to get noticed and get started but a great design portfolio is your launching point. In this day and age, an online portfolio is a must. With an online portfolio, you can show hundreds of drawings. Let people see what you can do!  Other tools?  Surfing can get you some contacts.


6. Study the classics:
Study the classics, not the masterworks of Italian painters, classic shoes!  Learn the modern history of shoes. There are many good books out there. Get to know the classic silhouettes from the big brands. Don’t be afraid to stand on the shoulders of the shoe giants! Study fashion shoes , sports shoes and brown shoes. All of these types have uique shoemaking lessions!

7. Fill your mind with great design:
To be a great shoe designer you need to look well beyond shoes! There is a multitude of great industrial design out there! Fill your mind with images – Ferrari, Prada, Frank Gehry, Philippe Starck, Apple, Porsche, etc.  There are so many websites online where you can see great modern designs for products aside from shoes. Fill up your brain, and let your eyes drink up this design stew.

8. Books   Books   Books:
I have collected dozens of design, design history, manufacturing, architecture, branding, and packaging design books. Surround yourself!  If I have a design problem I can’t solve, I just dive in and start flipping pages. The answer is inside, you just need a new way to let it out! There are many good shoe designing books for beginners

9. Cut up old shoes:
You need to see how shoes are really put together. Learn the hows and whys of shoe assembly. Brands like Nike and Adidas have masterminds of shoemaking at work, you can learn a lot be looking inside! A great drawing of a shoe that cannot be made will never make it off the page!  That said…a stunning new shoe design that challenges your development team can be good too!

Take chances

10. Fortune favors the bold!
Take chances! Your shoe designs should pursue perfection no matter what kind of shoe it is. Do something new and different. Work hard to understand shoe design challenges, then attack from a new direction. Find a new material for your shoe design, use an old material in a new way. Visit the shoe factory and see what they can do, see what they can’t do. Don’t take no for an answer!

You can be a shoe designer. It takes a passion for product design and imagination to see something that can be. For me, this is the best part of being a shoe designer, seeing the future in my mind and working to create it.

books for shoe designersWe are happy to help you get started Shoemaking and Designing !

We have created 3 books to help young people get their professional shoe design careers started. These books were created for for shoe design beginners and pros. You will find shoe design ideas, shoe design drawings and information about the sneaker design process. How Shoes are Made, The Shoe Material Design Guide and How to Start your Own Shoe Company. These books are available world wide in PDF download formats and on

Join us at Sneaker Con L.A. Dec 8th, 2019
Footwear Innovation Summit NYC
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