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!

You can draw shoes

I’m going to be totally honest with you, landing a shoe design job at a top brand is difficult, 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 freelance designer. I landed my first shoe design job as a freelancer after spending four months unemployed. While searching for a job I spent over 50 hours a week 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 need to know it well. Your shoe drawings are how you communicate your ideas. You have to be good, and 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 all the way to production!

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 books and videos. Pro tip: Make sure to spend time drawing outsole bottoms and midsoles. 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 also must show that you know and understand the rules of shoemaking.

2. Go to school:
There are more and more school programs for shoe design and fashion design. Is a 4-year design school a must for shoe designers? Maybe not, but the skills and experience gained from 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 do exist, but you may need to study in Europe or China. Look into the shoe design program offered by

Find a footwear 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 while working in the shoe trade you will meet people from all around the world with many different experiences. I count a Canadian, an Englishman, and many Korean and Chinese men and women as my great friends and mentors in the shoe trade.

4. Learn computer drawing 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. 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 shoe design portfolio to get a foot in the door:
There are many ways to get noticed and get started but a great shoe 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. Reach out to footwear professions online, ask for a portfolio review. There may not be an open job, but feedback on your shoe designs can help!


6. Study the classic sneakers:
Study the classics. Not the masterworks of Italian painters but 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 unique shoemaking lessons!

7. Fill your mind with great designs:
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 many websites where you can see brilliant 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 always inside, you just need a new way to let it out. There are many good shoe design 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 by looking inside. A great drawing of a shoe that cannot be manufactured will never make it off the page. A stunning new shoe design that challenges your development team can be a winner. You can see “inside” a variety of shoes that we have cut up and analyzed ourselves at the SneakerFactory in our book the Shoe Material Design Guide.

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.

We are happy to help you get started Shoemaking and Designing!

Sneaker Design Books

We have created 4 books to help anyone get their professional shoe design careers started. These books were created for shoe design beginners and professionals. You will find shoe design ideas, shoe design drawings, and information about the sneaker design process inside How Shoes are Made, The Shoe Material Design Guide, Footwear Pattern Making and Last Design, and How to Start Your Own Shoe Company. These books are available worldwide in PDF download formats and in print.

Get your today from our bookstore or from the Amazon site in your country. Watch out for our new releases coming later in 2020 and beyond.

Are you in need of some consulting? We offer various services and have contacts in design, development, manufacturing, QC, importing, and marketing in both the USA and China. You can easily set up a phone call via (start-up advice from world-class experts) or Purchase Consulting Services Here.

Are you a teacher or involved in a shoe school? Please contact us at [email protected] for a bulk order discount for your students.

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