Wearing Calm Technology
The New Wellness of ASICS Tiger
ASICS Tiger sneakers are “so comfortable you are not aware you’re wearing anything.” Hidden behind this unique comfort is a state-of-the-art sports technology that is nearly impossible to spot at first glance. In search of evidence for this technology,we visited the ASICS Institute of Sport Science (ISS).
PHOTOGRAPHS BY KOJI HONDA, TEXT BY TOMONARI COTANI,
QUOTED FROM WIRED.jp
Technology for lifestyle
In 1996, scientist Mark Weiser of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in California, U.S. – one of the holy grounds of computer science – proposed the concept of Calm Technology.
When you are writing with a pen, you are focusing on the act of writing, while diverting no attention to the pen – the tool. However, as soon as the ink starts running out, the pen itself becomes the focus of your attention. When it comes to tools, this is a situation that should be avoided. Weiser explains that this will become imperative in a society where technology is highly developed and ubiquitous computing (in which computers are unnoticeable within places and things in our daily life) –another concept Weiser proposed – has become widespread.
In other words, Calm Technology is what makes technology “peripheral,”, and it is suggested in Weiser's report, – “The Coming Age of Calm Technology”, – that this is interchangeable with concepts such as German philosopher Martin Heidegger's "Zuhandenheit" (ready-to-hand) and Hungarian economic anthropologist Karl Polanyi's "Tacit Dimension.".
Weiser passed away at the young age of 46, three years after the publication of his report and having never experienced smartphones or deep learning. But if he had had the opportunity to try on the ASICS Tiger (and there is a possibility he actually did – more on that below), he would undoubtedly have included it on his list of Calm Technology. People who have worn the GEL-LYTE III, GEL-LYTE V or GEL-KAYANO TRAINER would agree that it is hard to come by a shoe – even a sneaker – that is so comfortable you forget you’re wearing it.
In fact, the midsole of the GEL-series was designed with three varying degrees of firmness so the user could gradually get used to it for smoother running. At the time of their release in the ’90s, the shoes were advertised and sold as hi-tech, exotic and practical sneakers targeted at high-income consumers such as lawyers and doctors with jobs that required a lot of standing (which is why Weiser might have worn the shoes).
The new building at ISS, added in 2015. As the various divisions came closer together physically, a surge in lateral innovation occurred.
The Second Coming of ASICS Tiger
There is a reason why ASICS Tiger is not well known in Japan. ASICS Tiger is a line that gained popularity in the ’80s and ’90s as athletic footwear and has since had its technology and form updated to suit present-day lifestyles. The sneakers, which have the shock-absorbing material “GEL” embedded in them, have been very popular in the West since their release in 1986. In Japan, on the other hand, the shoe that was aimed at the lifestyle market and received the most attention was the Onitsuka Tiger, which meant the GEL-embedded series had a rather weak presence.
In 2015, with the boundaries between the worlds of sports and lifestyle disappearing, ASICS Tiger was reintroduced. This year was the 25th anniversary of the release of the GEL-LYTE III (which, for the international fan, is similar to the Air Max) and there was a strong desire within ASICS to revamp their portfolio.
As a result, in addition to the traditional performance shoes aimed at athletes – ASICS and the more fashionable Onitsuka Tiger – a third brand, ASICS Tiger, combining technology and design into a model targeted at lifestyle, was “relaunched.”.
Ryoji Shoda, Senior General Manager at ASICS Japan’s Global Lifestyle Division, had the following to say about the contemporary trends which informed the decision to relaunch.
“Wellness, technology, design – these three aspects of lifestyle will become even more important keywords in the coming years. In this respect, the GEL-series, which boasts an exceptionally high comfort level, conforms extremely well with the recent values that we see where wellness has become more important than material satisfaction.
“So, in order to be even more accepted by the creative community, which has high sensitivity to and a deep insight into technology, ASICS plan to further strengthen its vision “Technology for Lifestyle”. In addition, the ASICS Institute of Sports Science plays a central role in this undertaking.”
The GEL-KAYANO TRAINER, with its universal silhouette and outstanding fit, and the GEL-KAYANO TRAINER KNIT, developed to be even more comfortable. This pair of shoes represents the current position of ASICS Tiger.
The Design Philosophy Expressing Eight Functions
In 1980, ASICS created their own in-house research facility and in 1985 it was formally established as the ASICS Institute of Sports Science (ISS). ISS was moved to Nishi Ward, Kobe City, in 1990. In 2015, a new building was added and the facility was renewed. The research facility was built to create technology with the goal of bringing out the best performance possible for athletes aiming for the Olympics. However, it underwent a big change in 2000, as explained below by Kenichi Harano, the head of the ISS Footwear Function Research Department.
" Since the establishment of ISS in 1985, we have been carrying out research, development and performance evaluations of shoes and apparel based on biomechanics, but as I think back, we also did things instinctively. In order to introduce a quantitative evaluation paradigm, we built the design philosophy IGS (Impact Guidance System) in the year 2000. The name originally came from the system that cushions and guides the foot properly on impact with the ground, but it has since expanded and now incorporates the ASICS design philosophy of the eight functions of the shoe."
The eight functions are cushioning, the softening of the impact on the foot; stability, the suppression of shaking and excessive movement of the joints; traction, the reduction of slip; flexibility, the flexing of the shoe to the foot's flexing and support of smooth motion; fitting, the envelopment of the foot; durability, the ability to wear the shoe for an extend period of time; breathability, the reduction of sweat inside the shoe through the control of temperature and moisture; and the lightness of the shoe. If you think about it, some of these functions seem to contradict each other.
" To increase the cushioning, you have to make the midsole softer, but to increase stability you have to make it firmer. Durability and lightness are also fundamentally contradictory in nature, so we decided to try and break through the contradictions, conventions and current situation by integrating the development of material and structural properties. The strong point of the ISS is that we are able to conduct material design in-house. By introducing a quantitative evaluation method, there has been a dramatic improvement in development precision and cycle.
" In addition, I believe another one of our strengths is the fact that we have personnel with expertise in a large variety of fields. Sportswear manufacturers usually employ many experts in biomechanics, but as we develop materials, we have researchers in polymers, and fields such as medical therapy, neuroscience and electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering. Furthermore, everyone is always pushed by our director, Tsuyoshi Nishikawa to specialise in several fields. This helps us to avoid getting trapped by convention, and to imagine and create all kinds of next-generation, high-performance functions as early as possible."
A sketch by Shigeyuki Mitsui, one of the developers of the GEL-LYTE III. The sketch shows the structural design of the outsole and even the placement of the cushioning material. Right: A shoe flexibility simulation. As making a sample is no longer necessary, there are savings in costs and time and it is possible to test more ideas.
Unlimited R&D Capabilities
It is not only the researchers who think outside the box. Shigeyuki Mitsui, one of the design developers of the GEL-LYTE III that overthrew the conventions of the sneaker and incorporated the split tongue, is a living example of that.
" It could be said that actualising the comfort and wellness required for sneakers that you wear from the time you leave your house to the moment you come home is more difficult than developing performance shoes, which you only wear in competition. So, as we move in a direction that focuses on the aspect of lifestyle technology from the very beginning of the development of a product, this will surely be a great and difficult challenge. One idea after the next comes to me when I'm looking at the R&D capabilities of the ISS. Mr. Harano is currently examining whether we can make a “smart shoe that transforms when your feet get tired” – not based on IT, but on the materials and structure. As a matter of fact, our research from a sustainability perspective is progressing greatly as well.”
The current trend is an increase in demand for products whose technology is associated with wellness and comfort. In that regard, ASICS Tiger has already responded to those demands with a product that is "so comfortable you forget you're wearing it”. As long as this unlimited kind of authenticity exists in our R&D capabilities, the people at ISS will continue their quiet progress.