Daniel Shirley: Beyond the sketch

From sending a basketball shoe sketch to Nike at 13 to his contributions at companies like Nike and Puma, and his personal explorations as Hek Lab. The story of Daniel Shirley.

Spotlights & Case Studies

Daniel Shirley’s narrative in the footwear design space, as captured through his interview with Fernando from Futures Factory, paints a vivid picture of a designer deeply committed to innovation, sustainability, and the transformative potential of digital design tools. Shirley's journey from an early fascination with design, sparked by sending a basketball shoe sketch to Nike at 13, to his significant contributions at companies like Nike and Puma, and his explorations as @hek.lab (IG), exemplifies a designer who is at once reflective and forward-thinking ​​​​.

Education and Early Career

Graduating with a BFA in Industrial Design from Brigham Young University, Shirley's path was influenced by a blend of familial inspiration and personal curiosity. His exploratory spirit led him to diverse experiences, from founding a backpack company, Tessel Supply, to honing his skills in soft goods and eventually steering towards the niche of performance and conceptual footwear design​​​​.

Shift to Digital Design

Shirley's foray into the digital realm, particularly through tools like Gravity Sketch, marks a significant turn in his design philosophy. He describes this transition as a bridge between his tactile, hands-on approach and the expansive possibilities of digital creation. This exploration not only allowed for greater creative freedom but also aligned with his interest in sustainable design practices.

"I realized that Gravity Sketch might be that missing tool where I could take my sculptural hand approach and do it digitally".

Sustainability and Future Visions

A recurrent theme in Shirley's work is the pursuit of sustainability in footwear design, evidenced by his engagement with projects that explore materials and production methods aimed at reducing environmental impact. His move to Nürnberg, Germany, to work as a performance footwear designer, and his independent work through hek.lab on Instagram, underscore a commitment to blending the familiar with the unexpected, while maintaining a focus on sustainability and innovation​​.

hek lab x iA MULE 1 :: Behance
ia Mule 1

Community and Mentorship

Daniel's journey is also a testament to the importance of community and mentorship within the design world. His transition from socks to footwear at Nike, bolstered by mentorship and self-initiated projects, highlights the value of supportive networks in navigating one’s career. Furthermore, his active participation in the footwear design community on Instagram as @hek.lab has made him a source of inspiration and insight for aspiring designers .

Reflections on his Design Process

Throughout our interview, Shirley reflects on the nuances of the design process, emphasizing the balance between digital tools and the tactile experience of physical prototyping. His observations on the evolving landscape of design, where digital and physical realms coalesce to create products that are both innovative and sustainable, offer valuable perspectives for the industry’s future .

In synthesizing insights from Daniel Shirley's interview and related research, it's clear that his contributions to footwear design are marked by a blend of artistic curiosity, technological embrace, and a keen awareness of sustainability. As the industry continues to evolve, Shirley's journey and insights underscore the potential for designers to shape the future of footwear through a combination of digital innovation, sustainability, and community engagement.

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