Jaden Zhai

In Conversation With: Jaden Zhai

May 27, 2021

 Global Footwear Awards Category winner Jaden Zhai Ko discussed Sonic IQ 1.0 , GFA 2020 winning design.

Making its debut on the international design stage, Global Footwear Awards (GFA) has begun its global search to identify the most innovative design in footwear. Sonic IQ 1.0 was awarded the best in kids category for independent level.

Sonic IQ 1.0 is an assistive footwear technology designed to help aurally challenged young athletes communicate during team sports and physical education. This project primarily focuses on basketball, but can be applicable to other team sports.


GFA talks with Jaden Zhai about his winning project.


What do you see as the strengths of your winning project?

The strength of this project is that it can be implemented by schools and athletic programs to be more inclusive to students with hearing disabilities. With the advances in wearable technology, this project can be feasible within the near future and improve physical education for youth living with hearing loss.


What does this award mean to you personally?

This award gave me the validation that my concept resonates with people. I am glad to see that my idea spoke to the judges, and this gives me the confidence to develop this concept even further.


What is your guiding design principle?

The principle that guided me throughout the entire design process is to focus on the user. It was important to understand the user and make sure that I am catering to their needs. Sometimes it is easy to forget that this product is not for me, so it’s important to put myself in the user’s shoes at all times (no pun intended).


How/when did you discover that you wanted to work in design?

I always loved to build thing with my hands. Ever since I was a kid I liked to draw and take toys apart to see how it worked. When I got older, I understood that I had a talent for creating, and I knew that design work was what I wanted to do.


Is there something [shoes or any other product] that you wished you had designed?

If I wasn’t into footwear design, I would have liked to do packaging design. I had always been interested in the creative ways that packaging can communicate brand image.

Which designer in the footwear industry do you most admire and why?

One of the designers I admire the most in the footwear industry is D’Wayne Edwards. He was the designer of the Jordan XX and XXI, but most importantly, he is the founder of Pensole Academy. He was a great mentor for me during my time at Pensole, and I admire his mission to provide opportunities to the next generation of designers. D’Wayne always challenges his students to think outside the box, and pushes them to be the best version of themselves. Today, a huge portion of footwear designers in the industry had been under D’Wayne’s mentorship at Pensole.


How do you feel footwear design has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future?

Over the last few years, there has been a lot more emphasis on experimental forms, 3d printing, and non-traditional manufacturing methods in footwear. Also there has been a huge shift towards environmentally conscious design. I think eventually we will achieve at least 75% sustainability within the footwear industry.


What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career and the industry now?

I think the biggest challenge for aspiring footwear designers trying to break into the industry is having talent but not enough experience. A lot of companies tend to hire designers with a certain amount of experience, and that’s tough for young designers trying to make it. Sometimes you really just need your work to be seen by the right person, whether it’s a design manager or director, so it’s important to network and get your name out there.


What would be your dream design project?

Working with a professional basketball player or an artist to design his/her signature shoe would be a dream project of mine.


What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?

I usually start sketching on my iPad during the ideation phase. Depending on the project, I might also cut up some old shoes or mold some clay to experiment with physical forms. Then I would tape up and draw on a last to get the proportions right. When finalizing a design, I’d render using a combination of Illustrator, Photoshop, and Procreate. Currently, I’m playing around with  software such as Gravity Sketch and Blender to learn to render in 3D.


What would you tell your younger self seeing you winning the awards?

I would tell my younger self to just keep working hard, don’t stop creating, and the right people will see your potential and give you an opportunity.


Learn more of Jaden Zhai at https://jadenzhai.com/