The Yin & Yang of Footwear.
The human foot is a remarkable structure that brings together elements of mechanics, advanced biomaterial, physics, and geometry to create a finely tuned instrument; one perfectly suited to the physical demands of humans. Leonardo Da Vinci called the foot “a masterpiece of engineering,” but to access its full potential, you need to allow feet to perform as they were meant to – or even better – to enhance this natural mechanism.
Unfortunately, today’s shoes typically do not take into account the natural ability and function of the foot. The flaw in traditional shoes lies within their design: the shape is not form fitting and often flat or non-supportive, they are bulky and obstructive, and use materials that may be instantly gratifying, but soon pack-down and offer little benefit to the user. Under this traditional approach, the foot is being viewed as something to be protected instead of enhanced. Shoes are acting as more of a protective cast, than an extension or augmentation of the foot. While protection is a necessary function, it is not everything, and therefore greatly underutilizes the capability of our feet. Lack of functional design leads to not only lower performance but also increases the risk of injury*.
*By barricading the foot from its natural role, sheltering it from the elements, we use less muscle strength; weakening those muscles and making it more susceptible to injury.
So, what exactly do materials and shape do, and how do they work together to enhance the foot? Shape is what locks one’s foot in the shoe, creating a synchronization and unity between the two. A well-shaped insole or midsole which matches a foot’s shape is what provides support and balance. This is accomplished by contouring the arch, starting where the first metatarsal bone meet the medial cuneiform, and continuing through the planter fascia. Proper shape and construction upholds the arch, providing support so it will not collapse on a flat surface. Continuing down the foot to the heel, a reservoir shape that cups the heel and locks the foot into the shoe provides stability across the foot. Applying an engineered shape also prevents the foot from rolling medially; a common issue known as pronation.
While shape might provide the stability feet so desperately seek, materials generate the performance and the feedback in one’s step. Materials can have a range of qualities from shock absorbing to comfort to high rebound. For example, DFP’s iON Charge delivers a 71% rebound rating, allowing for the user to use it like a springboard, loading and rebounding, to propel themselves off of. On the opposite side of the spectrum DFP’s iON Shock works to absorb impact forces and distribute them across the product, leading to a more comfortable ride. Layering different material can also have a dramatic effect on the pressure distribution of high impacts.
Taken individually, shape and material can have a large effect on the quality and performance of a product. But when brought together and utilized properly, a shoe can be transformed into a complimentary extension of the foot – enhancing performance and augmenting structure.
Consider this: a contoured foot shape has a larger surface area than a flat foot shape. By this definition, one can utilize a much greater surface area to distribute pressure over while having more material to interact with. By distributing weight over a larger surface area, the materials have a chance to compress and rebound thus having a longer life span without packing out. Taking the same materials in a shaped and non-shaped product, which is most prevalent in the industry today a dramatic difference in the performance characteristics of the foam in the shaped product can be realized. A well-shaped product can help lower the compression set of any given foam, it can increase rebound of the material, and can greatly improve comfort and support.
Comfort and support are perhaps the two most important aspects of a shoe. It is the user’s first impression of how that shoe feels. Too often shoe companies go after the initial feel with a benign PU cushion on top of an insole: a material with little function and a high pack-out rate that leads to the early degradation of the product. Most often those insoles lack shape and decent materials. So, in effect, the consumer is tricked into buying the product based on a false, or superficial, feel in the shoe. A contoured insole with solid materials can give a nice, full, feel under the foot which actually also provides long term function.
As EVA foams have not evolved significantly over the last two decades, neither have the shape of midsoles and insoles. Dynamic Foam Products has set out to provide innovation under the foot and evolve shape and materials into an integrated design that greatly enhances the performance of any shoe. We have built a reputation as being an industry leader and innovator with regards to shape.
Early on, we learned from the stresses upon the foot in a ski boot. Through extensive research and development, we learned that one can control unwanted movements in the boot and help the foot perform at a higher level by using a complimentary foot shape. The DFP shape created more surface area between the foot and the shoe making the foot more functional in footwear. To further enhance the products we have developed, we introduced advanced materials that progress the performance of the shoe. Bringing these two aspects together in a design allows the user to appreciate the best in comfort and performance. Designers can now design with intent instead of with just what’s available.
In conclusion, the human foot brings together muscular and skeletal structures to work together in harmony. Our philosophy at DFP is to harness the same harmony that exists in the foot and build it into the shoe. We understand that this integration of a structural shape and performance materials is essential for a healthy relationship between foot and shoe.