The soccer ball, or football to those outside the US, holds significance to every person who has ever played the sport. Different variations (human heads, animal skulls, inflated pig and cow bladders) have been used throughout time and among various cultures, but its purpose remains intact—to reach the goal.
Todd Smith (’00), a graduate of the graphic design program at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies (CCS), works as the design director for Nike Global Football Equipment. In this role, he leads teams of designers responsible for soccer
balls, shinguards and goalkeeping gloves.
“I’m lucky in that our consumers are passionate about the sport and the products I work on,” said Smith. “A soccer ball is not just a piece of equipment to them. Middle-aged men, way beyond their prime, see a new Nike ball and become boys again. Kids who play barefoot because they can’t afford shoes kick around a Nike ball and get to be Ronaldinho for a moment. I’m proud that what I do makes people happy. I know most of that is because they really love soccer, but I hope I have a little bit to do with it.
“It is also amazing to see how much soccer influences peoples’ lives. I think that, outside of religion, soccer might be the largest cultural force in the world. And over the last decade, Nike has made a tremendous impact on the look and feel of the sport.”
Smith joined the Nike family in 2000 after a series of interviews with contacts representing different groups within the company. An avid soccer player his entire life, he understands the needs of his target consumers.
“One of the biggest challenges I face as a designer is the need to meet the diverse demands of our market,” said Smith. “Soccer is such a global sport. Athletes all over the world use Nike products, and although they are playing the same sport, they play it differently and they want different things from their equipment. Understanding those differences, and each culture’s nuances can be difficult.”
The graphic design program at CCS taught Smith the importance of the design process (from start to finished product) while paying close attention to detail. He had only taken a few courses in industrial design and, although he had the ability to think three dimensionally, he did not have the 3D software background to test his designs.
“I had to look for other ways to conceptualize and communicate ideas,” explained Smith. “It’s important to understand how a graphic looks on a ball when it’s spinning, and since it’s difficult to communicate that in an illustration, I started using electrical tape to draw directly on to blank soccer balls. That allowed me to come up with a lot of designs quickly, and I could kick them around and really get a sense of how they would perform during a game.
“The transition from two-dimensional to three-dimensional design didn’t happen overnight though. I started off working on packaging and traditional print stuff, but little by little I found myself working on more and more product, until eventually it became only product.”
In addition to helping him develop a process, CCS demanded Smith to work hard. The designer earned good grades throughout high school, but he was never pushed to fully exert himself. Instructors like Susan Laporte changed that.
“CCS made me work, and I learned that it didn’t really bother me,” said Smith. “To this day, when my back is up against the wall, I know I can put in the effort and produce results. That gives me a lot of confidence.”
- Nike, Inc.
- Design Director of Nike Global Football Equipment