Iowa State industrial design students are players in bringing new sports products to market

Best, Behr, Witzmann

Bill Best, United Sports Brands vice president of research and development, Colin Behr and Mike Witzmann with students' renderings and production sample of the glove they designed. Photo by Alison Weidemann.

AMES, Iowa — In the coming months, a high school athlete may walk into a Dick’s Sporting Goods store and walk out with a Cutters Rev Pro football receiver glove designed by Iowa State University industrial design students.

That same player could purchase a Shock Doctor Compression Knit Knee Sleeve in packaging designed by another Iowa State student. In the future, an injury may lead an athlete to buy an innovative icing circulation device or sport recovery sandal — also designed by Iowa State students.

All of this was made possible through an evolving partnership between the ISU Department of Industrial Design and Shock Doctor, a leading manufacturer of protective and performance sports equipment headquartered in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

“Shock Doctor has emerged as a flagship partner for industrial design,” said Department Chair David Ringholz. “The company has invested significant time in developing a relationship and finding every possible way of engaging with our students.”

That engagement includes internships, sponsored studios, senior thesis and graduate projects, and independent consulting work by students with promising projects.

Common interests

The relationship began when Bill Best — then Shock Doctor’s vice president of product development and now the vice president of research and development for parent company United Sports Brands (USB) — met Ringholz on a campus visit with his son. Both recognized the potential for collaboration.

The following year, Shock Doctor established a competitive, product development summer internship. The position went to Matt Slump, who worked on detailed aspects of product merchandising.

“It was an eye-opener to learn how important packaging design is and how many jobs there are for industrial designers in that area,” said Slump, who graduated in May.

Slump enjoyed the work so much, he jumped at the chance to expand and refine his ideas in the special topics class sponsored by Shock Doctor.

Special topics

“Last fall we offered students the opportunity to work on group projects involving a redesign of Cutters football receiver gloves and on individual projects related to product line extensions and new product development in areas ranging from sports medicine to retail merchandising,” Best said.

“The group challenge was how to improve functionality while making the glove more exciting and increasing brand awareness. We advised the students of our intent to select the best design for sampling and bring it into the development and review cycle of our next product line,” he said.

Student teams reverse-engineered the existing glove, considering advanced technologies that affect performance and examining aesthetics to enhance market appeal. They surveyed elite high school and college players to learn the pros and cons of the current glove. They studied competitors’ products to determine how they could make the Cutters glove stand out.

Performance plus styling

Colin Behr and Mike Witzmann integrated material innovations and stealth technology-inspired design to create a glove that was more flexible and breathable with a greater “cool factor.”

Behr, who had previously studied shoemaking at London College of Fashion and interned with Todd Snyder New York and New Balance, drew on his background in footwear design and development.

“We looked at knitting technology used in high-performance footwear and incorporated something similar into our glove design,” said Behr, now a footwear designer for Nike Sportswear in Portland, Oregon. “That automatically leads to aesthetics, because knit fabric looks different from the leather used or Lycra.”

“Material choice helped us translate the design concept” inspired by the US Air Force’s F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, said Witzmann, who graduated in May.

"The asymmetrical ‘cuts’ on the glove mimic the radar-reflecting facets on the fighter but functionally improve dexterity for the wearer,” he said.

Many aspects of the team’s design proposal made it through the sampling process, and the glove, called the Rev Pro, will be launched in the 2016 Cutters product line in stores like Dick’s, Sports Authority and online retailers.

Recovery-themed interaction

For the individual project last fall, Slump developed retail packaging for Shock Doctor’s Ice Therapy and Performance Sports Therapy collections and a conceptual design for a retail environment the company is calling a “wellness center.”

Slump changed the packaging materials from plastic clamshells to paper boxes, and revised the color palette from heavily black and orange — Shock Doctor’s signature colors — to predominantly white (suggestive of recovery and health) with black and orange accents.

“You have to think of so many different factors — how the customer will hold onto the packaging, how they’re going to take the product out. You also want the package to stand out so it’s easy to find when displayed,” Slump said.

Shock Doctor was so impressed with the concepts presented by Slump and two classmates—Adam Graziano and Kevin Derr — the company sponsored their spring senior thesis and graduate-level projects.

Market potential

Slump’s retail packaging concepts already are integrated into several product lines and were used to introduce Shock Doctor’s performance compression knit range this past May. Slump is now a design engineer for retail merchandising design firm Excel Plastics, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Graziano, a second-year graduate student from Ankeny, and Derr, now a graduate student in sports product management at the University of Oregon, Eugene, worked with Shock Doctor as consultants through the summer. Their projects are on a product launch timeline for introduction to the market in 2016 and arrival in stores in 2017, Best said.

“Adam proposed to bring ice therapy to the retail market in a way that has never been done before. We worked with him to refine the product for prototyping and now have hired a mechanical engineer to help ensure it will meet the highest possible performance standards,” he said.

Derr proposed a sport recovery sandal “with unique characteristics related to the function of the insole,” Best said. “Our CEO has identified it as one of the most promising new products on our horizon, and we’re moving forward with factory engineers to finalize the design and materials for sample development.”

Future momentum

The success achieved in so short a time has heightened expectations for the partnership between Shock Doctor, parent USB and Iowa State.

“Industry engagement is a natural progression of our curriculum and supportive of our learning outcomes. Students gain practice with advanced commercial concepts that impact market success by participating in sponsored projects,” Ringholz said.

Shock Doctor renewed its internship opportunity and is sponsoring a second special topics class this fall. The class is working on projects for both Shock Doctor and the McDavid brand of sports medicine, performance apparel and protective gear, which USB recently acquired.