Designing for High Performance and Style – “On” Running Shoes

By guest author Megan Davies, Hague Development and Promotion Section, Hague Registry, WIPO

The Swiss sports company “On” was founded in 2010 by a trio of friends, amongst them an Ironman champion. It very quickly grew from a startup in Zurich, to worldwide recognition, with fans including Roger Federer, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and triathlon, as well as running, legends.

 Designs that celebrate performance

Design has been central to “On” since its inception. To build a shoe that would reduce pain in his inflamed Achilles tendon, founder Olivier Bernhard was on the lookout for a creative solution. His friend – an inventive Swiss engineer from ETH Zurich – glued a chopped-up garden hose to his soles. This evolved into a running shoe technology, “CloudTec®“, which combines a cushioned landing with an explosive take-off. This in turn gave the shoe its characteristic and visually striking sole: a series of cavities with an immediate visual appeal. The first “On” running shoes appeared in stores in 2010.

Despite starting small and still being a young company, “On” quickly grew internationally. By 2017, they estimated that three million runners wore their shoes. Today, “On” products are sold in more than 50 countries, worn by the Refugee Team at the 2017 World Athletics Championships and the Swiss Olympic team in 2021.

On’s designs blend the ornamental and the functional, with the philosophy that the structure of the shoe itself is beautiful. The shoes use a signature paneled, minimal style that uses a specially made mesh. “On” has become known for using a pastel-based color palette. And true to the name, the company’s logo looks like an “On” (electricity) switch.

On’s design and technology are closely intertwined. Why hide the shoe’s technology if you could make it stylish instead, “On” asked, and the shoe became instantly recognisable.

The company’s head designer, Thilo Alex Brunner, uses the technology itself as an integral part of the design. He exposes the cushioning under the sole to show off the functional elements instead of hiding them. The company’s minimalist and utilitarian philosophy transfers to the rest of the shoe, which features clean lines that show off the different panels forming the shoe.

For other parts of “On” shoes, Brunner took inspiration from what he calls “design-free” areas such as nature and physiology: the lines on the shoes visually echo a muscle during effortYou don’t put styling over the functionality; you let the aesthetic develop over time.

You don’t put styling over the functionality; you let the aesthetic develop over time. Thilo Alex Brunner, Global Head of Design at “On”

Extending a design philosophy to new products

The company, which early-on specialized in performance shoes, has also moved into creating lifestyle products such as all-day trainers and trendy, comfortable athleisure clothing – a growing part of the market for sports shoes manufacturers. Its design philosophy remains the same. “You don’t put styling over the functionality, you let the aesthetic develop over time,” Brunner said in a 2020 interview with Highsnobiety. “I have a pretty simple rule: I would never want to design a shoe that doesn’t have the technology.”

On’s unique designs have long been a differentiator. The approach? High performance fused with high aesthetics. Everything you need, absolutely nothing you don’t.

“On”, Switzerland

Close up on Cloudnova

The “Cloudnova”, which is protected through the Hague System, is designed for active, all-day use and successfully integrates the company’s signature design and technology.

The shoe features technical elements such as “CloudTec®” and stands out through its streetwear-inspired silhouette.

Added visual impact is achieved through webbing and colour blocking. “On” has also included a line that reveals the shoes’ interior construction.

Protecting the Cloudnova shoe using the Hague System simplifies the application process for a company like “On” that sells its shoes in multiple countries. Instead of filing individual applications in each country, “On” only had to file one application to cover Canada, European Union, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Singapore, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America and Viet Nam.

You can find out more about “On” in WIPO’s Hague Express Database.

More about the Hague System

WIPO’s Hague System provides a unique international mechanism for securing and managing design rights simultaneously in multiple countries or regions through one application, in one language with one set of fees.

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