Winners’ Interview – Robert Lee on Omni-Fuse

The collaboration by American company VIBRAM and the Korean company Hankook Tire Co., Ltd., has produced Omni-Fuse, a design concept awarded with the Red Dot: Best of the Best. Omni-Fuse is a self-adapting footwear concept that utilises innovative components for light hiking and trail adventures. With over six technological features, it is well suited for uneven and unexpected terrains. The main premise of this unique direction and design is based on the idea that the user can come home, slip into it, and just go. The user no longer has to adjust, tie laces, or clean the shoe constantly, which is a huge benefit, especially in the hiking terrains. This promises to be the new footwear for the trail and light-hiking world. 

The South Korean tire company behind this collaboration, Hankook Tire Co., Ltd. has been ranked for the first time in the honorary list for companies last year. The Red Dot Design Ranking 2016 recognises the top 15 companies, design studios and universities with ceaseless pursuit of design excellence. Hankook Tire Co., Ltd. is currently ranked at #7 globally at the Red Dot Design Ranking for Companies. Every year, the Red Dot Institute releases the Red Dot Design Ranking, recognising the top organisations and institutions who have continuously invested in design and innovation. The rankings are decided using a weighted formula considering the cumulative number and classes of awards over the most recent five years.

Omni-Fuse designer Robert Lee (VIBRAM) lets us in on his motivation and aspirations in being a designer, and shares with us more about life in this industry.


When did you first know that you wanted to be a designer?

I wanted to be a designer ever since I was a little child. My dad was into cars and would take me to a variety of car dealerships when he was looking into getting a car. I would play around with everything from doors, buttons, knobs. We would discuss during the test drive portion what we liked, disliked, and what could be done to improve the driving experience. From then on, I knew I wanted to be in design so I could improve the designs I did not like or thought to be horrible interactive experience.

If you had any advice to pass on to younger designers, or those considering to enter this field, what would you say?

Research and practice.
Always go out and try to do something different. Find out what is trending, what needs improvement, and why certain designs are working the way they are.

What has been, thus far, your biggest moment in your design career?

Designing the “Made in USA” outsole for the Ralph Lauren boat shoes that all athletes from the United States wore for the Rio Olympics 2016.

When do you decide that your design or product has become a success?

If it’s a big seller, gets published or shared on social media a lot, especially nowadays in the modern digital age, then I would know that my product has become a success.

How would you define a well-designed product?

When instructions are not needed and anyone can clearly understand it no matter what their age is.

What do you predict the future of design to be? What do you foresee as the next big thing?

Everything will be in the digital 3D or 4D world.
Sadly, analog designs are fading away. Hologram sketching or design in the virtual space will be the next big thing.

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Robert Lee believes that designers should strive to stand out in an innovative way, and that it is the minuscule details which matter most. In light of this, we ask him questions regarding his work culture and experience.

How long have you been in this industry?

I went to design school and got a job just before graduation in the footwear design field. It’s been about six years for me.

What is the first step you take when preparing for a design competition?

I do research and see what worked for others in previous years or competitions. Then see what is trending in the current years.

How do you say “no” to people or teammates while working on a project?

You just have to lay down the “Thor” hammer and give them the answer they don’t like to hear. At the end of the day, you have responsibilities that need to get done somehow.

Tell us more about your work culture.

Fortunately, I work with great people in my team and since it’s a small group of people, it feels like we’re all a family. We even hang out on off-days. The corporate culture in VIBRAM is fast, frustrating and fun.

As a designer, what comes to you first, your business or customers?

Definitely the customer because in my field, they’re the ones driving the industry. They buy the products and whichever one ends up becoming a hot item, is what will influence their next choices.