Those Nike sneakers you or your kids wear each week to run, play basketball, or just to scramble around represent a great deal of research and planning.
Julie Styner, product test analyst for Nike in Beaverton, spends a great deal of her professional life organizing, implementing and gathering data from 'Fit Tests' of the very shoes many of us are wearing about town.
'We do several different kinds of testing, and we test several different types of shoes. I work in the kids' area,' she explained. As she put it, 'We need to do fit tests because about 80 percent of the kids' Nike product line is adult-inspired, meaning the same models are made for adults. The fit tests are necessary because kids' feet are proportionately different from adults' feet. You can't just shrink a shoe down to kids' sizes and have them work.
'In addition, kids' shoes often have alternative closures and that can change the fit. We need to make sure that all of the proportions work well. We need to make sure the opening for the foot still works and is wide enough for children to get their foot into it.
'Analysts like myself conduct fit and wear tests. There are other analysts who do lab testing. We work in teams and then information is collected and considered as changes are made to the shoes before they are ready for production,' she said.
And just what is a Fit Test? Kids who are registered testers are invited to come to Nike's Beaverton campus and try on shoes. The testers for each type of shoe are the people most likely to wear the shoes, and they put the shoe on and walk, run and jump in it, and answer questions about how it feels.
Styner explained that it can be challenging to work with children as young as age 3 when she, the analyst, is watching them and asking them questions about whether the shoe feels stiff or squishy, or whether their heel slips when they run or jump.
She explained that while she knows the information that must be gathered during a test, it often takes a lengthy conversation and several types of questions to get the children to explain what the shoe feels like or whether it is comfortable.
Another type of test that Nike runs on some of its shoes as they are being developed is a Wear Test; this occurs when shoes are sent to the product testers, who are asked to wear them, track what they do and how long they wear the shoes over a period of time. These tests, Styner explained, allow the analysts to examine the shoes when they are returned to Nike and see how they held up over time, with a variety of surfaces beneath them and many different types of feet inside of them.
'It is a lot of fun - it is really interesting work,' Styner explained.
Styner worked in the Kid's Division for two and a half years and recently moved to the Women's Fitness category at Nike. She still organizes testing and gathers data, but now she is working with a different demographic group. Her previous work includes 10 years negotiating contracts for organ transplants at OHSU, so she has a great deal of experience working with varied personalities and under deadlines. Styner shared that good analytical skills and communications skills, such as writing, are very important to a person working as a test analyst for Nike.
When I first met her, she was surrounded by lively, chirping children, other Nike analysts and mothers watching and waiting for the kids to finish up the fit test. Cool and kind, Styner talked with each child and made careful notes about their perceptions of the shoes and how well they did. She later laughed a little when she explained to me the importance of asking the kids the right questions.
'Once I had a girl tell me she could never, ever wear those shoes if her mother bought them for her, and when I asked why, she said that they were the wrong color. So, then you have to change your questions a little and talk about how the shoe feels and how the child feels when they are moving around in it.'
Styner's communication abilities have been honed in her personal life, too, as a wife, and mother of a 15-year old daughter and an 11-year old son. When she is not working, she enjoys skiing and going to the gym. When asked what she likes about living in the Beaverton area, Styner explained, 'Well, I don't think I'll ever totally get used to the amount of rain we get here, but I like how green it makes everything! And, I love that we are right near a good-sized city, where we can do a lot, but that we are also really close to so many terrific things to do outdoors - there is plenty to do in the area.'
For more information about applying to become a Nike Footwear Tester, please visit the Web site https://producttesting.nike.com.