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Sneakers with a Statement: Hip-Hop Culture and the Elements of Sneaker Design


In terms of its influence on urban style, sneakers widely became the ultimate status symbol…

Sneakers are the most sought after fashion trend in the world. But why? What is it about “kicks” that make them so prominent amongst the youth? Well, most of its popularity can be attributed to the global phenomenon known as Hip-Hop culture. Beyond it being a culture that stems from the artistic expressions of inner-city youth, it has also become a multi-billion dollar industry that has influenced, or at least played a part in, almost every facet of society. In terms of its influence on urban style, sneakers widely became the ultimate status symbol, particularly because of the Adidas brand. They were the perfect shoes for b-boys due to their comfort and color variations. They became even more popular in 1986 due to the promotion of the brand by Run DMC when they stated:

“My Adidas/walked through concert doors/ and roamed all over coliseum floors/ I stepped on stage, at Live Aid/ All the people gave and the poor got paid/ And out of speakers I did speak/ I wore my sneakers but I’m not a sneak/ My Adidas cuts the sand of a foreign land/With a mic in hand I cold took command”

In the article, “Three Brothers with Three Stripes: RUN-DMC and Adidas,” it states:

“Enter Run, Jam-Master Jay and DMC. Their signature street style, a staunch mix of denim, Adidas tracksuit tops, Kangols, fedoras, heavy framed glasses, and of course Adidas Superstars (worn in true prison-style without laces) was a powerfully simple statement that recast the template.”

The relationship between Hip-Hop and shoe brands would eventually spark a sub-culture, known as the “Sneakerheads.”

The Superstars became a fashion statement that represented the streets and its direct influence from the prison system. Inmates in prison were not allowed to wear shoe laces due to the probability of using them for harmful purposes. As a result, when inmates returned to their respective communities, they continued to wear their sneakers without shoe laces. RUN DMC wanted to shy away from looking like superstars and more like the ordinary people the community would see on a daily basis. Their fashion statement would eventually gain the attention of executives at Adidas. The website Sneaker Freaker mentions “while performing the track ‘My Adidas’ to a packed crowd at Madison Square Garden in NYC, they asked the crowd to hold up their sneakers. Thousands of Adidas Superstar sneakers were raised in unison. An Adidas employee in the crowd informed the company and the subsequent million dollar deal marked a new era of corporate affiliation with hip hop music.” The relationship between Hip-Hop and shoe brands would eventually spark a sub-culture, known as the “Sneakerheads.”

The Elements of Design

Each element in a sneaker design can serve a purpose. For instance, lines can stress a word or phrase, the use of color can generate emotions, shapes can be used to attract attention, value (lightness or darkness) can be used for emphasis, size can attract attention, texture can create visual interest, and space can be used to define importance or group information. The use of color can be depicted by one particular shoe that would literally change the shoe game forever, Nike’s Air Jordan 1s.

The Black / Varsity Red model was banned by the NBA back in 1985 due to NBA color rules and this actually helped to create more publicity and interest for the shoes. In essence, the rebelliousness fell right in line with origins of Hip-Hop culture, which at times was a form of rebellion against the establishment. It became symbolic not only because of its color but also because of the man who wore them, a young, innovative athlete who overcame the odds. As a result, the Jordan Brand has been one of the top selling sneakers of all time.

Another shoe that utilized the elements of design to make specific statements was the Lebron 10s.  Austin Boykins states, With LeBron James facing a wide range of opinions from fans and naysayers in the recent year, the beauty and durability of a diamond is used within the shoe to tell the story in relation to LeBron’s on and off the court abilities and experiences.” See “The Inspiration Behind the Nike LeBron 10.”


Other shoes such as Nike’s Air Galaxy Foamposites, Nike Air Mag’s, or the recently released Yeezy Boosts by Adidas all encompass a wide range of unique styles, which can be explored when taking into consideration the elements of design.

Just for KICKS: What Do You Rep?

“Suede Timbs on my feet make my cypher complete” ~ Nas “The Word is Yours”

As I think about my childhood as a military brat, I remember the distinct differences between what was worn throughout the various regions of the United States. Whether it’s Converse’s Chuck Taylors in California, “Soulja” Reeboks in New Orleans, Timberlands and Clark Wallabees in New York, or New Balances and Nike Boots in Washington, DC, each city, state or region, seemed to have a shoe that represented where they were from.

What statements do these shoes make, and why were they chosen to represent where they are from? Fashion trends aren’t necessarily limited to just sneakers; however, it is evident that you can tell where somebody is from strictly by what they are wearing. So, what does your shoe selection say about you? What do you rep? 

Test your kick game knowledge by taking the quiz after the jump…

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Breaking Fallout: And Other Ways to Play Video Games Outside the Box


Let’s Players, or LP’ers, are video game players who stream their games on Youtube who often try extreme feats to stand out from the pack. One LPer, Kyle “The Weirdist” Hinckley, recently performed an impressive feat: completing Fallout 4 without killing a single person, animal, or robot.

This surprised even the game’s lead designer, who actually did not previously believe that he had made a game that could be beaten entirely without violence. Fallout 4 relies heavily on violence both as a mechanic and a storytelling element.

Mechanically, violence is the most interesting, complicated, and well-developed part of the game, and almost all skills and items improve your character’s ability to kill. From a storytelling point of view, the story relies on violence to enforce the themes of post-apocalyptic social collapse, desperation, and self-interest. The story, about the disappearance of the main character’s son, assumes that the character will kill to get the son back. As a result, many characters in the game must be killed for the story to advance. So how did Hinckley do it?

Turns out, while certain characters must die, the game system makes it possible to manipulatively cause their deaths, without directly killing them. Hinckley used a whole range of strategies to keep killing off his character’s record, making the story about a squeamish master manipulator rather than a post-apocalyptic fighter. This brings up one of the most fascinating differences between written fiction and video games.

The Unique Storytelling of Video Games

In written fiction, the reader experiences only the plot created by the author. In video games, players can experience both the intended narrative, controlled by the game designers, and unintended experiences, controlled by the player. Video game players also exercise creativity, using the game as a tool to create their own new art. How you personally “break” a video game is a good indication of how much your creative mind is suited for making games of your own. In this lesson, students will consider how to break video games in ways that create new experiences. But first, let’s look at the elements of the videogame experience.

Video Game Appreciation 101

Video games have three elements:

  1. Aesthetics: the computer generated graphics, art and music
  2. Narrative: the scripted story elements of the game
  3. Ludology: the mechanics and options available to the player


Aesthetics and narrative are entirely controlled by the design team, but ludology is not. Designers cannot predict all player actions, only some.

Being Unpredictable

Video game designers tend to envision specific audiences. RPGs like Fallout are sold to an audience of 17-35 year olds that has, statistically, roughly equal numbers of men and women, and that shows a preference for less complicated, high-reward gameplay. RPG players are most motivated by quick candy-like rewards, also known in brain science as Incremental Goal Progress. That little rush when you loot an enemy for a reward is the core of the RPG. When designing the game, therefore, designers try to encourage players to experience the plot by putting more rewards on the plot-heavy paths. For example, in Fallout 4, the designers encourage the player to kill enemies by making killing the easiest way to gain wealth and experience points. The designers can therefore assume most players will be violent, making it easier to cluster the best art and story along the violent path that they know players will take. Hinckley’s experience was so different because he was not playing like a typical RPG player.

Let’s look at some other examples. Racing games all assume that their players want to win, every time. This means they often do not test what happens if players go completely offroad or backwards. By exploring offroad, players not only create their own experiences, but also tend to find a ton of unplanned glitches. Minecraft is designed as a cooperative crafting game; the designer did not predict people would build into the game an elaborate shooter. Most first-person shooters can be turned into ridiculous physics puzzles, as long as the player isn’t interested in a fair and balanced shoot-out.

In the games you play, think about what the designers think you will do. Is it possible to do something different? Can you create an entirely new game by breaking an existing one?