adidas 4D has been around since 2016, when the first prototype sneakers featuring the futuristic midsole cushioning technology were given to adidas-sponsored athletes who won medals at the Rio Olympics. Today, adidas unveils the latest extension of the 4D family: adidas 4D FWD, the technology’s first proper foray into the performance world.
The brand hopes that the 4D FWD will signal the technology’s arrival nearly five years after its debut and that it will have as big of an impact as Boost did in 2013.
What sets the 4D FWD apart from previous iterations — such as the 4D AlphaEdge and the 4D Run — is that the midsole lattice has been specifically developed to propel the wearer forward, hence the name.
“With 4D FWD, we wanted to create a new experience underfoot,” reveals adidas’ global director of footwear Stephan Scholten. “We ended up creating this forward-motion feeling, where we translate vertical force into forward motion.”
Remember when Boost first came out, and every adidas flagship store had a setup that allowed you to drop a metal ball on Boost and standard EVA to demonstrate how much bouncier the former was? 4D FWD is basically the same thing, but instead of the ball bouncing upwards, it “bounces forward” on a trajectory of 13 percent.
While the premise sounds simple — creating a shoe with a technology that naturally propels the runner forward — the data and testing that goes on behind the scenes is anything but.
“We looked into five million different lattice structures and reverse-engineered the structure using artificial intelligence and by working with our science team,” outlines Scholten. “In the end, we had 20 final lattice structures that went into a final round of consumer and athlete testing to narrow it down into one unique 4D structure, which we call the bow tie.”
If the technology’s aesthetic didn’t already make it clear, 4D is based on heaps and heaps of data, which is how the adidas Running team arrived at the 13 percent forward propulsion.
“We wanted to make sure that everything that we do is validated and tested against our performance standard with our key athletes and our key consumer groups, and this is why we landed at that sweet spot based on testing, science, and consumer validation,” says Scholten.
It’s no secret that 4D hasn’t quite caught on in the mainstream just yet, though adidas would argue that because of the technology’s dependence on data, this was always the plan.
“People who won medals at the Rio Olympics got a Futurecraft shoe. That was really the beta testing stage of getting those shoes onto people who could give us some feedback,” says Sam Handy, VP of design at adidas running, outlining the journey 4D took to get to its first mass-market performance model. “The Futurecraft shoe from 2017 was a proof of concept between adidas and Carbon. It proved that digital light synthesis could build a runnable shoe.”
High profile collaborations soon followed throughout 2018, which were again a means to getting more feet in 4D shoes and further feedback on a product that was very much still in development. Daniel Arsham, END Clothing, and Overkill all put their personal touch on the 4D runner, which coincided with the peak of the 4D hype. In 2019, adidas really began to ramp up its 4D sneaker production, releasing models such as the training-focused AlphaEdge and more lifestyle-focused ZX4000 4D.
“Now we have a really clear performance positioning and a great credible running shoe,” continues Handy. “We're kind of past proof of concept and past beta testing, and into real benefit delivery.”
Good things take time, and although 4D didn’t have the immediate mass-market impact that Boost had a few years prior, adidas’ strategy in developing 4D makes a lot more sense when early editions of the shoe are viewed as case studies and beta tests, with the real push to come in form of the 4D FWD.
The expectation is not for 4D FWD to replace or compete with Boost, though that could still happen. It’s a different technology for different people. “I think it's very easy maybe internally in an innovation team conversation, for example, to look at something like 4D and ask ourselves, ‘Oh, how do we put that in the next marathon-winning shoe?’ We don't need to,” explains Handy, before outlining where he believes the future of 4D lies. “I think the next stage of this would be tuning cushioning for an individual person. The north star of 3D printing is personalization, which involves gathering massive data sets.”
The adidas 4D FWD is the first step in that direction, as it finally provides the running community with a performance-first 4D sneaker that adidas hopes will establish itself as a viable mass-market option.
The launch colorway features adidas’ signature black and red colorway, seen on everything from adidas’ competition-level adios Pro to the iconic adidas Predator boots. The adidas 4D FWD is set to be released on May 15 in limited quantities, with wider drops more than likely to follow.