Custom Air Max designs come to life in AKQA’s AR experience for Nike Japan

Create with Air Max lets sneaker fans put together 3D footwear designs and edit them in real time, via a printed colouring book and an AR tool

Nike’s Air Max shoe has gained a cult following since its launch in 1987. Designed by Tinker Hatfield, and inspired by the Pompidou centre in Paris, it was the first Nike shoe to feature visible air pockets in the sole – and went on to become one of the brand’s most successful and recognisable sneakers of all time.

AKQA’s new project for Nike Japan invites Air Max fans to put their own spin on the iconic product, with an AR-enabled zine that allows them to create and edit custom 3D designs in real time.

The zine features a series of black-and-white outline illustrations, which can be scanned using a smartphone to generate an AR model that hovers above the page. As users colour in the illustrations on paper, the model changes to reflect their artwork.

Once users are finished customising the shoe, they can add their signature to the design and generate an animation that can be shared on their social channels.

The zine also features a selection of designs submitted by creatives in Tokyo ahead of the project’s launch, alongside interviews with them. The publication was released this week and 1,000 copies have been distributed to Nike stores across Japan.

The project was devised as an alternative way to bring people together in the absence of events (including the Tokyo Olympics). “The idea was born from the Covid-19 circumstances, which left people largely isolated, and unable to come together as they had prior, but also looking for new ways to explore and express their creativity,” says AKQA.

AR campaigns can often feel clunky and complicated, but by combining an AR tool with a printed colouring book, AKQA and Nike Japan have come up with a playful and easy-to-use experience. The zine also taps into the shoe’s cult status, giving fans a limited-edition collector’s item they can keep.

While the zine was conceived as a standalone experience (it isn’t connected to Nike’s i-D feature, which allows users to create and purchase personalised designs online), it’s an interesting example of how retailers could use AR to offer a fun and engaging personalised service – one that goes beyond selecting colour options or patterns from a drop down list.