Taking a huge leap in terms of boot development, adidas recently unveiled the next-generation of X, and while we patiently wait for the X Ghosted to be dispatched on 1 September, we delve deeper into the story behind the design with the Three Stripes’ Senior Design Director Dave Surace as the next episode of our ‘Dropology’ series.

The X Ghosted is a huge leap forwards in terms of football boot design, being the first football boot available at scale with the integration of a dynamic carbon plate. That combined with the unique properties of the Translucent Mirageskin upper and the Vacuum Fit Experience, and it’s set to make some serious waves in the 20/21 season. Building on the information we learnt from Senior Global Product Manager Philipp Hagel, we spoke with Senior Design Director Dave Surace

Creating a product like this must be full of highs and lows. How would you describe the process when it comes to designing something like this?

I would say challenging but they’re all challenging. It’s important that they are. Every time we start a new project, we welcome that challenge. There was probably more pressure on X because we knew we needed a bigger jump ahead from where the current models were. Whether that was the X18 and then the slight refresh for the X19, it’s been a longer journey for this. It’s been nearly three years with a lot of design and material and constructional engineering to really push the franchise further out into the future. Was it easy? No. Are we happy with where we ended up? Absolutely. I’m just one person speaking on behalf of a wealth of creative people involved in this project who helped bring this to life. 

What would you say are the successes you’ve taken from X to date that moved forward with the X Ghosted?

If you look at the other franchises, X has always had – from a visual point of view – a certain amount of simplicity, a certain amount of reduction. I think from the 18 to the 19, a certain amount of material innovation has gone on, particularly in the textiles. I think that has been something that has set the boot out as something unique on foot, in hand and on shelf. I think that was the gateway that highlighted an objective for us around how much we wanted to push the development and the construction on this current product. The Mirageskin is about looking fast. It’s this idea that again is completely surpassing expectations around what a boot can look like. We built the thing so thin using the engineered materials that this translucent, ghosted affect was really something we wanted to bring to market. It’s been one of the toughest things to develop but also to re-set very very high technical football standards.

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The Mirageskin is about looking fast. It’s this idea that again is completely surpassing expectations around what a boot can look like"

What’s the starting point for a project like this? How does it go from Ghosted concept to finished product?

Sometimes you start a project by sketching ideas, drawing shapes. We didn’t do that for this project. We started instead with a material approach. By looking at some of the most high tech materials in the world. We were looking at the materials the likes of NASA were using, sail cloth, high strength vectorial carbon fibres and these kind of things. We started to look at how these things were made and for what purpose – things like a parachute and how that’s made. We kind of started more on that side before we picked up a pen or a digital pencil. We used a lot more of our bio-mechanics lab and our engineering team to help us work out some of these ideas.

The team that contributes to this project is extensive. From the team in Germany to those in New York and Portland or in China, also in our factories – there’s hundreds of people involved in the creation of something like this. There’s a long armed approach when it comes to the ideas. Creating new technology and protecting that also has to come into consideration.

Is part of the mission to always create new technology and effectively invent new innovation when you design a new boot?

Absolutely, we call it fighting for and pushing for the edges. The product we have right now is the very best we can do right now. It is an amazing boot. Some of those innovations are still cooking in the background as we evolve. That’s a good link to this boot and the 99gram boot. The 99gram was conceived as an idea ten years ago and it took the brand quite a long time to be able to produce something like that, that would reach the market. What we have today with the X is a boot that is far superior than the 99gram in every single way except for the weight part. It’s mass manufacturable and anyone who wears it will be able to be the fastest version of themselves. A lot of these innovations are on a longer development timeline and we rely on those. I think that’s the future. Colours and graphics come and go and it’s definitely needed to bring variety to a product but the long term about those brands that can live long into the future is really all about those that can innovate and bring relevant innovation to the market.

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There’s no point designing something simply for the sake of it then, everything needs a purpose? The carbon fibre element of the X is something that has been talked about a lot. Just how significant is that for the brand?

I would say that this is also part of the new approach to how things were done say ten years ago. We’re spending more time collaborating with those people who are experts in their respective fields.  This is coming from a US company called Carbotex – they’re a sporting goods company but also an aerospace manufacturer of carbon fibre. They have an amazing product and we’ve worked with them to produce this component. It’s been tuned by us to give the right amount of flex at low speed when you’re walking around but then also giving the right amount of stiffness and lockout when you’re sprinting. That’s always been the compromise in the past.

If you’re using traditional plastics that have been set, they’re stiff. That’s what the 99gram boot was – it was really stiff or the opposite and they’re too soft and it doesn’t provide the same take off. That’s really the milestone we’ve got to with the X Ghosted, it works almost like a gear box. There’s flexibility and durability, there’s none of the absolute stiffness we’ve seen on boots in the past. It looks like a small detail and a minor part but it’s significant and it’s groundbreaking for football boots when it comes to the function it brings as well as the overall feel on foot.

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How hard is it to balance the form and function over creating something that’s so visually and aesthetically pleasing?

It’s important to keep in mind that for us at adidas football, the design and aesthetic element along with the engineering side are completely intertwined. They can’t be separated. The samples and prototypes that have gone into this boot may look stunning and beautiful but they all failed. They might have been incredible see-through but they were also too brittle. They might have been durable but perhaps not transparent enough. There has to be this harmonious way of working so that we don’t simply end up with a concept car like the 99gram boot which was really meant more as a milestone. The best players in the world will wear this but so will amateurs so similarly it’s a blend. You can’t separate aesthetics and function though. This is 100 percent a function based product but it’s integral to its success to be a beautiful boot too.

You’ve talked about working with the likes of Nasa, how much do you look at influences outside the world of football in order to innovate?

I think that’s the beauty of working for a brand like adidas that has such a strong history in so many different sports. From my own personal background having worked in running and track and field across three olympic games, my knowledge of building track spikes provided some of the inspiration for where X Ghosted went. So I think ideas build ideas so it’s always best to learn from outside of the sport we’re in.

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Pre-order the adidas X Ghosted now at prodirectsoccer.com