After a successful career as a professional footballer for Middlesborough FC and Liverpool FC in the 1970s and 1980s, CRAIG JOHNSTON developed the early versions of the best-selling Predator boot for Adidas and has since designed the equally innovative Pig boot.
When Craig Johnston was a professional footballer playing for Liverpool FC in the 1980s, he analysed the team’s boots to identify how the design could be improved to enable the players to increase their control of the ball. After retiring from professional football, he worked for Adidas on the development of the Predator, which is now the world’s best selling boot worn by David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Jonny Wilkinson.
Johnston was shortlisted for the Design Museum's Designer of the Year prize in 2004 for the design his latest boot, The Pig, which he has developed as a successor to the Predator. The product of ten years of research and more than a thousand prototypes, The Pig combines a larger area for cradling the ball with greater sensitivity and an angular silhouette painstakingly calculated to give the player even greater control of the ball through enhanced power, grip and accuracy. He is developing a less expensive slip-on version of The Pig, which can be slipped over an existing boot.
Born in South Africa in 1960, Craig Johnston was brought up in Australia. He moved to the UK to play for Middlesborough FC from 1975 to 1980, and then spent eight years as a midfielder at Liverpool FC scoring the winning goal against Everton in the 1986 FA Cup final. As well as designing football boots, Johnston has developed the Supaskills system of measuring and improving football skills such as dribbling, heading and shooting.
Q. When did you first become interested in design?
A. I’ve always been interested in design and form. I’ve been a photographer all of my life and photography by nature makes you ask questions about things such as angles, light, shade and depth of field.
Q. When did you decide to design football boots? Did you do so as a player? Or afterwards?
A. I was the boot boy at Middlesborough Football Club when I was fifteen years old. I was responsible for cleaning polishing and maintaining hundreds of boots every day. I had to do this in order to get money so I could afford to eat and stay in England. You get a good feel for any product that you spent that long with. I did love it though – that helped.
Q. What was it about the boots you wore as a professional footballer that made you realise you could improve upon them?
A. Football boots back then were very basic and rather heavy. I wore all of the different boots when the seniors and the pros weren’t looking so I guess I got an overview of all the styles and their comfort and performance. I would spend hours and hours practicing skills and technique, and the shoes you were wearing were important to how you felt on any particular day. Some were good some were bad so you could tell the difference.
Q. How did the development of the Predator come about? And how did the design process evolve?
A. Certain manufacturers had tried various materials to give better feel and touch to their boots. With my experience and inquisitive mind I was intrigued but couldn’t feel any tangible benefit of these materials while playing. Years later I was coaching kids in Australia and I was telling them that they had to grip and bite into the ball like a table tennis bat to swerve it. “That’s fine Mr Johnston,” they said, “but our boots are made of leather and not rubber, its raining and they are slippery.” I went home and took the rubber off a table tennis bat and stuck it on my boots with superglue. Immediately I went outside again and kicked the ball, I could hear a squeak when the rubber engaged with the polyurethane of the ball.
Q. After launching the first version of the Predator, how did you improve it in later versions?
A. There are hundreds of prototypes I have made and tested since the first Predator. It is an evolving and ongoing process. There are many ways that performance boots will progress going forward as more and more people become interested.
Q. Similarly, can you describe the design and development process of The Pig?
A. The Pig has benefited from years of practical tests and the knowledge gained from the Predator experience. This includes improvement in materials, moulding and testing processes and procedures. The design and development process has been much easier for the second and third time around. What is now become apparent is how importantly the big sports brands now take the issue of top end performance products and how you then create a tangible and provable difference.
Q. How have you improved on your work for the Predator with The Pig?
A. So much has been learned from the Predator experience. Because of its success the stakes are higher and we have improved on our work in every way. We have improved on what we do by being both more objective and scientific about the measurements in pure performance, but also more subjective when testing with players. A key improvement with the Pig is player feedback. We listen more intently and give the players more of what they want.
Q. What inspires your work as a designer? Is it purely functionally driven to optimise the efficiency of the boot, or do you draw inspiration from other fields – aesthetically, conceptually or technically?
A. Although ‘form always follows function’ in sports equipment, I believe that things have to have a certain aesthetic appeal. I like to see my work on boots as a serious tool that can make a difference to players’ performance. Just like the Big Bertha golf club or the enlarged sweetspot on the Graphite Head tennis rackets.
Q. Do you only design football boots or other products too? Do you see yourself specifically as a football boot designer or as a designer?
A. I do design other products and to this end set up and financed a business with the Irish Development authority called Johnston Research and Developments about 10 years ago. I have designed and patented a Minibar System and Software for hotel bedrooms called the Butler. We have a factory in Shannon, Ireland and have sold more than 20,000 units. I see myself as a photographer and inventor who just happens to know and love football boots.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a big project called Supaskills. It is the Universal Measurement and Ratings Standard for football skills and has been officially sanctioned by FIFA. It allows every one who plays football to measure their skill levels and then to compare their skills against the pros’. We standardise a penalty box for Distance, Accuracy and Time and then when the players run through the ten skills such as Dribbling, Passing and Shooting, they are given their Distance, Accuracy and Time Analysis or DATA score.
For more information on British design and architecture go to Design in Britain, the online archive run as a collaboration between the Design Museum and British Council, at designmuseum.org/designinbritain