Engineering shoes – One step at a time

posted in: Teachers, Technology | 0
Print Friendly, PDF & Email



There are many things to consider when buying a new pair of shoes – size, shape, use, colour, style, materials, durability, price and, probably most importantly, the level of comfort.1280px-Ellie821heel

If you could design your ideal pair of shoes, what would they be like? What would you use them for?

Shoes have been around for thousands of years and have gone through different evolutions, changing in aesthetics (the way they look) and ergonomics (how their design works with the shape of our foot).

They have been designed to suit specific purposes, such as construction boots to keep feet safe on building sites and football boots to kick and run on the sports field. Shoes, however, have not always been designed with safety or practicality in mind. Heeled shoes have been created for both men and women throughout history, and were particularly popular in the 1700s. Today, many women wear stilettos and pumps as a fashion accessory. The number of injuries to ankles and knees has soared since the introduction of heels that are over 4cm in height, and long term foot and leg pain is also related to the overuse of these high fashion items. Fancy fashion being a health risk!


New types of shoes with ergonomics in mind continue to come on to the market, including a unique foot gloves. Shoes made out of recycled products including old rubber, plastic and jeans are also available. When shopping for shoes in today’s market, there seems to be a shoe design for everyone and every purpose!













Check out the video below to see how footwear has evolved over the centuries.

Inquiry – Digging Deeper

Dig deeper into the engineering of shoe design! In the experiment below, you will be learning about biomechanics (how forces affect our feet) and the use of different materials in the shoe design process.


What makes a shoe?


Imagine the shoe as a toasted peanut butter sandwich. There are three basic parts to it, the outsole (bottom toasted bread), midsole (middle oozy peanut butter ), and the upper (top toasted bread).

Now imagine eating the toasted peanut butter sandwich. As you bite, the top part (i.e. upper) and bottom part (i.e. outsole) are crunchy while the middle part is oozy. That combination of crunchy and oozy makes the sandwich tastes spectacular. This is where biomechanics come in. We need to understand how we eat the sandwich or, in this case, how our feet interacts with the shoes in order to design comfortable shoes. The objective is to find the perfect balance between the hardness of the outsole, the firmness of the midsole, and the strength of the upper.

Time to try it out!

What you need:

  1.     A pair of  shoes
  2.     Tape and glue
  3.     Scissors
  4.     Markers
  5.     Different materials (bubble wrap, foam, cardboard, spare inner sole, plastic, thick dishcloth – get creative!)


  1. Trace the bottom of the shoes onto the materials collected.
  2. Cut out the traced materials with a pair of scissors.
  3. Glue the materials as layers on top of each other. Experiment with different layer combinations!
  4. Put on a pair of socks. Using tape, strap the layers to the bottom of your socks.
  5. Compare by testing out your different layer combinations on each foot. Take a walk around.


How do the layer combinations you have created compare to walking in a pair of your own shoes?

Think about the materials you used. Does layering a soft material first and the harder one after affect the comfort of the shoe? How does material density and weight affect the comfort of the shoe?

Check out the video below for some crazy shoe inventions: