Snazzy Sneakers

Project Overview

For this project, students decide on specific design requirements (such as good traction or deep cushioning), sketch their plans, and then use a variety of materials to build prototype shoes that meet the design criteria. The bottoms (soles) of sneakers provide support, cushioning, flexibility and traction as makes sense for the sport or activity. In addition, some sneakers are intended to be fashionable with cool colors, materials or added height. Sneakers are engineered products that use a mix of materials to create highly functional, useful shoes.

Project Submitter

Denise W. Carlson

ITL Program, College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado Boulder

Appropriate Education Levels


Middle School/Junior High

Equipment Used and/or Required

3D Printer


Hand Tools

Time Required

120 minutes

Scenario, Criteria, & Constraints

These days, sneakers are so specialized! What different kinds of sneakers can you think of? (Listen to student ideas.) You can see that it is important to have design criteria in mind when you create footwear like sneakers. The way shoes are made and the materials that are used depend on the intended purpose and end use.

Why might engineers be involved in the design of sneakers? Well, while it is important for sneakers to look stylish in order to appeal to buyers, they must also function correctly. The best designs combine physics, biomechanics and materials science. They take advantage of a wide range materials and inventive structural designs to provide durability, comfort, cushioning and stability.

Many factors must be taken into consideration when designing sneakers, such as who will wear them (men, women, children) and for what types of activities. For example, women's feet are usually narrower with higher arches than men's feet. The end user and activity type dictate what shoe requirements are most important for the design, such as traction, cushioning, flexibility and/or sole thickness.

What are your ideas for a sneaker that has never been made before? Think about the type of sneaker you want to create. Define its specific characteristics. Sketch your design and select materials. Then create and test a prototype (a working model)—just as engineers do.


  • an assortment of materials to provide cushioning, support, protection, flexibility, height and/or traction for shoe prototype construction, such as fabric, canvas, sponges, foam packing material, foam core board, rubber gloves, rubber baseboard, sandpaper, Brillo pads, paint

  • an assortment of fabrication tools and adhesives to work with the materials, such as scissors, twine, glue, and tape

Learning Outcomes

After completing this activity, students should be able to:

  • Analyze a product's components and function

  • Recognize a design need or engineering challenge

  • Develop, sketch and discuss possible solutions and select one

  • Select appropriate materials for a design solution

  • Construct a working model using a variety of materials

  • Use, evaluate and suggest ways to improve a product

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