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James Carnes


What is your ideal office?


For me, an office has to feel like a natural place to “be,” and since human beings are drawn to being outside, that means lots of natural light and natural airflow. I love low ceilings and low lighting to feel grounded—I get accused of having a vampire- friendly office sometimes. And every office needs a place to escape and be alone. Despite the myth of the open floor plan being the key to productivity, creativity needs privacy.


What is your greatest achievement?


Is it too cliché if I say my children? I guess my part in creating them was not really that profound, but guiding them to grow up and become three honest men of integrity will be my greatest achievement if I succeed. In work I would say that after years of learning to design to make a lower impact on the planet, I am proud to have been part of those teams.


Fight or flight?


Fight—but for the things that need a champion, not for the thrill of winning. We make progress when we no longer accept doing things the wrong way just because that’s “how it’s always been.” Fighting for progress is always worth it.


What is the importance of Mother Earth?


Everything. She gives and we have to give back. We’ve been living like children too long and just expecting that Mother will continue to provide and clean up after us. It’s time we grow up and treat our planet like we want to own it—or she might kick us out.


How does footwear have the power to impact environmental change?


People have an obsession with shoes and yet they still need them for transit, so that’s a unique combination. Most items that we need don’t achieve the status of being revered as objects of desire. People buy hundreds of millions of shoes every year, and most of them are still manufactured using relatively traditional methods that produce unnecessary waste. That means, just by sheer scale, that every environmental improvement we make in shoe manufacturing will create a massive improvement overall.


What is the future of performance design?


Everyone on this planet is unique. We’ve gotten to a point where we can make a single product that works exceptionally well for millions of people—but still not quite perfect for one. The future will be about tailoring performance to every person as a unique individual. We will soon move into an era of individual human tailoring. My eyes are on the biotech industry, and specifically those conducting research to use biological processes to create unique physical products.


Does your design process begin with any particular ritual?


The brain is stimulated by physical activity so I always begin a project by running. It’s the best way for me to sort through cluttered ideas. I also spend a lot of time digging through archives—whether my own archives or a new pile of research. It’s important to get out all the obvious old stuff from my head and clear space for a new perspective.


If you had to walk a thousand miles, what would be your footwear of choice?


Ultraboosts! No question. I’ve been in the sporting goods industry for twenty years and helped launch numerous technologies—Boost and Primeknit are the real deal.


What is your spirit animal?


Ooh, good one. Probably an owl—to observe, see through the darkness, and maintain a sharp line of sight on what I want to go after. If you ask my wife, she would say an ox because I like to get shit done and will work endlessly to clear a path for others.

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