Tinker Hatfield's Greatest Designs

April 30, 2022 by Joey Birch

Tinker Hatfield's Greatest Designs

Tinker Hatfield is widely regarded as one of the greatest designers of all time. The visionary has been able to create some of the most disruptive sneakers while paving the way for what we know today as not only one of the greatest footwear lineages in history but also some of the most sought after performance basketball sneakers to date. 

Before Hatfield began his career with Nike, he studied Architecture at the University School of Architecture, Oregon. Following his graduation in 1981, Hatfield went straight to The Swoosh and spent his early years designing office spaces, showrooms and stores.

However, by 1985, he was appointed to work exclusively for Nike’s footwear division and soon after would release his first sneaker that would set into motion a still ongoing, illustrious career in footwear design: 

Air Max 1, 1987

The sneaker that started it all. The Nike Air Max 1, took what we knew about sneakers at the time and completely subverted it. Inspired by The Centre Pompidou in Paris, Hatfield wanted to show what goes into the sneakers we wear. 

The designer's background in architecture is seen within the AM1. Utilising a visible Air Unit, the sneaker takes the inner workings of the shoe and presents them within the midsole, much like the building that inspired it. 

While the sneaker was initially met with pushbacks from other members of the company, even getting to the point where Hatfield's role came into question, it was thanks to the backing of Nike’s Director of Cushioning Innovation at the time, David Forland, that got the sneakers release greenlit as part of ‘The Air Pack’ which featured the Air Sock, Air Revolution as well as the Air Trainer 1.

Air Trainer 1, 1987

Part of the ‘Air Pack’, which included the Nike Air Max 1, the Air Trainer was made to bridge the gap between basketball and gym wear with Hatfield visiting the gym regularly. The sneaker itself opened the category of cross-training footwear.

With the inclusion of the Air Unit, seen within all the sneakers included as part of the aptly named ‘Air Pack’, the sneaker also included a large heel counter in conjunction with a strap across the forefoot to provide additional stability. 

While the sneaker was made for athletes on the court or in the gym, its debut was seen on the tennis court. In 1986, before the sneaker's official release to the public, American tennis player John McEnroe wore a prototype of the shoe on the court, an action that even the designer himself didn’t know was going to happen. 

Air Jordan 3, 1988 

The third addition to the long-term partnership with the greatest basketball player of all time, the Air Jordan 3 was the first Air Jordan that saw Tinker Hatfield take the reigns after Peter Moore’s debut and Bruce Kilgore's release of the AJ2

After a somewhat turbulent relationship between the Jumpman and Nike, Jordan was planning on joining adidas. However, it was Hatfield that managed to save the departure with the release of the AJ3. Originally released in the fan favourite ‘Black Cement’ colourway featuring the signature grey elephant print leather surrounding the ankle and toe box. 

While original samples and sketches of the sneaker included a Swoosh on the Medial and Lateral sides, the final product kept the Nike branding minimal - debuting a feature that many fans hold in high regard, the ‘Nike Air’ on the heel tab as a nod to the visible Air Unit in the heel.

Nike Mag, 1989

A pop-culture icon, the Nike Mag (not the Nike Air Mag) was a sneaker that permeated throughout culture and generations. First spotted in ‘Back to the Future 2’ in 1989, which was set in 2015, the Mags introduced a light-up, self-lacing, system never seen before. 

22 years later, the Nike Mag saw its first public release in 2011 via an exclusive raffle with all the proceeds going towards the Michael J. Fox Foundation to assist in their work to research, and ultimately try and cure, Parkinson’s disease. However, while the release did appear to use a similar design, the sneaker itself was missing a key element - the self-lacing system despite Nike filing for the patent of the technology in 2008.

With the film being based in 2015, many were hoping for a special release from Nike as a way to celebrate the Mag. And they did not disappoint. On the 21st of October 2015, the day that Fox travels to in Back to the Future 2, the actor took to the Jimmy Kimmel Show to showcase a fully self-lacing Nike Mag as if taken directly from the film.

Nike then went on to raffle just 89 pairs of the sneakers with the proceeds once again going to support the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Air Jordan 4, 1989

The Air Jordan 4 was the sneaker that focused on the idea of flight. Following on from the huge success of the AJ3 just one year before, there was a lot of pressure for Tinker to create a sneaker that met the same success. 

While the Air Jordan 3 featured a luxe tumbled leather upper, the Air Jordan 4 focused on providing a lighter silhouette that would allow the Jumpman, to jump. Featuring mesh panels cut into the slimmer smooth leather - the Air Jordan 4s key features were the wings surrounding the ankle support as well as putting Jordan front and centre by putting his ‘Jumpman’ logo on the tongue with the word ‘Flight’ signed underneath.

Air Max III (90), 1990

A sneaker still regarded as one of the greatest silhouettes in the Air Max lineage, let alone Hatfield’s portfolio, the Air Max 90 (known as the Air Max 3 upon its initial release thanks to the Nike Air Tailwind technically marking the first Air Max sneaker spot) was as disruptive and challenging as its predecessor.

As well as using a larger Air Unit in the heel, the 90’s promoted the idea of speed thanks to its layered, streamlined, design and the light mesh panels in the upper. Released in the OG ‘Infrared’ colourway, the sneaker was made for running with Australian distance runner Steve Moneghetti featured in the promotional material.

Air Huarache, 1991

While the Air Huarache was made as a lightweight running sneaker, the actual inspiration behind the silhouette was taken from water skiing. With original sketches of the sneaker suggesting that an Air Unit was to be included within the heel, similar to that of the Air Max 180 released the same year, the final release of the marathon running sneaker took a more stripped back, minimal performance approach. 

One of the first Nike Air sneakers to not include bold Nike branding, the sneaker was essentially made of two features. The inner, socklike material that hugged the wearer's foot (an idea played upon the original adverts for the shoes that read “Have You Hugged Your Feet Today?”) was surrounded by soft leather and a rubber ankle providing a sense of freedom and support.

Air Mowabb, 1991

There’s a common trend among the best Nike Air Max designers whether it’s Sergio Lozano, Christian Tresser or Tinker Hatfield - they have all taken the time to work alongside Nike’s ‘All Conditions Gear’ (ACG) branch. 

The Nike Air Mowabb may look similar to another one of Tinker Hatfield's designs, the Air Huarache, and for good reason. Being a blend of the Huarache, a sneaker produced for long-distance running, released in 1991, and the Nike ACG Wildwood hiking sneaker released in 1989.

The name behind ACG’s arguably most notable silhouette was taken from Hatfield’s numerous trips to Moab, Utah. Before the sneaker's final silhouette was agreed upon, original sketches were inspired by Native American Moccasins as well as the rivers that surrounded Moab and the fish within them. 

Looking to create a sneaker that would mould to the surface the wearer was walking on, the Moccasin would allow for the wearer's foot to adapt to the ground beneath them, as opposed to the sneaker having the main impact. 

A little known fact about the Mowabb, the speckled outsole was the first to ever be included on a shoe. Originally inspired by the Rainbow Trout, the design team supposedly spent extensive amounts of time getting the effect just right. 

Air Jordan 11, 1995

While the Air Jordan 11 has become one of the most popular releases within Jordan Brand’s catalogue, the idea for the silhouette came to Tinker Hatfield while MJ was within his short stint in baseball. 

While the details on the Air Jordan 11 may not meet the likes of the 3s or 4s, or hold the same weight as the OG 1s, the 11th addition to the lineage is one of the most sought after and beloved silhouettes, with annual releases around Christmas time being met with sellout success. 

Featuring a patent leather wrap around just above the midsole of the sneaker, the AJ11 was like no other performance shoe seen previously. Michael Jordan loved the sneaker so much that he wore the new silhouette on the court before Nike had okayed it. The materials and colourway of the OG ‘Concord’ colourway of the AJ11 were made as a reference to MJ's smarter attire, a story that the Basketball superstar loved. 


Adapt BB 2.0, 2020 

Taking a page from the Nike Mag’s book, the Adapt BB 2.0 was the second sneaker in the BB series to provide a self-lacing sneaker alongside performance basketball technology. Powered by Nike’s self-lacing system dubbed E.A.R.L. (Electro Adaptive Reactive Lacing), the sneaker not only provides an easier wearable experience for players on the court, allowing them to have a sneaker that constantly adapts to their movements keeping them safe as they play but also provides the opportunity to be developed for those who have disabilities or other health conditions that may mean they struggle with lacing up their sneakers.

As a nod to originator of the self-lacing sneaker, Nike went onto release a Nike Mag colourway of the Adapt BB 2.0 later in 2020.


Looking back at Tinker Hatfield's design catalogue, it's safe to say that we may not have the sneaker industry we do today without him. Whether its communities of Air Max fans or collectors of Michael Jordan's best performance footwear, he is and forever will be a key pillar in the history of sneakers.