Alumni Spotlight: Alyssa Duhart


May 3, 2024
Alyssa Duhart as a student running track and field for the University of Texas at Austin

Meet Alyssa Duhart, a 2023 Design graduate and emerging talent in footwear design. As a Running Footwear Design Apprentice at New Balance, Alyssa leverages her athletic background to inform her design decisions. She shares her journey from UT's track fields to New Balance’s design studios, exploring the influences that drive her creative process.

Can you share a bit about your journey from pre-college, to SDCT, to working at New Balance?

Before joining SDCT, my mind had always been set on pursuing a career in the arts from a very young age. Throughout my childhood, I engaged in numerous extracurricular activities, but drawing was the one pursuit that I consistently envisioned as being a part of my long-term career journey.

I took my first digital design course my sophomore year of high school where I learned the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator, and from then on, I was certain that I wanted to use my creativity within the field of Design. A lot of my journey prior to attending college was exploring multiple forms of both art and design and broadening my skill set, and during this time, I discovered Product Design. This specific form of design stuck out to me in the way that it values problem-solving, and creatively finding solutions to serve others' needs. I knew that whatever I was going to design, it was going to be something that could make the health, lifestyle, and/or tasks of others just a little bit better, and the field of product design allowed me to do that.


How did your time at UT prepare you for your career in footwear design?

When I specifically look back on my time within the SDCT program, I really cherish how the program allows you to explore design as a whole with classes varying from industrial design, to graphic design, UI/UX design, and design history, theory and so much more, rather than just one. Even as a footwear designer now, I am still using many of the other forms of design throughout my design/research process and within the visual presentation/portfolio design of my work. Likewise, the variety of design classes I was able to take within the SDCT program allowed me to be able to view my designs through multiple necessary perspectives. I am also very grateful for the design faculty at UT because they truly invest their time and expertise into nurturing our own individual pursuits as growing designers. I would not be the designer I am today without their teachings, mentorship, and support.

After I graduated from UT in May 2023, I had the privilege of being accepted into the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design within their PLC X New Balance Masterclass that took place that summer in Detroit, MI. It was an incredible experience where I was able to receive a certification in footwear design and be mentored by Dr. Dwayne Edwards, E. Scott Morris, and many more astounding designers. While I was there, I was also introduced to Gravity Sketch, a virtual 3D design platform that has completely transformed my design process for the better! Throughout the program, I got to meet with other incredible design students from all around the country as we worked closely with the New Balance design team for a project envisioning the future of New Balance footwear and apparel designs. Through this experience, I had the honor of being chosen as the 2024 apprentice as a part of the New Balance Running Design team where I am currently working now in Lawrence, MA!


What inspired you to specialize in running footwear design?

As a student-athlete at UT, I had the privilege of pursuing both my passions as a product designer and as a track and cross country athlete. It was a truly fulfilling experience being able to grow as both a student and an athlete while I was there and to have a great balance between the two. The combination of majoring in B.F.A. Design, minoring in Kinesiology and Health Education, and being an athlete really opened my eyes as a product designer to design gaps that were in need of being filled within the sports industry. 

Alyssa Duhart Shoe Design
Alyssa Duhart Shoe Design

One thing that really inspired and fueled me was my own experiences as a distance runner. Throughout my entire running journey, I was very injury-prone, and the overall experience of dealing with those injuries, both physically and mentally, really made me want to change that experience for other athletes who might be going through the same thing. This specifically led me into the field of footwear design, where I strive to design shoes that not only look and feel good but truly benefit the performance and well-being of those who wear them.


Could you describe a typical day in your role?

A typical day in my role can sometimes vary, but most days consist of working closely with the running design team and my manager/mentor as we work on our assigned projects. With each project, we receive a project brief from our product managers. We initially create hand sketches and digital sketches of our designs, making sure to fulfill the needs of the targeted consumer of the brief. Then we will have a series of design reviews where we gain feedback from our design team, developers, and managers throughout the design process. 

A lot of the design process currently takes place in Adobe Illustrator, where I’ll create linearts of the design and redline revisions, as well as a program called Colorway, where I’ll specify the colors and materials of the footwear for the production process as we hand our designs off to the development team. I also use Gravity Sketch in order to create my designs in 3D.


What challenges do you face in designing running shoes, and how do you overcome them?

One challenge that can arise while designing running shoes is how to best visually communicate your designs for product developers and managers in order to transform the vision you have in your head and on paper accurately into its exact physical form. We are always in constant communication with all product contributors whether from a financial, development, material, and/or sustainability standpoint throughout the whole design process in order to make sure that everyone is on the same page. This form of visual communication has been evolving with the implementation of Gravity Sketch 3D modeling in our design process because it gives a new perspective and clearer vision of the shoe design for developers to transform our designs into the real thing.


How do you stay informed about the latest trends and technologies in running footwear?

I mostly stay informed about the latest trends and technology in running footwear by being within the running community. It was always great hearing from my teammates why they train in a certain kind of shoes as well as always seeing how the newest versions of our training and racing footwear evolve each year at Texas. I also stay informed through various footwear news/social media platforms that I come across either on Linkedin or Instagram.


Can you tell us about a particular project or design you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of?

A project that I worked on that I am especially proud of is my Senior Design Thesis project Strength Strapped. It was my first real footwear design project where I designed an innovative and more aesthetically pleasing injury boot in place of the current injury boot’s bland design. With this project, I really wanted to use footwear design to aid both the physical and psychological healing process experienced by injured individuals. I wanted to design the boot to visually radiate the strength, power, and style that the individual themselves still possesses, regardless of the injury they are dealing with.

Alyssa Duhart senior design project
Alyssa Duhart Senior Design Project

The crazy thing that made this project even more important to me was that I was injured during my senior year track season while I was designing this boot, and throughout the process, I became aware of how powerful we designers can actually be in the fact that we can turn any negative situation or experience into a positive design opportunity to serve others.


What advice would you give to current students interested in pursuing a career in design within the footwear industry?

Embrace your uniqueness and design with a purpose that goes beyond your pursuits of footwear design as just a career. Your unique vision has the potential to have a lasting footprint on the people who may wear your shoes one day.


How do you see the future of running footwear evolving, and what role do you hope to play in it?

I see the future of running footwear evolving in a way that makes each running footwear more personalized for each consumer’s unique anatomy and performance needs. I think it would be great to see how technology can be implemented more into the adaptability of our footwear. 

We always say that we have to “break in” our shoes when we first buy them until they are comfortable, but I hope to play a role in creating technology in shoes that eliminates this footwear stage for the consumer and has the ability to shape-shift and confine to each foot that where’s them.


Is there a mentor or figure in your career who has significantly influenced you? How so?

Yes, there are many mentors who have significantly influenced me as a designer but if I can only name a few it would be Professor Jose Perez and Professor Kate Catterall within the SDCT program at UT as well as Professor E. Scott Morris at Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design. Professor Jose Perez and Professor Kate Catterall not only mentored and supported me during my senior year thesis project, but they also strengthened my design thinking and skill set in all aspects of design during my four years at UT. 

Alyssa Duhart in front of senior design project with Professors Kate Catterall and José Perez
Professor Kate Catterall, Alyssa Duhart, and Professor Jose Perez

Professor Jose was the first professor to introduce me to 3D designing using Rhino. I truly enjoyed the projects that I got to take on through his courses because they were some of the most challenging yet rewarding projects I have ever done! From creating a toothbrush and a cutting board in the woodshop to learning hand-sketching techniques, to casting molds for metal jewelry designing, and so much more! 

Professor Kate truly expanded my design thinking and problem-solving as an industrial designer in ways that I never thought were possible. I could start a conversation with her with 1 1⁄2 ideas, and end the conversation with 10+ ideas because she always empowered me to explore the “what if” questions that made problem-solving within design seem limitless! She inspired me to cultivate a design mindset that knows the truly powerful impact our designs can have on society and the environment for the better. 

Professor E. Scott Morris at Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design possesses an electrifying energy that has revolutionized the field of footwear design and is revolutionizing the next generation of footwear designers with his teachings. Because of him, I learned so much about footwear design and the industry as a whole just in a matter of weeks during the Pensole X New Balance Masterclass. 

Professor Jose Perez, Professor Kate Catterall, and Professor E. Scott Morris are all amazing design professionals, and even more amazing people, whom I am so grateful to have been mentored by throughout my journey.


What's next for you in your career journey, and what are your long-term professional goals?

My faith is what guides me in my career and overall life journey, and so I'm excited to see what God has planned for me next. My long-term professional goal is solely to use the gift God has blessed me with to serve others. I am excited to see what that all holds!

Alyssa participated in a panel discussion on the evolution of design tools and processes as a collaboration between Ford and New Balance.

Watch the conversation here

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