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The Nature of Motion by Nike was one of the surprise hits of Milan Design Week. It’s not often that big brands from outside the world of product and furniture design can engage with the big design festivals with credibility, but Nike really did – and in a location that wasn’t exactly on the beaten track.

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The sports brand commissioned 10 contemporary product and furniture designers, including Sebastian Wrong, Max Lamb and Lindsey Adelman, to respond to the theme of ‘natural motion’ through various media including materials like Flyknit which are unique to Nike – and even though the entire set was built of shoe boxes, the branding was subtle. Nike really let the designers shine, which, for an audience largely in Milan to see design, was the right move.

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British furniture designer Max Lamb grew up in the country’s most south westerly county, Cornwall, and cites its rugged landscape as the catalyst for his fascination with elemental materials, such as stone, metal and wood. His conceptual installation comprised aluminum, granite and polystyrene blocks seemingly levitating above a film of compressed air, enabling them to respond to the gentlest touch, challenging perceptions of heaviness and effort.

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Dutch designer Bertjan Pot’s series of “resting pods” were inspired by the wheel – he upholstered the inner tubes from wheels taken from a car, a wheelbarrow, a truck and a tractor with ropes, Nike laces and belts, creating an intriguing juxtaposition between ancient craft techniques and contemporary high-performance materials.

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New York based lighting designer Lindsey Adelman’s installation was inspired by the movement of plants. “Two light fixtures, each incorporating multiple phases of natural development into a single, cohesive form,” explained a statement from Nike. “The forms communicate through vibrational movement in an effort to capture the elusive mystery of nature within the constraints of industrial components.”

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Also experimenting with lighting design, Studio Zaven created a series of bright red, oversized floor lamps inspired by an athlete in action. “Reflection, light and shadow are employed to enhance human movement within the space,” explained Nike.

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British designer Sebastian Wrong designed a set of ergonomic communal seats, with Nike Flyknit wrapped around a hollowed steel frame. Flyknit is made from single fibers knitted together instead of traditional fabrics, creating a “second skin” feel and reducing waste by approximately 80%. “The detailed skin celebrates Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 painting “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” and reflects Wrong’s own contemplation of Italian Futurism and the movement’s examination of modernity, speed and dynamism,” said Nike.

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Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven writer and keynote speaker championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.