Maker: Jason Mayden

Designer and entrepreneur Jason Mayden, MS ’11, finds inspiration at the junction of science and art.

April 22, 2022

| by Kevin Cool

Long before he and his team hack together a prototype of, say, a high-performance sneaker, Jason Mayden asks “big questions.”

Maker

In this ongoing series from Stanford Business magazine we use an annotated photo to tell the story of a manufacturing business overseen by a Stanford GSB alum.

“Since I work in sports, the questions are always about human potential, whether it’s biomechanical, physiological, or cognitive, because most athletic performance begins in the mind,” says Mayden, CEO and co-founder of Trillicon Valley, an award-winning design and strategy consultancy. “What is the future of human potential? How far can the body go?”

If the shoe will be used by basketball players, maybe the questions are about flight. “The easiest way to innovate is to use two widely disparate objects and find the center point. I know that we have nothing physiologically in common with a peregrine falcon, but if you dig deep enough you find some areas that overlap. There are similarities that lie just beneath the surface of every living being that can provide tremendous insight and inspiration when viewed with a discerning eye.”

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“It’s sketches, it’s notes, it’s listening to podcasts, watching documentaries — it’s everything I can think of to help me become a fast expert.”

Asking these questions comes naturally to Mayden, a polymath who is drawn to both the science and art of product design. He believes the art is the easy part. “Once we understand the performance requirements of the athlete, then we allow the product to determine our inspiration for color and materials and trim,” he says. “But if you start with aesthetics before setting proper performance requirements, you potentially create an object that could disrupt the outcome of an athletic endeavor. The difference between no medal and a gold medal can often be found in the small nuances of the product worn by the athlete.”

It isn’t until phase four — after intensive study, insight-building, and customer decoding — that an embryonic product begins to materialize. And when that happens, it is chaotic and messy. “It’s sketches, it’s notes, it’s listening to podcasts, watching documentaries — it’s everything I can think of to help me become a fast expert.

Mayden’s workspace is carefully curated for each project. He needs to “spread out,” to surround himself with books, photographs, ephemera — a “physical mind map” that creates an environment where magic can happen.

Mayden began his career at Nike, where he spent 13 years. He co-founded his first company, Trillicon Valley, eight years ago, and remains dedicated to the notion that “designing is a lifestyle, not a vocation.”

“If you’re a person that doesn’t come from a socioeconomically privileged background, you understand the concept of creatio ex nihilo or ‘creating from nothing.’ That’s what design is. We absorb the energy of the moment, and we reflect its inherent beauty in everything we create.”

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