Unlike conventional running shoes made by global corporations, the On shoe developed in Switzerland puts functionality front and center with a novel cushioning system. The design of the first models eschewed all decorative elements apart from a logo on the heel and was limited to just two colors.
The driving force behind the technical innovations in the CloudTec cushioning system is the former professional athlete Olivier Bernhard. After an injury, he set out in search of running shoes that would be easy on his feet, and when he failed to find what he was looking for, he began to experiment himself in 2005. An ETH engineer friend assisted him in the four-year process, from the initial prototype (with garden hose sections superglued to the sole) to devising effective three-dimensional cushioning. The flexible tubes ensure a soft landing; pressed flat on the ground, however, they provide a solid foundation for pushing off. Today, the so-called CloudTec system is protected by worldwide patents. In 2010, Olivier Bernhard partnered with the marketing experts David Allemann (production and marketing) and Caspar Coppetti (international market development) to establish the company On. They commissioned designer Thilo Alex Brunner (b. 1977) to design the new running shoe. Unlike traditional sporting goods brands, On makes its innovative cushioning visible as a central design element (the slogan is “Run on Clouds”) and with its formal reduction stands out from shoes by Nike, Adidas, or Puma. The shoe’s “playful post-minimalism” (Brunner) gives credibility to its functional promise, helped along by the enthusiasm of the running community. (Renate Menzi)