Nike’s new VP of digital design hails from Twitter and Netflix

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Nike has hired Dantley Davis as vice president of digital design—a signal that Nike plans to make bold moves across its digital platforms.

Davis has deep roots in the tech industry. As detailed in my profile last year, Davis was previously the first chief design officer at Twitter (and the company’s first Black executive to report to the CEO). There, he tried to rid the platform of toxic behavior at the same time that he faced accusations of fostering a hostile workplace. He was let go in a reorg. Previous to that, Davis helped create Netflix’s digital interface—a system that has been cloned by virtually every media streaming company today.

Designers with experience in the C-suite are rare. In Davis, Nike lands a hands-on designer-executive who studies user behavior closely, experiments publicly, and has a fast metabolism for shipping product. Davis made the announcement on Twitter yesterday, and Nike has since confirmed his hire.

Nike’s shoe design has always been inventive, and that’s still true today, but under Davis, a digital design strategy will be key to the company’s sustained growth. Nike’s ecommerce sales have been recovering from a historically slow start in the space—up 33% in 2022, and the company now makes 26% of all revenue through its digital platforms.

Exercise platforms are another key area of ​​growth for Nike. And while Nike has quietly ceded some of its early dominance in digital training to Apple, Peleton, and a host of other competitors, its Run Club exercise app has received rave critical reviews, and Nike has claimed the app drove 30% digital sales growth in China during the pandemic.

During an interview in Beaverton, Ore., last year, VP of Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab Matt Nurse told me that Nike plans to use its digital platforms to delve much deeper into your biometric data to offer more tailored workouts—to help you reach Personal bests, sure, but also to prevent injuries and help you recover from them. With data from thousands of people, Nike can see how quickly users can expect to gain strength and speed based upon biometrics, and it can individual optimize workouts accordingly. From there, Nike wants to not just sell you the right pair of shoes to complement your training, but to use digital platforms to boost your own mental resilience and motivate you to reach your goals.

“As we start pushing the edges of science and what we can do through a behavioral lens—how do we help you make good decisions? When to do more, when to do less?” said Nurse. “There’ll be a mental side, there’ll be an injury side, but we also have an [ideal] version of ourselves. Like saying, ‘I want to run a marathon.’ Some of us aren’t built to run a marathon, but as a company of hopes and dreams, what can we do to give you that experience that may be equally good for you and your journey?”

Suffice it to say, this is a lofty vision, which will push the limits of science and design with equal measure. It’s unclear what role, if any, Davis will play in this future, and Nike declined to make him available for an interview. But Nike’s challenges ahead are obviously fertile territory for someone with Davis’s experience.

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