Professor improves inequalities through sports product design

Susan Sokolowksi spd

Susan Sokolowski uses transdisciplinary research and design to help underserved users push their limits

In her work as a professor and director of the UO Sport Product Design Program, Susan Sokolowski, PhD, innovates products to help people live longer and better lives. Drawing from the fields of anthropometry, data science, biomechanics, physiology, materials science, psychology, and product design, her ideas help underserved users, including women, disabled athletes, and people of extended sizes, overcome inequalities.

“My work looks at helping underserved users push their limits in performance, through the research and products I create,” she said. “I am particularly proud of the work that I have done for female athletes, firefighters, military personnel and health care workers, along with aging and adaptive users.”

Sokolowski joined the Sports Product Design Program at the UO in 2015 after a 17-year career at Nike leading design and innovation teams on materials, footwear, apparel, and equipment projects for a wide array of athlete needs, ranging from kids just learning how to play soccer to World Cup-level players. She has been recognized internationally for her achievements and holds more than 44 U.S. and 62 international utility and design patents, along with recognition from Nike, The Design Museum of London, Volvo, Vogue, and Fast Company.

She is also a recipient of funding from Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, within the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. The Alliance is a global effort to promote wellness and peak performance through scientific discovery and innovation, where the UO is one of six founding institutions. Through this effort, Sokolowski collaborates with several researchers at the UO.

On one such project she advised Gabi Lorenzo, a student in Sports Product Design, and collaborated with Knight Campus professor Keat Ghee Ong, Bowerman Sports Science Center Director Mike Hahn, and postdoctoral scholar Michael McGeehan. Lorenzo’s project invented a new method to manufacture athletic footwear to integrate a shear sensor (developed by Ong, Hahn, and McGeehan) to help female distance runners reach their peak performance.

Sokolowski was the first Oregon woman to be named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. The 2021 honor recognized her contributions to the design of products for special populations.

“Through her innovative and envelope-pushing work, Susan proves that the need for high-performance sportswear isn’t limited to elite athletes,” said Cass Moseley, vice provost at UO. “Susan’s inclusive designs meet the technical and professional needs of all people, regardless of age or ability level.”