Editor's note: This content is brought to you by On.
Running and design. In the modern age, they go hand in hand. Shoes and apparel become part of the obsessive quest for that one-percent improvement. Or, on a lifestyle level, maybe it’s the search for the perfect bit of gear that can take you from the track to a coffee meeting or the studio or office.
Melbourne couple Stefan Imbesi and Bianca Elencevski think about running and design a little differently, and probably a lot more often, than most of us. Which is why we brought them together with On, a brand that embodies the very ethos of Swiss design in a perfect marriage of form and function. Switzerland is a country where exceptional design is a national calling and On’s focus on high performance, stylish minimalism and thoughtfully engineered functionality have seen it become a world-leading brand in a little over a decade. Not just for leading athletes such as Swiss tennis champ Roger Federer – who has an ownership stake in the company and recently launched a collaborative line of On shoes – but also for discerning creatives like Stefan and Bianca.
Stefan and Bianca are both designers, working in different fields. He’s a senior designer at an advertising agency, where his main role is to manage brands’ presence in the digital space. She’s a senior urban designer, which she describes as sitting between the work of a landscape architect, an architect and an urban planner.
“As urban designers, we rely heavily on economists, psychologists and on anthropology to inform the way we design cities. My work specifically entails determining the long-term ambitions for cities, and particularly, for me, the city of Melbourne,” Bianca says.
“In my field, I'm working towards changing the way people use the city and manoeuvre through it. That’s really about changing behaviours around transport. In Melbourne at the moment, 89% of people traverse the city on foot – walking or running – but only 26% of that space is allocated to pedestrians. We want to shift those behaviours and move people away from driving and private vehicles to really start getting them on their feet.”
Which is where Bianca’s professional and personal interests in running intersect. She and Stefan used to live in the CBD and Bianca would run to get around. “Those trips that were facilitated by necessity turned to enjoyment and so I started running through the city for enjoyment,” she explains.
“The thing that I love about running, when it comes to my profession, is it can take you places in the city that you otherwise wouldn't go. For example, a car can't fit through a narrow laneway – your experiences and your quality of the city when you run through it are different to that when you're in a car. When you're running you can see the texture on a building facade, you can see the level of activity within a building, you can see the sky. Your quality of the experiences you have are just so much more vivid.”
Stefan and Bianca are both part of the Hunter run crew. Outside of his regular job, Stefan loves applying his design skills to creating limited-edition singlets for the squad’s major races. He’s also psyched about the Hunter beer can label he’s just designed in collaboration with independent brewery Molly Rose. (Though it could be pointed out that on our Zoom call, taking place straight after Stefan comes through the door from work, he’s drinking a Furphy. Bianca, who says she’s off to the gym when we’re done, is sipping from a large On-branded water bottle.)
“When you're running you can see the texture on a building facade, you can see the level of activity within a building, you can see the sky. Your quality of the experiences you have are just so much more vivid.”
For Stefan, running is a complement to his professional work rather than a direct inspiration. Working in a creative field, he says he sometimes struggles to switch off.
“I'm the type of person where, if I'm doing some sort of repetitive task, I’ll dream in keyboard shortcuts.
“The question isn't how running enables my creative practice but how it helps with the opposite of that – it's giving me a meditative space between designing. As much as I love designing, running is the switch-off. Like, I grew up skateboarding and this has now become the same thing that skateboarding gave me when I was young: when you're so in the moment that you can't think about something else.”
“For me, running is a blend between mediation and movement at the same time. When you're going through that velocity, when you're running, you can achieve such great mental stillness.”
During our conversation, the couple articulate that they’re working at different ends of the design spectrum: micro for Stefan, who on a given day might be sweating over the user-experience intricacies of a particular webpage, and macro for Bianca, who works on a citywide scale.
“But I think that fundamentally both of us do strategy ... we're thinking about the long-term outcome or ambition for that piece of work,” Bianca says.
Which is where the parallel with On’s long-term ambitions comes into focus. Launched in 2010, the brand grew from world duathlon champion Olivier Bernhard’s pursuit of a running shoe that would give him the perfect running sensation. This led him to Swiss compatriot David Allemann, an engineer with an idea for a new kind of running shoe. Caspar Coppetti, an avid runner who grew up in the Swiss alps, brought his business acumen to complete the founding trio.
“Design supports function, always and all ways.” It’s not something Stefan or Bianca have said, though it might be. Instead, it’s a tenet of the On philosophy.
First, On reinvented the running shoe by designing its unique CloudTec soles that work in tandem with the Speedboard, a liquid-injected plate of thermoplastic polymer, to, in words many runners will recognise, convert soft landings into explosive take-offs.
More recently, the brand has turned its expertise towards apparel. The long-term ambition here is performance. Years of research and countless hours of testing, informed by the best of Swiss engineering and design, go into creating products combining premium fabrics and minimalist styling. Using only the best materials, On’s designers construct apparel so comfortable it becomes part of the body. The runner forgets completely about the gear they’re wearing and focuses entirely on the run, in the moment.
For On, performance isn’t just something that can be measured with a stopwatch. Just as much consideration and high-technology engineering goes into the brand’s lifestyle category which, tellingly, it prefers to refer to as ‘Performance All Day’. The results blur the boundaries between work, play and sport, offering creatives, travellers and urban explorers a choice of gear that seamlessly blends performance with style.
Bianca and Stefan are all three of those things: creatives, travellers and urban explorers. Prior to an injury he’s waiting on surgery for, Stefan would often run Melbourne’s Capital City Trail, a 29km loop that circles the city centre and inner suburbs. The couple also like to run whenever they travel.
“The question isn't how running enables my creative practice but how it helps with the opposite of that – it's giving me a meditative space between designing.”
“Last time we travelled to Japan,” Stefan says, “I ran a lap of Osaka Castle at like five o'clock in the morning – just due to the time difference. I woke up and I was the first person out; it was an incredible experience to see it all before everything opens.”
Bianca adds a more local example. “We don't know Sydney very well, and Sydney's transport system's hideous, so we would run around to get a feel of where things were in relation to each other. It's a great mode of sightseeing when you don't know where you're going but you want to see things quickly.
“It's like walking but faster,” she laughs.
Over the summer ahead, you might run past Stefan or Bianca on one of Melbourne’s many trails.
“I’ve just started training for a 10km time trial that will take me through the next 12 weeks,” Bianca says.
Stefan is managing a difficult-to-diagnose injury that has been bothering him for around 18 months, but he hopes to resume more serious training in due course.
“I run here and there but my main goal over summer is to get the surgery and then return to somewhat more consistent training – and then run a marathon next year. The summer plan is just to recover, actually.”
Bianca, the urban designer, ties the season to location and user profile to share why she thinks the Yarra River might be Melbourne’s most precious running asset.
“The great thing about summer is just getting out on the river. I think for both of us that's where we like to spend our mornings. That will mean more mornings with Hunter, which is a great way to start the day,” she says.
“The river is such a great connector in the morning for pretty much every running community in Melbourne: no matter who you run with – whether it’s a work running club or with Hunter, or with AM:PM or Midday Milers – everyone's out there in the morning and it's such a great social place.
“And it's also, for various other reasons, a very spiritual place in terms of the Traditional Owner context, and the water is the lifeblood of the city – it’s why the city is there – and so getting out there in the morning is something we both love doing in summer.”