RealStyle (USA) Interview
Oct-2007: A lengthy interview focussed on the clarity of the diagrams in my book and website as well as the complexity (and resulting accuracy) of the shoelace length formulas.
- Interviewed for: RealStyle
- Interviewed by: Patricia McLaughlin
- Interviewed via: E-mail
- Interviewed on: 27-Oct-2007
PATRICIA: I'm impressed by your book's thoroughness, its logical design and layout, and the surprising clarity of the diagrams ...
IAN: Thanks, I'm glad you liked it! I put a lot of effort into the diagrams, so it's nice to know that they are appreciated. I've always said that people rarely notice perfection, but very quickly notice imperfection. Therefore many people don't comment on the diagrams, they just “work”. If, on the other hand, people WEREN'T able to follow them, I'd likely receive far more comments (though unfortunately negative ones).
PATRICIA: I suspect most people who attempt to diagram such processes inadvertently leave out crucial steps – but yours are amazingly clear. (Would you attribute that to your experience in graphic design, logical mind, or what??)
IAN: It's interesting that you've actually “noticed” the positive features of the diagrams, probably because you have an excellent “bad example” to compare them against.
I guess I'd attribute my clear diagrams to both my logical mind and graphic design experience, as well as my experience with conducting training courses, where I've found that it's important to keep things as clear and simple as possible. To this end, I believe that diagrams are superior to photos because they contain only the necessary information without distracting details.
The important aspects that I actually took into consideration when creating the diagrams were:
1. No distracting backgrounds;
2. Two distinct colors to distinguish the two ends;
3. Colors are also shades for color-blind readers;
4. Black outlines to enhance same-color overlaps;
5. Shadows to enhance "overs" and "unders";
6. Aesthetically pleasing curves and symmetry.
PATRICIA: I should also mention the startling complexity of the mathematical formulas for determining proper shoelace length.
IAN: They are WAY more complex than most people would imagine!
PATRICIA: Probably like many other people, I have several pairs of shoes that are laced with laces of the inappropriate length, type, color, etc., or else with broken laces crudely tied back together with lumpy knots, because every time I try to buy shoelaces I'm baffled when it comes to picking a length. I'm in the store, the shoes are at home, I can't remember how many pairs of eyelets they have, etc.
IAN: Even if you were armed with the information about number of eyelets, this can be VERY approximate because some shoes can have five times as wide a spacing between the eyelets as others. Many shoelaces have the suggested application listed on the packaging, such as “Suits 6 to 8 eyelet pairs”, but again this is just as approximate.
PATRICIA: How did this come about? What started you down this path? I read in the FAQs how you discovered a quicker knot as a child – but how did that single innovation blossom into this apparently fullblown fascination with laces, lacing, knots, patterns, etc.?
IAN: I started the shoelace site not because of my own fascination with shoelaces but because I could see that there was a real need. No-one else had added anything much to the Internet, either because they didn't have the required illustration skills or because there simply wasn't any money in it. I was happy to do so simply for the sake of contributing something worthwhile to the community.
PATRICIA: Are you saying noone else had added anything much about shoelaces? Or was this in the really early days of the Internet when nobody had added much about anything??
IAN: Yes, sorry, I should have said: “No-one else had added anything much to the Internet about shoelaces, ...”.
Although I was commenting on the early days, there was nonetheless information about almost every other subject BESIDES shoelaces. Even today, there are vastly more web sites with tutorials on out of the ordinary things like customizing your iPod than there are about ordinary things like tying your shoelaces. (Google shows 13,400 pages vs 761 pages).
PATRICIA: And then, how did it proceed from fascination to this thorough documentation / explication / classification / whatever you call it.
IAN: The site has mostly grown through requests and suggestions from visitors. I've long answered e-mails on a daily basis, and any time I received the same request or suggestion over and over, I tried to add it to the site. In theory, this would mean that I would no longer be asked those same questions or given those same suggestions. In practice, this spawned other questions and suggestions on related topics!
Eventually, however, it has paid off, as the site has grown so comprehensive that most people are able to find what they're looking for. The one problem is that the site is now large enough for people to have to ask directions!
PATRICIA: Your taxonomy of shoelaces seems somehow more logical. Or are shoelaces just easier to grasp? (no pun intended)
IAN: One of my aims while building the site was to somehow make sense out of a huge amount of jumbled, uncategorized, and even conflicting information. It helps that there was no committee dictating terms or making decisions, instead, I was able to rely on my own logic and good judgment.
PATRICIA: I should also ask what results your shoelace hobby has had. Has it made you a celebrity of sorts?
IAN: I'm now well known and respected in many fields related to footwear, though more as an “expert” than a “celebrity” (which is nice!)
PATRICIA: Have you met all sorts of interesting people?
IAN: I have corresponded with some really interesting people, and have met some of them in real life. A few like-minded and highly respected folks live nearby in Melbourne, Australia, including Simon Wood (of SneakerFreaker magazine) and Burkard Polster (an Australian mathematician who has also delved into the maths of shoe lacing methods).
PATRICIA: Do you have an extensive personal collection of exotic shoelaces?
IAN: Although I probably have more different shoelaces than most people, I'm more of a collector of shoelace knots and shoe lacing methods than of the actual shoelaces themselves.
PATRICIA: I dug out a pair of shoes that needed new laces and ran the formula for crisscross lacing. It said the optimal lace length would be 39.7 inches. But at the local drugstore they offered a choice of 36" or 45" – in general, is it better to go shorter or longer? I tried both. The 45" laces are much too long, but the 36" laces unlace themselves from the top couple of lugs when I put the shoes on and then they have to be relaced – but once the laces are tied, they're fine.
IAN: It's great that you tried both, and in doing so, verified for yourself that the calculated length would indeed have been perfect.
As to whether it's preferable to opt for too short or too long, I guess that's personal preference. Some people really don't mind the inconvenience of having to re-lace the top eyelets or lugs for the sake of appearance, while other people would prefer the longer laces for the sake of speed and efficiency. I'd always opt for longer because it's no great trouble for me to shorten the laces to the optimal length.
Otherwise, the length can always be fine-tuned by choosing a different lacing method.
“Meet Prof. Shoelace”
By Patricia McLaughlin, RealStyle (USA), 18-Nov-2007
Every Sunday, RealStyle goes to 100 subscribing newspapers in the United States and Canada (combined circulation: 60 million) from Universal Press Syndicate.
Ian Fieggen’s website and book about shoelaces (unlike most instruction manuals) are miracles of clarity.
What possesses a person to write a whole book about shoelaces?
Monomania was my first guess, but Ian Fieggen claims he isn’t a shoelace obsessive. He says he only started his shoelace website – http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/ – because he “could see that there was a real need. No one else had added anything much to the Internet” – about shoelaces, he means – “either because they didn't have the required illustration skills or because there simply wasn't any money in it. I was happy to do so simply for the sake of contributing something worthwhile to the community.”
Fieggen’s website shows you 33 different ways to lace your shoes, 15 different ways to tie them, 8 ways to make your own aglets (the little tubular plastic tips that tend to crack and come off), how to compute the length of lace required to lace up a particular shoe, what to do about slipping laces, how to correct asymmetrical knots, how to prevent your shoelaces from digging into your tender insteps, and much, much, much more about shoelaces than the average person probably has any desire to know.
Now Fieggen’s website is also a book, Laces: 100s of Ways to Pimp your Kicks. And, though I hesitate to say so, I suspect it’s that rare phenomenon, a thing perfect of its kind.
The design is brilliant. The foldover cover looks a lot like the front of a black Chuck Taylor low-top, with two canvas flaps each equipped with six working eyelets, so you can practice the 33 different ways of lacing your shoes. You can make your laces look like stars, train tracks, lightning bolts, latticework, spider webs, checkerboards. You can ladder-lace them the way paratroopers do to keep their boots nice and tight. You can lace them with two different colors of laces at once for even more gorgeous effects.
[Photo of my book, “Laces”]
Even better, the cover folds over any left-hand page, and the individual lacing diagrams appear only on right-hand pages, so there’s no annoying flipping back and forth while you’re practicing – with the practice laces provided in a plastic envelope at the back of the book.
And better yet, the diagrams are so clear as to be instantly comprehensible. Truly, if you’ve ever agonized over inscrutable diagrams that purport to show you how your new snap-together floor tiles are meant to snap together, or how you’re supposed to assemble your “some-assembly-required” barbeque grill, you will be astonished by the limpid clarity of Fieggen’s diagrams – and then angry.
Unless it’s just me: The lucidity of his diagrams, and the clarity of the accompanying instructions, left me seething with envy. I’d like to send his book – along with a scathing note – to whoever wrote the enigmatic 160-page manual that came with my digital camera. Not to forget the person who wrote the directions for my combination printer-fax-phone (so incomprehensible I had to give up and buy a new one). Also, the author of the instructions for programming our new flat-screen TV. And several more writers of crucial but utterly confounding manuals.
It seems somehow unfair that there exist such clear, simple instructions for lacing your shoes 33 different ways – something I have no desire to do – when the instructions for doing things I desperately need to be able to do (fax from the computer, switch the camera to close-up mode, access the extra hard drive from the laptop, persuade the TV to recognize the DVR) make no sense at all.
I was a little dubious, initially, about Fieggen’s formulas for calculating proper shoelace length, which require you to measure both the horizontal and vertical distances between eyelets, and also to remember what the square root symbol (√) means, and how to interpret parentheses in equations. Fieggen unapologetically admits that the formulas “are WAY more complex than most people would imagine!”
But they do work – and they provided me with the first opportunity in recent memory to use the square-root function on my calculator. (Or you can go to his website, which will do the calculating for you.)
It’s worth doing, one way or the other. I’m usually baffled when it comes to picking a length. I’m in the store, the shoes that need laces are at home, and how am I supposed to remember how many eyelets they have? Even if you can remember, Fieggen says the standard recommendations (of, say, 40” laces for shoes with 6 or 7 sets of eyelets) are woefully imprecise. Using his calculator, I was able to determine that the optimal length of lace for my walking shoes, which had been making do with disreputably pilly way-too-long and way-too-thick old bootlaces, is 39.7 inches.
Not that the CVS around the corner had a pair of 39.7” laces – or a pair of 40” laces, either, so I tried both 45” laces, which turned out to be almost as ridiculously too-long as the ones I was using, and 36” laces, which are a little short. They escape from the top two sets of lugs when you put the shoes on, but work fine once they’re tied, which I suppose is what counts.
– Patricia McLaughlin