Why The Jordan Brand's Lead Designer Left Nike

Jason Mayden quit his job as a top Nike designer after a heartbreaking conversation with his son. Today he joins the startup Mark One.

Last last year, Jason Mayden—global design director for Nike’s Jordan brand—was prepping his children for bed with an homage to the famous Chicago Bulls chant ("What time is it? Jammy time!") when his 10-year-old son’s forlorn expression grabbed his attention.

"My son got out of the shower. He was getting dressed, staring at himself in the mirror. I looked at his face, and I saw a face of defeat," Mayden says. "I asked him why . . . he said, ‘I don’t love who I am.'"

Mayden realized he’d never grasped the psychological effect that obesity could have on a child. And he felt a sudden sense of urgency. He left Nike, he says, because it was "the natural choice that any father would make," to devote himself to finding the cause for his son's rapid weight gain. He wanted to understand why, though he’d thought his family was living a healthy lifestyle, his son was having difficulty breathing and sleeping. He studied nutrition, genetics, GMO food products, and the way families were eating. The culprit Mayden points to today, diagnosed after visiting several doctors, was his son's collection of food allergies and intolerances.

Six months later, Mayden decided to return to work. Ready to accept a nearly done deal with a private equity firm, he got a text message from Nic Barnes, the vice president of marketing at a new product studio called Mark One. The company was working on a new product called the Vessyl, a cup capable of automatically tracking what someone is drinking. "I took that as a sign," Mayden says.

Today, Mayden is joining Mark One as its first vice president of design. Having performed every conceivable design function in his 13 years at Nike—from drafting logos for Nike’s roster of famous athletes, to overseeing Nike’s digital platform, Nike+, to actually designing shoes—Mayden will need all those skills now, as his goal is to turn the Vessyl into a global brand.

Designed by Yves Béhar’s Fuseproject, the Vessyl will be released some time in 2015 and already has $1 million in presales (or 10,000 cups priced at $100 apiece). Its conceit is simple: While tracking what you eat is a tedious and guilt-ridden experience, Vessyl has a borderline sci-fi ability to automatically record the calories, sugar, and protein we consume in liquid form and send the results to your iPhone—an experience that fitness and wellness platforms like the Jawbone Up, another Béhar-designed project, are attempting to automate as well.

Right now, Vessyl's design is a tough sell. The cup has LEDs and a faceted finish, a significant departure from the organic curves and smooth, inviting finish of traditional glass and ceramic food ware. It will look odd to many outside the Silicon Valley bubble. I think the Vessyl is a cool piece of technology, grounded in a user experience that's core to the way we already eat, but I can't imagine it in the pages of a Crate & Barrel catalog, and that's a problem.

Mayden alludes to the company’s "exciting pipeline and roadmap" of products—what I imagine to include plates and even utensils (pretty much anything you already eat with that could be capable of quantifying your intake). His challenge will be to establish a strong brand identity—one that makes Vessyl something we’ll all want to hold in our hands, slather with our food, and stick in our mouths. And it wouldn't hurt if it complemented our napkin rings, either.

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  • Glenda Roberts

    Where can I get one of the cups? I will be happy to be part of the focus group. Email me at glendar@ouiworks.org. I know lots of people with chronic health problems that are fighting weight gain because of medication and changes in habits. I think there is a great market for these no matter what they look like.

  • 7/30/14 JD Brand Ambassador Innovative Thinker, Jason just wanted to say Blessing to your family, Which in all things come first over any job, taking care of family is the ultimate job, Much love to you always brother. JD:-)

  • Stephen Frans Uprichard

    Sorry but I seem to be missing the point here. Nice article, but from the offset isn't every fathers role to look after their children and without sounding negative shouldn't Mayden have know that his child had allergies if taken proper care of? I don't mean any of this to sound negative, however so many stories today are hyped up and from what I read here this is more a marketing opportunity for Vessyl than anything to do with a "heartbreakin" change because of his son. As mentioned I may be missing the point, but am I?

  • Sara Dworken Braunstein

    Major props to a smart dad who used his creativity, brand strategy, design smarts. etc... etc.. to do something smart and heathy. Even major creds for being a great dad, but here is the rub, and I can say this as a mom who has a pre-teen facing these battles every single day. The cup Jason engineered is an awesome tool in measuring what is going in but that is only a third of the battle in the fight against obesity. The other parts are being able to 1. be able to push away the bad stuff 2. increase the out-put of energy and 3. think of this cup as more than another cool 'app'. My 'tween' wore his fuel band for all of 3 months before manually decreasing his 'goal' just to see automatic success. At the end of the day, it is not the cup, but the drinker. Water is still king and Jason is still a prince for caring enough to reach out to a problem.

  • Joel Rodriguez

    Very admirable. Rarely do you see executive-level talent with their priorities straight. Credit to Nic Barnes for identifying top talent outside of his immediate industry and taking the risk... This type of intersection will give the brand/product fresh perspective from a marketing and distribution standpoint. Will be keeping a close eye on Vessyl and will consider purchasing if it can sync up with my Fuelband. Good post!

  • Aimee Marie Doyle

    It would be very helpful to have something that tracks the calories without having to manually input it to track. That's the main problem with the apps people have mentioned in previous comments; you have to input the calories without being completely certain the amount is actually correct. It's not going to end obesity altogether, but it may be helpful to have people realize the amount of calories one (liquid) item has.

  • A good story about the power of purpose. Yet if the product has a viable business model, right pricing and sound strategy to the market is quite another story.

  • Gareth Edwards

    Obesity is caused by one thing. Poor diet. No magic cup is going to stop a compulsive eater/drinker change a fundamental psychological trait. This cups gonna go the way of all other cupboard fillers.

  • I would have agreed until I tried out an app for calorie counting that you have to input info on your phone for all meals and try to keep within target daily calories, etc. After a few days, I found that I didn't eat something higher calorie because I wanted to keep my numbers in check and not go over. Seems simple and maybe stupid, but... it did help me achieve the goals I had set.

  • Edwina Owens Elliott

    I agree. Keeping your numbers in check, raising your score, whatever, is a motivator for many. No doubt.

  • Julie Scott

    As a woman who enjoys a cold beer, I would love this cup to help keep calories consumed in check. I love the design but wouldn't pay $199 for it! Great story and exciting concept.

  • LaSandra Rodriguez

    Love this father and family! I wish you the best of success in your new endeavor!