Best in Category - Digital Design 2023

Nike 50th Anniversary - Never Done Evolving

AKQA / Nike

Harnessing advanced AI and machine learning, Nike and AKQA created a match between 1999 Serena Williams and 2017 Serena Williams.

Nike, together with AKQA studios in Melbourne, Portland and São Paulo travelled back in time to create a match-up between Serena from her first Grand Slam win at the 1999 US Open and her most recent at the 2017 Australian Open.
The goal was to gain insight on how Serena got to where she is today and how she keeps challenging the future.

Harnessing the power of advanced AI and machine learning, we were able to model each era’s playing style: decision making, shot selection, reactivity, recovery and agility based on archival footage.

Design Brief:

On August 9 2022, Serena Williams announced her retirement from tennis. As a brand that made up a fundamental part of her career story, Nike decided to launch a tribute in the form of a study, showcasing what it takes to stay on top for over two decades.

Our goal was to reveal the evolution needed to become the greatest of all times, in order to honour the former tennis player and inspire younger generations.

This project was developed by:

  • AKQA
  • Nike

Design Process

Two days after Serena Williams announced her retirement, Nike released the result of a year-long study that showcased her evolution as an athlete and allowed her to stay on top for over two decades.

By analysing all data and footage from official tournaments throughout Serena's career, we were able to use machine learning to model each era’s distinct style and behaviour, and create the most accurate virtualisation of an athlete’s style ever developed.

We used a technique adapted from Stanford University’s ‘vid2player’ system to animate these models, crafting a compelling new scenario where two versions of Serena played against each other.

Finally, we generated over 130,000 games to assess how each Serena would perform against the other, developing a rich database of statistics and player insights that gave us a novel view into how her game evolved throughout her storied career.

Design Excellence

To make the experience accessible and inspiring to tennis and Serena fans around the world, we packaged the player generations into a live virtual match that simulated the full experience of a tennis match: including sound effects, commentators, technical analysis and more.

The matches serve as a step towards a future of sports analytics expressed in a more intuitive format. They provide a fresh, engaging medium for experts and fans to understand and interpret data, and to discover new insight into how one of tennis’s greatest athletes became, and sustained, her status as the greatest of all time.

Never Done Evolving is more than a tribute and more than a study designed in the form of avatars. It's the most accurate and detailed virtualization ever done with an athlete.

Design Innovation

The technology underlying ‘Never Done Evolving’ invites us into the shoes of our idols, and allows us to experience their decision-making, their triumphs, and their struggles.

‘Never Done Evolving’ stands apart from existing solutions due to its unique combination of advanced machine learning technology, performance tracking, and immersive storytelling. While most sports technologies focus primarily on quantitative data, our project delves deeper into the quality of athlete performance. It translates intricate details of an athlete's evolution into an interactive, visceral experience for fans of all ages and skill levels.

Furthermore, by providing unparalleled insight into Serena's playing style across her career, it sets the blueprint for identifying and nurturing the future stars of sports. The data-driven insights obtained from this project hold immense potential for improving training and performance in both amateur and professional arenas, positioning ‘Never Done Evolving’ at the forefront of sports science and athlete development.

Design Impact

The live virtual match saw an increase of 1082% in organic views compared to other Nike content. It broke all Nike's organic views records on YouTube. And more than that, Nike is now applying this study's data not only to improve their products' technology, but also to improve their athletes' performance across sports.

The final gameplay was broadcasted to the public as a YouTube livestream reaching over 1.69 million of Nike’s subscribers. Lead up to the live event included social media posts promoting the broadcast across Nike’s Instagram and Twitter channels.

The result was seeing both Serena’s play each other for 130,000 games and 5,000 matches, enough tennis matches to stream for an entire year if played back-to-back.

Media placements received over 12 million impressions, and was published in outlets including AdAge, Fast Company, and People.

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GetMee - Balendran Thavarajah / AMES Australia - Mirta Gonzalez- General Manager of Education / VFS Global- Harpreet Singh- Global Lead- Australia and New Zealand Regional Head / VFS Global / Deakin University- Dr. Pubudu Pathirana & Carol Doyle- CEO You Study International College / GetMee Anjali Kushwah - Experience Designer