How to make a bike helmet desirable
How do we make bike helmets desirable among Dutch cyclists? Remco Bosch found a solution. "The safety argument doesn't work here, we already feel safe on our bikes," he says. For his graduation project, Remco looked at the needs and values of cyclists. That’s when he discovered that framing helmets as a lifestyle choice, not just a safety precaution could make the difference.
Do you wear a bike helmet? What about your friends? Your brother? Your Sister? Chances are none of you do. "We are spoilt," says Remco, a recent graduate of the Strategic Product Designer Master’s Programme at the TU Delft | Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. "The cycling infrastructure in our country is one of the safest in the world. So why wear a helmet?"
And yet, every year, there are 70,000 reasons why. The number of cycling accidents in the Netherlands continues to rise. In 2020, 70,000 people had to go to the hospital following a cycling accident, and of those people, 20% sustained a brain injury.
My research shows that the safety argument is not enough to convince cyclists to wear helmets. After all, they already feel safe on the road. This is why I put the user at the centre. What are their needs? What are their values?― Remco Bosch
Remco's research question, “How can we get cyclists to put on helmets?”, was commissioned by Erasmus Medical Centre; and supervised by associate professor Toon Huysmans and mentor Ianus Keller.
A bike helmet or an iPhone case?
Within his research, Remco discovered that there are quite a few other reasons why people don’t want to wear helmets. "Look at the helmets available on the market. They are mostly industrially designed safety objects, much like a protective case for your iPhone. Bike helmets are functionally designed and marketed that way. But my research shows that the safety argument is not enough to convince cyclists to wear helmets. After all, they already feel safe on the road. This is why I put the user at the centre of my research. What are their needs? What are their values?"
At the beginning of his graduation project, Remco considered incorporating certain features into the helmet. Features like audio, virtual reality, or augmented reality. But these didn’t seem to catch on. "For many people, cycling is a moment of relaxation. A way to clear your head. So extra entertainment features aren’t necessary."
The fashion-forward bike helmet
It soon became clear that symbolic product features would have an impact. These are features that express the user's lifestyle. Remco took this insight and ran with it. ''I started to see the bike helmet as a fashion item, which makes sense, as it is part of a cyclist’s outfit.''
"Based on my trend research, I defined a target group to design a bike helmet for. I came up with the influential group of people who cycle to work in their suit and tie. They have a good income, live in the city, and increasingly use an e-bike, which makes them more likely to wear a helmet." Remco named the target group the 'Bikes & Blazers', aka a stylish group that often sets trends, and consequently could start trend in bike helmets.
Remco studied what they wore, their outfits, shoes, and accessories such as bags, belts, and watches. "From there I selected elements that I then incorporated into my bike helmet designs. I found it particularly interesting to incorporate textiles into the helmets, which differentiates them from existing models. Above all, the helmets had to be beautiful. They couldn’t look like a product drawn by an engineer. They had to feel like more like a designer had sat down and created the helmet with pen and paper. The finishing touch is the signature on my final helmet design."
This goes beyond aesthetics. It's in the branding and the idea of a lifestyle that a product conveys. That is contagious to other people. Mechanisms like this can help make bike helmets 'desirable', sought-after.― Remco Bosch
Using generative AI, Remco designed several models, which he showed to the target audience. The responses were promising. Of the target group, 28.3% said they would consider wearing luxury helmets like this from brands such as Versace, Gucci, or Balenciaga. "This goes beyond aesthetics. It's in the branding and the idea of a lifestyle that a product conveys. That is contagious to other people. Mechanisms like this can help make bike helmets 'desirable', sought-after.”
A valuable reframing
Remco learned a lot from this project. "During my discussions with professional designers, they insisted on the fact that the new bike helmet had to be 'interesting', it had to add something. But in the end I opted for a very simple design. A reframing of an existing product can already be very valuable. I also had to move away from purely functional thinking, towards a user-centric approach. Take for example air holes in the helmet. At first glance, you don't see any in the final design. They are there, but they are hidden under a removable leather patch because in the winter they aren’t needed. All they will do is make your head unpleasantly cold."
For now, the helmet's final design is just a concept. But Remco is thinking ahead. "I would like to make a real prototype, together with fashion designers, and present it at Dutch Design Week in 2024. Who knows, it might one day hit the market. In the meantime, I hope I can show bike helmet manufacturers that their helmets don't need look like protective iPhone case.”