In a collaboration with Hamburg-based design agency MUTABOR and BMW Motorrad me and my team developed the "Shapeshifter", a concept for a motorcycle helmet of the future. One of the biggest tasks was to combine this very futuristic approach with our target user group, the traditional and cool "Heritage" drivers, who have more of a "back to the roots" take on motorcycling.
As of now motorcycle helmets focus on keeping the driver safe more than anything else. Yet, for "heritage" drivers, riding their bike is a very emotional and passionate experience. It's about totally being absorbed into the ride, concentrating all their senses on the road.
This paradox is exactly what inspired us to come up with the "Shapeshifter". The Shapeshifter intensifies the driving experience rather that taking away from it, by merging the dynamic feel of a flexible system with pure emotion.
Forced by the Covid-19 pandemic we had to do a big chunk of our work remotely.
For me, teamwork and a shared creative space can have a huge impact on the quality and creative value of ideas. But, low and behold, with the help of some out-of-the box thinking, a well-thought-out remote workflow and a few digital products like Trello and InVision that served as a pretty stable alternative to analog post-it-walls and whiteboards we managed to work it out.
Since we unfortunately couldn't do any on-site user research we settled for an online survey and some social media research.
We asked questions targeted to the survey participants usual biking routine, their equipment and preferred routes, but also to their personalities and approach to their biking hobby.
Additionally we looked for potential user insights in the internet, specifically social media. We read posts and comments in online forums and watched videos from different biking channels on YouTube. This is where I learned to appreciate YouTube as a potentially very rich source of just-add-water user shadowing!
In the next step we condensed our research findings into some user-related deliverables like customer journey maps and personas. While we used most of our survey findings for our personas, the journey maps were heavily influenced by the videos we found online.
During our research we noticed that a lot of the key characteristics of the "Heritage" user group can't easily be put into words. To give a more accurate representation and to reflect the "vibe" we were getting from "Heritage" drivers, we created a mood board.
After reviewing all the concept ideas we gathered until this point we eventually decided on the Shapeshifter. It most closely fitted what we had found out about our users: It was based on the idea to be adaptable and flexible, so that certain experiences and moments of a drive, like driving at fast speeds or being on the hunt for the perfect curve, could be enhanced in the best possible way. That also became the most important unique selling point of this concept. The helmet should intensify the driving experiences by supporting and enhancing the emotional and fun part of the drive.
To build a shared understanding on how the design of our helmet could look like eventually we created a series of moodboard. They contained a lot of different impulses and focused on different aspects of the helmet, from the HUD all the way to the outer material.
For this we tried to always keep the two worlds we wanted to combine in harmony: the emotional, "sunset"-kind-of-vibe of Heritage as well as the futuristic nature of the project. We looked to nature a lot for the emotional part and noticed a lot of interesting concepts like the flexible but protective skin of reptiles or the not-quite-transparency of water. On the contrary we took inspiration from Science Fiction and trippy, futuristic particle effects.
This all led to the mix of styles we then applied to our concept.
The Shapeshifter takes your ride to the next level. Explained in one sentence, the Shapeshifter intensifies your ride by merging the dynamic feel of an interchangeable system with pure emotion.
The name says it all: The Shapeshifter is in more than one way a dynamic and flexible system. It's adaptable to all key user experiences we discovered in the research phase.
This is most recognizable in the concepts two major components: The outer shell of the helmet and the User Interface. The surface of the helmet consists of seperate parts, that are partially able to move and shift around.
Same goes for the UI: All elements are fully flexible. They have an anchor point to which they return to if needed, but most of the time they are placed in a way that is least distracting to the driver. Also, it features a generative pattern, that really only is perceived in the peripheral vision of the driver and serves as a supporting entity to the movement of the helmet itself.
This ever-present dynamic serves all sorts of purposes. To see this in action, check out the Shapeshifter's key features I described below.
Freedom and taking in their natural surroundings come first for heritage drivers. The already enlarged visor of the Shapeshifter moves with the driver and and their movements. The flexible parts on the outer shell move with your viewing direction, giving you the feeling you're not even wearing a helmet.
Pure Focus on the Road
Every motorcyclist knows the breathtaking feeling of driving at fast speeds. The world around you seems to merge and your attention is focused on the road - completely. The Shapeshifter intensifies this feeling even more by moving the fins on the outer shell inward, creating even more focus on what counts. At the same time, the helmet itself molds it's outer shell to be more aerodynamic and reducing air resistance.
Like a Rollercoaster
For a lot of drivers, a big motivation is the search for the perfect curve. The Shapeshifter tries to make EVERY turn feel like the perfect one by focussing the view and intensifying the feeling of leaning into curves.
The UI mirrors this by creating a wave-like motion.
Most prominently light is used for safety purposes in other helmets. As you've probably guessed, the Shapeshifter uses this aspect not only to ensure safety, but more to add to the experience.
The light on the outer shell moves with the dynamic of the drive and adapts to it's environment, not only looking super cool but also merging the helmet with the driving experience even more.
The same is true for the UI. Instead of being very prominent and always in view, it too adapts it's look and feel to the current environment and the drive.