Initiated in MA Konstfack
Aesthetics, Behavior, Infrastructure, Design methods, Artistic research
Helmut Eng is exploring the paradox of bike helmets – suggesting to push for a market with diverse aesthetics, inviting more people to bike.
Johanna Fors Sjögren, Loove Broms, Martha Brauer, Louise Labanino, Lina Lagström, Karin Rubing, Moa Engström
January 15, 2016
Helmut Eng is exploring the paradox of bike helmets; in case of an accident, while riding a bike, a helmet will reduce the risk of brain dammage with 40 % – yet research has shown that a cutback in potential dammage (that the helmet provides) can motivate the biker and other road users to a more reckless behavior. How is that related?
Paul DiMaggio claims aesthetics influence behaviors – an identity marker that facilitates interactions and helps constructing social relations. What kind interactions does the current aesthetics of bike helmets facilitate? There are more or less two options available on the market (streamline and skate), both designed to function in extremsports. Applying the design in everyday life, without adjustments to the needs of the commuter(s) could be a trip on
thought, as the social aspects of the different road users seems to be absent in that design process. How could protection be designed to reduce the risks when riding bikes? Can a diversity of aesthetics redeem the paradox?
We are experiencing a time when more habitants of Stockholm choose to commute by bike. 70 % of the bikers in Stockholm are already wearing a helmet, but still 18 000 bikers choose not to. What kind of behaviors and what type of bikers are endorsed by the available helmet designs? Helmut Eng suggest a collection of helmets that push for a market with diverse aesthetics, inviting more people to bike, helping to enable the shift of focus, from cars to bikes in the planning of the city infrastructure.
Since forever the helmet has been carried in various situations and perceived to protect the scull. Mercury – who among other things, act as the God of communication in roman times, thought the only thing he needed to protect him during the heavy work as a God, was in fact a helmet!
But research has shown that the bike helmet, that we thought to be protecting from severe dammage, in fact might trigger a more reckless behavior when riding a bike, and could therefore cause heavy head injuries anyways. So, how could protection be designed to reduce the risks when riding bikes?
Should it communicate safety, rather than being safe? Or should it be another type of gear, like Hövding suggests? If the helmet, that we thought of as risk elimination, rather makes us reckless, perhaps adding certain elements of risks could inspire to a more cautious behavior?
To some people a typical helmet of today with a streamline shape, seems to provoke a dorky feeling. Is it the size that scales the scull up to disproportionate? Or could it be its extrem sport references that has little to do with Average Joe and Jane commuting to work? And why is it that this style completely rules the market?
The only competitor to the walnutty streamline design, more or less, is a sort of shell, originally designed for another extremsport – namely skating. It has been adapted by many city bikers, but functioning a bit like a thermos dosen’t make it a champion in the bike helmet league.
Many bikers seems to be refusing helmets due to its annoying volume. Some few designs with folding and deconstructing packaging systems and other creative solutions like Hövding have reached the market, but they are not even close to the complete dynasty of walnuts and shells. Why?
The explorative part of the project was developed by traveling along the axis’s of three perspectives; Risk, Visibility and Freedom. By asking the question “what would increase or decrease the purpose of protection”, sketches and prototypes was created to trigger conversations about being in traffic.
The prototypes was exposed to Stockholm based workshop participators, who first created a story of their everyday bike journey and secondly applied imaginations of how their story would change wearing the different prototypes. With the insights we could relate the different prototypes and its potential effect on traffic by imagining how they feel, affect the speed when biking.
Through out the workshops a pattern could be discerned, which also corresponds to what some research say; it seems to be a a sort of “bike hierarchy” based on speed in relation to type of helmet and other gear that the biker wear. This hierarchy suggets that people without helmets are perceived as the most cautious ones. Then, the middle segment, people wearing a helmet but are still perceived as fairly cautious as they seems to have a slower pace in the traffic. And at last, the lycra-dudes, perceived to be the bossy and most reckless bikers.
But the hierarchy cannot be seen as an argument of not wearing helmet, as the non-helmet bikers probably are perceived as more cautious in relation to the bikers with helmets. From these insights we could relate the different prototypes and its potential effect on traffic by imagining how they feel, look and further more if they would increase or decrease the speed when biking.
The conversations acted as the fundamental material on which the proposals are developed from, above all reactions from three specific prototypes; the freedom banana, the carbon fibre mushroom and the wig helmet. The first for its many qualities; the portability, its elegance, its sportiveness, its proportionate size and the allowance for the wind. Secondly, the mushroom, close to a regular helmet, yet breaking the contract to of speed in its surface. And thirdly, the wig helmet, for its positive connotation encouraging interaction such as smiles, nods and greetings – confirmations thought as important in traffic.
In contrast to the helmet designs that are developed to function in extremsports, Helmut Eng is creating a design process that include social aspects of traffic, why it is challenging the current norms of aesthetics perceived as safe.
However the current proposals are not yet designed to correspond the safety standards. Producing a helmet that fulfills the regulations will
influence the aesthetics of the proposals, as it, among other things, talk about material and thickness of layers. Hence, the project is aiming for a second iteration to explore the regulations in detail, so they can become incorporated in the design process through another round of workshops.