Gear Shift: A Product Designer’s Journey for Good Motocross Gear

Damien Zuniga
9 min readMay 13, 2024

Why, oh why, did I decide to redesign motocross helmets? Maybe it was the thrill of the ride, or perhaps just the thrill of trying something outrageously different in design. Let’s be honest, at the time, after a year of career upheaval, my brain decided the best way to jump back into design was to mesh it with my newfound passion for off-roading. Because if you’re going to do something new, why not make it as challenging and fun as possible?

This story begins in a motorcycle store, where I find myself on a quest for the perfect helmet to wear on my next off-roading excursion. It had been a bit since I took on a recent creative project, and while I was just starting to regain traction in my design career, I just couldn’t get a new hobby I had picked up out of my mind:

[Good representation of my hobby — though my skill level might be slightly off.]

Standing before an array of helmets, I was struck by the uninspired color palettes — endless variations of grey, black, white, and brown, with only a few splashes of red and blue. In this world of adventure and exhilaration, all I felt was conformity and motonony. Unbeknownst to me, this moment of frustration would soon spark a wave of creativity and lead to the birth of an entirely new campaign and product idea..

This is where imagination meets reality — previewing the transformative journey from concept to 3D realization in Cinema 4D

Three weeks from that moment, the concept swirling in my mind would finally grace my canvas. Recently, I’d ventured into the realm of Cinema 4D — a 3D modeling software that promised to elevate my design capabilities. Despite the daunting learning curve, the thrill of transforming my designs from flat, boring sketches into dynamic, three-dimensional models was profoundly satisfying (to say the least). Mastery of this tool wasn’t just a goal — it was a necessity.

First Few Weeks: Discover, research, iterate

So there I was, inspired, by my MacBook, brainstorming a helmet redesign for young, vibrant 20-somethings with a heart for adventure and a mind for design. I could see it now. Imagining these helmets featured on billboards and in digital campaigns. It was thrilling. Yet, one question remained:

Could I design a motorcycle helmet that I riders would actually want to wear?

It was the first true hurdle in my quest for greatness. My thoughts not only challenged my design acumen, but also compelled me into the diligent phase of market and consumer research, where understanding the product and its audience became paramount. It wasn’t just going to be a great product campaign in the industry, it was going to be the greatest product campaign ever created. I would set the bar high, or die trying.

UNDERSTAND THE PRODUCT

The journey began with a deep dive into the current landscape of sleek, trendy helmet designs. In the world of motocross, giants like Fox and Bell stood out for their impeccable designs and attention to detail, setting a high bar for my project. Their clean, innovative styles weren’t just products; they were statements. Yet, while incredibly sleek and forward in their design, their styles remained very subtle, very muted, and a bit too sleek in their portrayal.

In the world of motocross, giants like Fox and Bell stood out for their impeccable designs and attention to detail..

This exploration was not merely about identifying trends but also about recognizing opportunities where I could bridge the gap between functionality and flair.

Grasping the Culture

As I delved deeper into my research, I realized I needed a brand that not only excelled in the industry but also had a rich history and a strong heritage to it’s location. I was drawn to the vivid and adventurous spirit of the ’80s motocross era — its bold colors and dynamic designs encapsulated the essence I wanted to capture.

Where can I find THESE helmets!?

In my research, I discovered FMF, a brand that epitomized motocross passion and heritage. Founded in 1973 in Southern California, FMF wasn’t just a manufacturer; it was a motocross institution known for performance and innovation. And they had just unveiled a new lineup of motorcycle products titled: POWER CORE — Coincidentally the perfect name for this new helmet design. Who knew?

Celebrated for its high-performance motorcycle parts and deep roots in the motocross community, FMF ticked all the boxes: an amazing legacy, strong product positioning, a direct connection to SoCal, and the potential to be excellent inspiration for design work.

Understanding the Process

Choosing FMF as my inspiration marked the beginning of an exhilarating phase: giving their classic logo a modern update to connect with a younger audience. This task of refreshing FMF’s visual identity was not just about aesthetic enhancement but also about aligning the brand with contemporary sensibilities.

Subtle, yet very refined!

The redesign focused on subtle yet impactful changes: maintaining the prominence of the ‘M’ cap height, tightening the letter-spacing for a more cohesive look, dropping the ‘So Cal’ descriptor for a streamlined look, and refining the oblong-encased oval mark to modernize the logo without losing its iconic essence.

The hard work: Designing within constraints

The initial phase of design was crucial for establishing creative boundaries that would drive the project. To streamline my efforts and ensure the final product was both aesthetically pleasing and functional, I set three specific constraints that would guide the entire design process. These constraints were essential in shaping the scope and direction of the project:

  1. Model Availability: I chose a helmet style for which a 3D model was readily available, ensuring fast practicality in design execution.
  2. Thematic Adherence: Each design iteration was required to strictly embody the vibrant and bold aesthetics of the ’80s, reflecting the era’s distinctive style.
  3. Color Scheme: The designs had to incorporate FMF’s signature bright colors, maintaining brand identity while appealing to modern tastes.
Iterative process starting with first designs on the left to finalized design on the right.

My final design satisfied all three constraints: it used the Bell Moto-9 model, featured an 80s aesthetic with a setting sun and a retro-landscape, included signature checkered patterns for racing inspiration, and used FMF’s bright yellow and deep red colors with a splash of cyan.

At the end of the first weeks: Design, design, design!

Having settled on a design that met my constraints, I quickly moved on to 3D modeling and product mocking. This process could get very messy, but it needed to move quickly, so I defined a list of challenges I needed to tackle as the solo director, designer, and manager:

  1. Defining Success and Scope
  2. Streamlining the Design Workflow
  3. Define the process and activities
Process was about the same.

1. Defining Success and Scope

Since this was speculative work with no real stakeholders, it was crucial to define success in a way that would translate to the success of this campaign. The work had to be developed iteratively, involving feedback from people within the target demographic. This included interviewing friends who also off-roaded, eliciting their feedback on certain posters and helmet designs, and asking others if these items were something they would value or even want to purchase.

2. Streamlining the Design Workflow

I started by defining printed materials first, as these could take longer in a real campaign to produce. This began with defining printed collateral to be produced, then digital assets, such as product mocks for inventory, and social media content for marketing.

Content had to be pixel-perfect, as much of the digital collateral would need to be transferred from Adobe Illustrator to Adobe Photoshop for billboard mocks.

3. Define the process and activities

Defining this process needed to be streamlined and efficient. With the scope of deliverables defined, collateral would start accumulating quickly. I needed to define not just the types of posters produced but also the spec sizes for the posters and billboard mocks, along with technical files associated with the product mock in Cinema 4D. Finally, I structured the campaign around four main activities:

These four activities — user research, product design, copywriting, and creative direction — were crucial to supporting the overall brand design. User research ensured the designs resonated with the target audience. Product design integrated practical and aesthetic elements. Copywriting crafted compelling narratives to complement the visuals. Creative direction ensured all elements aligned with the campaign’s vision and goals.

The Result: More Than Just Aesthetics

After weeks of relentless design and refinement, the project culminated in a series of outputs: a UV-mapped 3D model of the helmet, a digital magazine spread, social media content, and more. Each piece not only aligned with the vibrant FMF brand but also echoed the adventurous spirit of motocross:

Post-Renders, Pre-Production
Magazine complete with a product highlight on center-fold.
Posters on display, mocked on a billboard with a mocked website landing page to the right.
Three unique kick-off posts for Instagram

In the end, the project was a hit amongst my network and motocross enthusiasts alike, garnering acclaim for its creative vision and execution. It even received a shoutout from the son of FMF’s founder, Donny Emler Jr.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Combining a deep understanding of a brand’s history with forward-looking design can revitalize its image and market presence.
  2. Integrating user feedback is instrumental in refining designs to better meet the needs and preferences of the target audience.
  3. A structured approach to design and production can streamline processes and ensure high-quality outcomes.

This project was not merely a testament to my design skills; it served as a profound reminder of the transformative power of meticulous visual storytelling. Each helmet, each design iteration reaffirmed my dedication to blending bold aesthetics with functional innovation. Want to see more? Think you would buy this? Dive into My Portfolio and tell me more about it!

Damien Zuniga is an avid adventurer, photographer, and creative known for his dedication to his craft, his bikes, and his wit. If he’s not out looking for inspiration, then he’s probably inside making some. Or asleep.

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Damien Zuniga
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A kid who loves adventures, branding, and surfing in his free time. Maybe surfing a bit too much lately.