The Future of the Football Helmet

One of the most branded—and visible—pieces of sporting equipment in the world comes in the form of a football helmet. But that form hasn’t changed much over the years, leaving designers little wiggle room to create in this area of design neglect. But, evolution in the future of the football helmet may be on the horizon.

Dane Storrusten, founder of Gridiron Labs design studio and associate creative director at NFL in Los Angeles, built a case study for what a futuristic helmet could be in the next five years both in technology and design.“The idea wasn’t to come up with a new brand of football helmet … but more a case study on how we might see this thing evolve,” Storrusten says. He says that through new production materials, manufacturing processes and technology, this concept for a new helmet would be poised “to become the most prolific wearable device in sports. It is something on a guy’s head every single play of the game; it is something that players have to hear through, see through and, of course, a huge branding icon.”

It starts with technology. Really, it starts and ends with technology. With the innovation in GoPro-like cameras, Storrusten expects that within a few years we’ll have the ability to embed cameras on a helmet to give fans a player’s point of view at any stage of the gam. This would essentially be a portal for fans to get behind the eyes of the players. Expect more than just cameras, though. As technology continues to develop, the helmet could load with even more sensors than it has now, tracking movements, hits and collecting potential injury information. While helpful to the players and teams, it could also provide viewers a window into the sport through data.

Tech Doesn’t Need to Leave out a Design

“I think the part that gets lost is the branding component of helmets and how we still have decals or stickers on the helmet,”Storrusten says. Sure, some evolution has already happened with additional coloring, striping and even finishes. But Storrusten expects to see the paper-thin HD OLED display—or even E Ink—become tough enough to handle the rigors of football.

That technology then opens up all sorts of design possibilities. “Why wouldn’t the helmet shell eventually become a digital space for sponsorship, for branding the team?” he says. From there, it gets more interesting when you build in animation. Maybe have key sponsorship moments where brands can flash their logo on the helmet, such as close-ups of the huddle to make advertising more integrated and interesting. Or maybe you have player helmets give the feel of the game. If Odell Beckham Jr. catches six balls in the first half for over 100 yards, does his helmet light up to show off that he’s red hot?

Really, it comes down to the fact that Storrusten wants to explore how the helmet surface can become an interactive fan component. “I think those boundaries will get pushed a little more,” Storrusten says. “It is not about slapping a digital logo on the helmet, but how does it become this alive version of the brand?”

Pushing the Boundaries of Design Neglect

“It is healthy to look for areas of design neglect and the things we have accepted as law and start pushing boundaries on these,”Storrusten says. “The more you can visualize in a semi-realistic way, the more it becomes believable and you can get the conversation going.”

Whether evolution of the football helmet comes in the way Storrusten envisions it or in a completely different form is for the future to decide. Either way, it will take designers creating for the future to turn neglect into reimagined.

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