I barely know anything about motorcycles, let alone motorbike helmets, but the designs by Nuno Henriques, founder of Hello Cousteau, appeared to me like design pieces more than anything else.
“Helmet designers design stuff for helmets; I design stuff that looks cool on a helmet, but would also look cool on something else.”
It is evident that the aesthetics of Hello Cousteau is very different from what is now being offered in the market. His works are particularly interesting to me because you can recognize his style easily, but you can’t quite find the word to define it. They appear to be a great mash up of different techniques and inspirations found in the vast world of design. Even though his designs are placed on a helmet, they are not restricted by the medium at all.
Image: Credit to Sean MacDonald @seanmacd
Image: His first ever helmet
i) Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Can you tell us how you have expanded into designing graphics on motorcycle helmets?
Well I am an interior designer, yet I’ve started my career working as an industrial designers in Stuttgart – Germany; then I moved to Copenhagen – Denmark – where I’ve worked as a product designer and ended up in Paris – France – where I’ve started working as an interior designer in a high-end studio. I’ve designed a bit of everything, from toothpicks to 160-meters mega-yachts. Right now I run my own interior design studio. I’ve started designing helmets for a simple reason. Some time ago I was looking for a new helmet and I could not find a single one I fancy. I mean, there are amazing helmet models available, yet the graphics that helmet companies offer are terrible. The helmets available are so complicated and quite dated. You either get crazy tribal patterns or something that is a mix of power metal and Power Rangers. Or, of course, the silly racing helmets with a dumb caricature on the back of the helmet… I had to find my own alternative. That is how Hello Cousteau was born.
ii) What is unique about your designs?
I don’t think I have a particular style or signature, even though my helmets are quite easy to identify in the middle of others. I try not to follow a specific fashion or hype. I try to design what comes into my mind. I believe my main difference to other helmet designers is that they are trying to make something very track-oriented. I mean, if you check Moto GP riders helmets, they all look the same. Mines are a bit different. Probably more organic and less computer based. Something I try to do is to make small “imperfections” in my designs, otherwise they would seem to be designed by a computer. Helmet designers design stuff for helmets; I design stuff that looks cool on a helmet, but would also look cool on something else. I try to complement the helmet in a different way.
iii) Can you share with us an interesting story with a customer that you have had?
I am creating amazing relationships with my clients. I cannot tell you certain things otherwise I would get in trouble, but I can tell you about certain clients that approach me asking this and that. Extremely specific on what they want. Then I just ask them: why do you need me at all? It’s kind of funny, because I am a designer and not a helmet painter, even though I can provide both services. Of course I need to have some input from my clients, yet I don’t allow the client to have the full power over the creative process. Sometimes I take weeks discussing this and that and changes here and there and then we end up with the first proposal. It’s always a laugh in the end.
iv) We are particularly attracted to the way you select your colors. Can you tell us a bit about your creative process?
Nature is my inspiration. Really. I try not to pan-dan the colors. For instance, if you check birds of paradise like the ‘lophorina superba’ or the ‘paradisaea rudolphi’ you get amazing colors and textures. The nature has billions of examples like this. Since I was a little kid I was always very interested in animals and biology in general. My grandfather always loved birds and animals and I’ve followed his path. I’m a sucker for this and I have hundreds of biology books at home. I don’t think I have a single graphic design book though. My interior design work has cues of this of course, but only in small details. I might have a living room with pastel tones and beiges everywhere, but then I could have a small detail exploding with color, like a piece of art or some pillows, etc.
One thing is certain, I always try to bring some kind of organic feel to my work. Another thing that inspires me is music. I listen to music all the time, mostly jazz. Music affects you deeply on the way you feel. If you check my work regularly it’s not always happy-happy-joy-joy. Sometimes it gets more mellow and dark. My designs are affected by my mood and that is a huge part in the creative process. Since I am not designing something following precise design briefings, sometimes my emotions and feelings at the moment take control of this process.
v) Which design is your favorite and have you ever had a ‘failed’ design?
A failed design? Most of my designs are absolute fails, yet I keep trying all the ideas that run into my mind. I keep notebooks with sketches and some of them are terrible from scratch one, yet I always try them before I dump them. Sometimes the ones that I think that won’t work are the ones that will work the best. The opposite also happens. I’d say that around 80% or more of the helmets I design are sent to trash. My favorite design is always the next one. If I can easily identify my favorite one, then I don’t have the motivation to do more.
vi) To you, what makes a good helmet design?
Good question. A good helmet design for me must be something that looks cool on you and that makes you feel good and special. It’s something that shows a certain individuality and not uniformity. I particularly like the ones with bright colors or black and white. Not only they look cool but they are also quite helpful in case of a crash. You get way more visibility to cars around you. So, it’s almost like a form and function thing, yet with a certain style. Like Miles Davis used to say: “Music and life are all about style”. Helmets should be like this too.
vii) What was the biggest struggle you have faced when you started doing helmet designs?
The big struggle is with helmet companies. People want new designs. I get dozens of emails and contacts everyday of people asking where to buy this one and that one. Yet, companies keep doing the same thing over and over again. I’ve had a few chats with some brands that were interested in my work. They know my style is quite particular compared to theirs, yet they insisted on sending me their own design briefings. If I had followed those briefings I would end up designing exactly the same old boring helmets that the market is tired of. It’s a vicious circle and almost no one has the guts to stop it. It’s quite tough to work this way. Of course, there is the possibility of custom jobs, but everything that is not mass produced can get extremely high prices and this is something I cannot control. It’s really a bummer… Another thing that kind of bothers me are the copycats. I mean, I was shown so far at least three dudes in Indonesia selling my own helmet designs and I’ve found a bunch of other Instagram accounts with stuff extremely similar to mine. I prefer not to design anything to copy somebody else’s work. I mean, if you have nothing new to say, you might as well just shut up. Right?
viii) You have a great following on Instagram, what Instagram accounts do you personally follow and would recommend to us and our readers?
Yeah, my Instagram following is growing up slowly, yet the thing I dig the most is that even though I don’t have a million followers, the ones I have usually interact with me. Either commenting my stuff regularly or contacting me directly by private message. It’s pretty cool. I don’t follow that many people. I specially don’t follow any helmet designers because I don’t want to be influenced in any way and I really don’t care. I mostly follow moto brands, fashion brands like Hermés, Saint Laurent, etc; art galleries like Gagosian, Saatchi, etc. I really dig Instagram accounts like RetroGP, Petrolicious, Artspace, 1stdibs, etc…
viv) Apart from helmets, do you wish to design other products as well?
Oh yes! I have a million ideas. I have hundred of sketches for helmet designs, but I have much more stuff for other areas, mainly clothing. I also have a lot of sketchbooks full of designs featuring yachts, motorcycles, furniture and lighting. I wish I had eight arms and 48 hours days. Unfortunately time is short and I just can concentrate on a couple of things each time. If I had the time I could easily fill up a bunch of other ‘Hello Cousteau’ Instagram accounts.
Image: Nathan Verdugo (Credit to Sean MacDonald @seanmacd)
x) Do you have a design motto? Who has inspired you the most?
Not really a design motto, but more like a life motto: “if you can do it, I can do it”. It’s almost like the renowned “if you can dream it, you can do it”. But the thing is, I truly believe that there is nothing you can’t do if someone else has done it too. There are no better designers or better doctors or better footballers. If you concentrate on something you really want to do, you can achieve it. It won’t be by magic forces but a lot of work, but you can accomplish anything.
The two people who inspired me the most are my Father and my Grandfather. They came from very small villages with no one to help them around and managed to do great things in life. Not only they managed to succeed professionally, but they also left an important mark on the people that crossed their paths. It’s a heavy burden to carry, but I wish I can leave such legacy when I leave this world. Also, my Father was an avid painter and did some outstanding statues, even though he was a physician he had a great skill and love for the art world.
For more information, visit his homepage www.hellocousteau.com