Ricardo Sa Freire - Developing The Cookie FUEL
Cookie Composites was founded in 2003 by Jason Cook and Jeremy Hunt, in Australia, with the focus of manufacturing high quality skydiving head gear and accessories in small series. In 2006 the company decided to invest in their industrial design department. Since then new methods of product development and manufacturing were introduced, improving the products and allowing the brand to grow. Today Cookie's products can be found all over the globe.
Ricardo Sa Freire is one of the creative minds behind the very successful Cookie FUEL helmet. The talented industrial designer has been working with the guys at Cookie for almost a decade, having designed gear items that can be found in thousands of skydivers' inventory. We caught up with Ricardo to find out exactly what went on in the design and development process of the Cookie FUEL helmet.
Dropzone.com: When you were approached by Cookie to do this design, what was the high-level brief? In a nutshell, what did they want in terms of design, cost and market positioning?
Ricardo: I've had the opportunity of working with Cookie for the past eight years and together we have developed several products from helmets to accessories. All projects start the same way, we observe things. The market, the users, materials, new trends etc. Once we understand these factors we can begin to design something. In the case of the Fuel we knew it was time for us to design a new open face helmet that could provide all the great features it now does. We then set our minds to design the best open face helmet possible. It should be safe in the air, easy to customize and comfortable without forgetting about the aesthetics.
Dropzone.com: Talk us through the basic phases or steps that goes into designing a new helmet, from the initiation of the project to when the first products roll off the line.
Ricardo: Whenever you design an object, that will be directly used by a person, there are some steps you need to take. Considering that all your pre-project development is done (research and strategic decisions) you then start the conceptual phase. This is where the ideas and findings you previously came up with are explored. After filtering these ideas it's time to test them through models and prototypes. Once everything is up to our standards we move to pre-production, where we make a final assessment and give the final touches. During the whole process we have constant discussions over the concepts, looks, and solutions. We only move forward once the three of us are satisfied.
Dropzone.com: When you set out to design the FUEL, did you start from the proverbial "blank canvas" or did you build on concepts that you've looked at before?
Ricardo: The concept behind the Fuel was something that came up after a lot of talk between Jason Cook, Jeremy Hunt and myself. Way before we started designing it we knew all the features and options the helmet would have. When it came to the helmet's shape and looks we were very open about it, all we knew, was that, it had to tie up with the rest of our range specially the G3. We wanted people to put these helmets side by side and see they were related.
Dropzone.com: Working with Jason and Jeremy on the project, were there specific areas (build quality, comfort etc) where each individual focused,or was everyone involved with all aspects of the design?
Ricardo: All three of us have very different skill- sets and expertise, this allows us to cover a lot of ground during the development. Jason and Jeremy have the business/production engineering side of things really locked in. They know if we will be able to produce what we are developing in a realistic way and will also come up with elegant and intricate solutions like the G3's visor mechanism, the Fuel's cutaway chin-strap and may others. They are also skydivers, something I am not. I have been an industrial designer for more than a decade (designing mostly sports equipment) and I am very comfortable designing new products for the skydiving community. But even after learning so much about it by researching and talking to athletes I still trust their judgment when we are exploring options during development.
Dropzone.com: Is there any added pressure when designing a safety device, where a prototype may fail a strength test and require a change in design?
Ricardo: Cookie products are not safety devices however we understand the environment in which they will be used. We know how we want something to perform and shoot for that. Most of the times we get a better result than we were expecting but when we don't, we learn from it and come up with a better solution. The Fuel's cutaway chin-strap is a good example. After the concept was turned into a prototype and tested we realized that it held more weight than we expected and took less force to activate. So after testing it many times we realized that that was not ideal and decided to make some adjustments to have it performing exactly how we wanted.
Dropzone.com: Where did you look for inspiration when designing the Cookie FUEL? And do you find that you are more influenced by natural or industrial elements?
Ricardo: The Fuel's main design influence is its functionality. Of course we wanted a helmet that looked good but the final shape came from the idea of optimizing the features and comfort. So I wouldn't be able to choose only one of the two options. It is a tool with no unnecessary features like a turtle shell but it was though through down to it's minimal details like a high-tech component.
Dropzone.com: What are the various trade-offs that you have to keep in mind during the design process? Are there any specific ones you'd call out that was particularly difficult for this design?
Ricardo: Trade-offs are part of the design process and sometimes they can turn into improvements. During the development of the Fuel we came across moments were we had to choose between two directions but we normally do it after testing both so it never feels like you are missing something. But this also has a lot to do with the fact that we knew what we wanted to achieve from the beginning.
Dropzone.com: Did you arrive at a bunch of concepts from which you guys chose the final candidate or did you pretty much work on a single design and evolve it to where you ended up?
Ricardo: We have been working together for so long that we really understand each other and Cookie, as a brand, became what it is today because of this. The earlier projects had a lot of concepts and designs to choose from and that was necessary back then. But nowadays we have really matured in terms of design. We know how a Cookie product looks or should look, so now we focus on making it the best possible. And we will keep doing it.
Dropzone.com: What, in your opinion makes the FUEL stand out from other freefly helmet designs available on the market?
Ricardo: The Fuel delivers a lot in a low profile package. It's light, comfortable and allows you to customize it in a very fast and simple way. It is a helmet that will evolve according to your needs. You can choose to mount L&B or Alti-2 altimeters, side mount Sony or Contour cameras and top mount GoPro cameras by choosing between the classic snap or the snag-free Roller-Mount all this combined with a cutaway chinstrap. The only thing missing was a chin-cup. But I am happy to say that we have just finished the development of a completely new chin-cup and cutaway system that will be presented in the next week or so. We are currently building stock before starting to take orders so keep an eye in our Facebook page for more info.
Do you own a Cookie FUEL? Let us know what you think of the helmet.
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Got my FUEL two months back. Light weight, seriously comfy, and snap on GPro makes life great. Also, a very low profile mount of the GPro when mounted upside down towards the front.(topmount)
Old cam helmet a gonner now. The add on's are a bit pricey though.
Super comfortable helmet. Lots of thought went into all the mounting options to. Its pretty awesome having your audible facing outward. Easy to adjust and validate its working on the way up to altitude. Its compatible with a bunch of cameras as well. I don't fly with one yet, but I'd imagine it would be an amazing camera helmet.
Great looking helmet, viable mounting options but why so expensive?? With the low cost of mass production once again another grab for money. I could do the same with my Gath helmet at half the cost.
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