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5 Design Principles That Helped This Brand Grow—And Save Lives (2024)

by California Digital News


Thousand founder Gloria Hwang never used to wear a helmet while commuting on her bike. She thought they looked a little goofy—and too “I’m a serious biker”—for riding to work.

But when a friend died in a bike accident, Gloria decided she could design a better helmet. “If you can make a helmet people actually want to wear, you can help save lives,” she says.

That philosophy has always been at the heart of Gloria’s company. Even the name—Thousand—is a reference to the company’s mission to save 1,000 lives of people on wheels.

Thousand surpassed that milestone last year. The company has a lifetime replacement policy, where it will send customers a new helmet for free if theirs is damaged in an accident. Thousand sent out its 1,000th replacement under the policy last year. “It was a really special moment in the company, just knowing that every day, we are achieving our mission,” Gloria says.

To do so, Gloria knew she needed to design helmets more people would wear. Ahead she shares design principles that helped her grow Thousand. 

5 design principles to guide your brand

Gloria wearing a Thousand helmet in front of a bridge
Gloria says she stopped riding a bike for a while after her friend’s accident because she couldn’t find a helmet she liked—and she didn’t feel safe without one. Thousand

To sell enough helmets to reach the 1,000 replacement goal, Thousand had to grow the market for helmets. “It’s not just to invite people who are currently wearing helmets,” Gloria says. “The goal is, at the end of the day, can you get people to wear helmets for the first time.”

Here’s how she went about designing helmets for new users.

1. Don’t sacrifice style for safety

Gloria found that recreational bikers didn’t necessarily want all the bells and whistles of other helmets on the market. Above all, they want something that was functional and safe.

Gloria worked with an industrial designer to create a helmet that met safety standards but leaned into a more minimalist and retro-inspired design. “There’s a way to elevate style so you’re proud to wear the products,” Gloria says.

2. Give customers the opportunity to personalize

Gloria says customers started picking Thousand helmets over other brands because the products better fit their personality. The company leaned into this by offering more customization options like colors and monograms. “It’s all centered around this idea of, “How can products help you express your personal style?’” Gloria says.

3. Build in convenience

Another pain point for many helmet wearers is that they have to lug it around. There’s often not a safe way to leave a bike helmet with the bike. 

That’s why Thousand patented the PopLock. It’s a feature built into the helmet that gives riders a way to attach the helmet to a bike lock. Plus, if the helmet ever does get stolen, Thousand will replace it for free.

4. Make your products inclusive

A man and woman wearing Thousand helmets talking with their bikes outside<
A slight majority of Thousand’s customers are women, even though most bike riders in the US are men. Thousand

Part of expanding the market for helmets was designing a product that would appeal to everyone. 

Gloria says Thousand has intentionally created more inclusive products—and not just by offering a wider range of colors. She says most small bike helmets don’t actually fit women because they weren’t designed for them. “Our size range really takes into account different head shapes and genders,” Gloria says. 

5. Iterate, iterate, iterate

Gloria says it’s important for founders to be the advocate for their customers, especially when working with manufacturers. Even if a design may be more arduous or complicated for a manufacturer, it will pay to push for the features you really want. 

Thousand often goes through many iterations to find just one piece of their product. “We’ll sample 10 different versions of a similar color to settle on the final one we want,” Gloria says.

Still, the final version may change again after customer feedback. For example, Thousand’s popular Heritage helmet is on its second version.

After finding success designing helmets, Thousand is planning to use the same design principles to put its own spin on other bike and travel accessories.

To learn more about how Thousand used design to make safety products more approachable, listen to Gloria’s full interview on Shopify Masters.


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