OFIR ATIA
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Neuvoir Fencing Mask

Neuvoir (new - vwar) stands for "new vision." The Head and Neck Support system introduces innovation to the historic sport of fencing. Neuvoir enhances both visibility and performance while protecting the user holistically. 

 

Research & Strategy / Product Design

 
 

Neuvoir

 
 

Neuvoir stands for "new vision," which introduces innovation to the historic sport of fencing. It is a head and neck support designed for Olympic fencers that holistically protects the users, while increasing their visibility and performance.

 
 
 
 
 
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About Neuvoir

The brief for this project was to choose a sport for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics and develop innovative design solutions. Design a product that pushes the conceptual boundaries and serves as an inspiration for others in the market. I chose fencing because I knew absolutely nothing about fencing and wanted to challenge myself and test my role as a product designer.

I had the opportunity to go back to my interviewees and show them the concept and walk them through the decision making. They were thrilled to see the outcome and this positive feedback was incredibly satisfying and rewarding. Although Neuvoir is conceptual, all design decisions were backed up by solid research. It was essentially a case study that showed me the power of the product design and how the design process can be applied to any field.

 
 
 
 

The Problems

Research for this project consisted in visiting fencing academies, tournaments, interviewing coaches, and singing up for fencing lessons. Immersion into this sport was a crucial step to understanding fencing and identifying opportunity spaces.

 
 

1. Reoccurring injuries to the head & neck

After interviewing a number fencers and veteran coaches a number of common injuries. Concussions from tripping during combat, whiplash from lunges and blows to the head and blade hits the back of the head & neck.

 
 
VINCENT THIAN/AP

VINCENT THIAN/AP

 
 
 

2. Past Failed Mask = Death (seriously)

An important event in the history of fencing was the tragedy of Russian fencing champion Vladamir Smirnoff. He was killed in1982 from a blade going through his mesh mask. In order to prevent this from happening again the FIE (International Fencing Federation) beefed up the masks. A heavier, thicker, and stronger mesh construction.

In 2005 Athens Olympic Games the Polycarbonate fencing mask was introduced to increase visibility to the fencers and improve audience engagement. This was successful - allowing viewers to see the more emotion from fencers, however, it failed when the visor shattered.

The Olympics immediately banned the mask and any use of Polycarbonate materials. Its has been 34 years and fencers are still using the same mask with little to no innovation in fencing gear.

 
 
PC: Matthew D'Annunzio - Image of the Banned Polycarbonate Mask.

PC: Matthew D'Annunzio - Image of the Banned Polycarbonate Mask.

 

3. Poor Visibility in Current Masks

When asking fencers about the visibility interviewee responded “You just play through, and try to get used to it.” Fencing is the 2nd Fastest sport in the Olympics behind the marksman’s bullet moving at speeds up to 120 mph. It is critical for the fencers to be able to see and react quickly while competing. The current mask design design was sacrificing visibility and performance for safety.

You just play through it, and try to get used to it
— Ted Katzoff, Fencing Coach
PC: MAX ROSSI

PC: MAX ROSSI

 
 
 

The Redesign

During my research one of the biggest insights was to respect the history of Fencing. The mask needed to aesthetically look like a fencing mask, and at the same time be redesigned to address the issues uncovered in my research. The three main features were:

 
 

Head & Neck Support

Neuvoir is the first fencing mask addressing the problem of concussions and blade hits to the back of the head by enclosing the back of the mask. Sitting below the mask is the first neck brace in fencing history, providing support without restricting movement.

A Redesigned Visor

To better understand why the polycarbonate visor failed I spoke to material scientist and engineers at Boeing and NASA. The issue was not the polycarbonate material, rather, the design. The visor failed due to the flat profile. The window in the shell compromised the masks structural integrity and the frames create shot traps for the tips of the blades to get stuck and cause breakage. Having uncovered these insights, Neuvoir is redesigned to solve these critical issues.

Enhancing Visibility

The problem was not the Polycarbonate material, but the way in which the visor mask was designed. It was essential to re-design a mask that allows the surface to be seamless for blade deflection. The polycarbonate visor dramatically increases visibility for fencers. 

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