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Brunel Design School scoops top design awards for Airhead face mask

© Airhead

Air pollution-filtering face mask wins leading design awards, including a Design Week award and the internationally recognised and highly sought-after Red Dot Design Award.

In 2020, face masks were brought into the spotlight as we strived to protect ourselves and each other during the pandemic.

The discomfort and inconvenience of masks were felt by many, and we all went in search of breathable, fashionable, sustainable and hi-tech alternatives.

In spring 2019, before the pandemic unfolded, Brunel Design School saw an opportunity in a start-up called Airhead and their idea to launch an anti-pollution face mask for city cyclists.

ah strap 618 mask

                                                               © Airhead

At the time, the design school was managing a research and innovation programme called Impacting Business by Design, which was funded by Research England between 2018 and 2021.

The programme provided design support to UK start-ups and small businesses with strong early-stage business propositions.

Brunel Design School admitted Airhead into the programme and began working with the start-up founders to develop their initial idea further.

Prof Vanja Garaj, Director of Research at Brunel Design School, led the programme activity at Brunel. “During a year-long process, our team at the school designed the overall concept of the mask and built its first functioning prototype,” he said.

“The design process involved a number of iterations and extensive user testing of different approaches to the mask design.”

 AH boy and bike

                                                                    © Airhead

The team at Brunel also helped Airhead with crowdfunding campaigns that promoted the mask prototype and raised over £500,000.

“The funds were used to bring on board the design agency Realise Design, which assisted the start-up with the final design of the mask, and facilitated the manufacturing,” said Prof Garaj.

The Airhead mask is primarily for cyclists, but it is also suited to anyone who spends lots of time in polluted environments.

 It is airtight and capable of blocking out more than 99% of particulate matter, liquid droplets and harmful gases in the urban air.

 AH boy cycling

                                                                  © Airhead

“The Airhead mask is intended for use during sports activities in urban outdoor areas with high levels of air pollution. Runners, scooter riders and people working outdoors can all benefit from the mask,” said Harry Young, from Airhead.

“It’s convenient for people who wear glasses, as the two vents on the back prevent lenses from fogging up.

“The front part of the mask can be easily opened when required to allow wearers to eat, drink or talk on the phone.


                                                                               © Airhead

“The AirSkin – a removable fabric cover stretching over the body of the mask – allows for low-cost customisation of the mask’s appearance.

“They are unisex, easy to clean and aren’t an eyesore on the face either.”

It has been four years since Brunel began supporting Airhead, and the anti-pollution mask is now award-winning.

The annual Red Dot Design Award is one of the world’s largest design competitions and attracts more than 20,000 entries per year across 50 different categories.

The Red Dot label has become established internationally as one of the most sought-after marks of quality for good design, and products and brands are judged by a panel of design experts from around the world.

The Airhead mask was a Red Dot Award: Product Design 2023 winner within the Bicycles and Bicycle Accessories category, and the judging panel was especially taken by the mask’s powerful air filtration and ergonomic sealing, as well as its airtight fit for all face shapes and sizes.

Prof Garaj was at the Red Dot Award Ceremony in Germany last month and was honoured to collect the award.

 AH Vanj

Prof Garaj (right) with Philip Phelan, a senior designer, at the Red Dot Design Award Ceremony

“Brunel Design School recognised a strong potential in Airhead, and we have thoroughly enjoyed working with them through the Impacting Business by Design programme,” said Prof Garaj.

“Our professional expertise and their passion for the product enabled us to design an award-winning product.”

David Aitken, Design Director at Realise Design, is delighted with Airhead’s success. “Having supported Airhead with their final design for manufacture, we are thrilled that this innovative anti air-pollution mask has been recognised on the global stage and has received such a highly acclaimed industry award," he said.

“The innovative filtration system, quick release strap, ergonomic fit and modularity of the design to meet sustainability ambitions are areas we are particularly proud of.”

In addition to the Red Dot Design Award, the Airhead mask won the Product Design Award in the Design Week Awards 2023.

Design Week is the UK’s leading online design magazine, promoting excellence in design around the world.

 AH final

                                                                                                         © Airhead

The mask was also a finalist in the Product Design category of the D&AD Awards 2023 – a world-leading annual UK design competition – where it was shortlisted alongside products by Apple, Google and Audi.

The success of Airhead highlights the impact that Brunel Design School is having on nurturing talent, accelerating innovation and in product design.

The Impacting Business by Design team at Brunel Design School who worked on Phase 01 of the Airhead mask design included Arash Sepahi (Junior Designer); Philip Phelan (Senior Designer); Peter Bessey (Senior Designer); Ian Ferris (Project Lead); and Vanja Garaj (Programme Director).

The team from Realise Design who were involved in Phase 02 were Callum Taylor (Product Designer); David Aitken (Design Director); Alex Lomer (Product Design Engineer); and Andrew Redman (Managing Director).

Watch the short video below to see the Airhead mask in action.