The Lockdown Diaries: The helmet and livery designer

Image by Hone/LAT

The Lockdown Diaries: The helmet and livery designer

Formula 1

The Lockdown Diaries: The helmet and livery designer


The disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. is sharing stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a special series called The Lockdown Diaries.

You might not know the name Miles Murphy, but you’ve almost certainly seen some of his work. Ever watched a Formula 1 race? Then you’ve seen it. IndyCar? Yup, there too. Formula E? GT Racing? Touring Cars? Karting? He’s actually pretty tough to escape.

Miles’ company – MDM Designs – has a wide scope. From helmet designs to liveries, websites to racewear, pit and garage design to promotional items and branding, it reaches so many categories of motorsport.

“A lot of people get a big buzz about the work with the F1 drivers, which get all the attention for obvious reasons,” Murphy tells RACER. “But as a business and ultimately funding my livelihood, the focus has to be spread between all customers as well as the big names, giving all of the customers the attention they deserve and expect.”

The F1 drivers he references are Lando Norris, Alex Albon and George Russell, while other clients include Racing Point as well as Carlin in all categories. The F1 drivers have additional freedom to change their helmet designs this year and that had led to more opportunities for MDM Designs – with Norris planning a new design at each race – but those plans are now on hold after a hectic pre-season.

“Cancellation of the first race in Australia meant I could have a lie-in! In all seriousness it meant two designs we did leading up to the event went unreleased, so you lose a bit of social traffic on the business side.

“Then the immediate impact of the next wave of called-off races was some special designs are then postponed, such as for Bahrain, Vietnam and Monaco. But any in progress work remains in the concept stage for potential reuse or rework at a later date.

“At the end of the day it is just design time you can hopefully recycle. Worst-case scenario, it will be something you revisit and potentially redesign if a certain race is rescheduled later in the year.”

The timing of the global racing shutdown hasn’t been too painful for Murphy at this stage, with the off-season and pre-season being MDM’s busiest times. By now, the majority of jobs have usually been done, opening up some flexibility from a work perspective even if personal lives are being impacted by other restrictions.

“The pandemic hasn’t affected us much as of this time, as mainly wherever there is internet and software, I can work,” he says. “It’s not really a joke when I say it has felt like we have been pretty much in isolation at a screen since October, with minimal socializing apart from some weekends and site visits. So for now we keep going through the list of what’s booked in as normal and keep working through them, since only some jobs require personal meet-ups.

“This time of year the workload traditionally calms down, everyone having their pre-season stuff complete ready for racing. However with some series postponing in advance, some projects are still ongoing now their deadline has been relaxed and they want to try a few more ideas now they have the time. And other clients have brought some other projects forward to be ready for during or after the summer when we hopefully can go racing again.

“So we are trying to stay in pre-season work mode to keep working as normal through the design queue, whilst taking precautions outside of work that the NHS and UK Government have issued when we aren’t at the computer screen.”

Murphy expects business to take a hit next season due to the amount of unused items that can carry over, but certain driver or sponsor contracts might change and have an impact. Either way, the chance to do some business housekeeping and plan for already booked projects later in the year are silver linings of the lockdown.

“Mainly in this situation the only thing we can be proactive in is the special helmets in F1, as well as any special IndyCar liveries – especially the ones in the second half of the year, as hopefully those can go ahead depending on the global situation.

“We have to prepare some designs in advance as motorsport – and F1 especially – is often horrifically last minute. So doing that in advance lessens some all-nighters for us. Outside of that, with again it normally being calmer from April to September, lead times for jobs come down and we just work through them as they come in. Plus there’s time for more regular social posts etc to promote the work.

A custom design for a race that then gets cancelled might cost MDM some short-term exposure, but there’s always a chance that elements of the design can be recycled in the future. Image by Hone/LAT

“We can also use this time to focus on planning for 2020-21, when we do expect to see a drop in overall sales. We expect a lot of completed items will be carried over from this season to next due to postponed events, but this will still be sponsor- and driver-dependent, which is something we wouldn’t know until nearer 2021.”

As a UK-based company, MDM is seeing government support plans being put in place to help businesses, and so Murphy is confident in the robustness of his set-up for now. But on a personal note, he’s facing a time of year when thinking about his mental state is one of the priorities, and that takes on an additional challenge with the wider public being asked to stay at home as much as possible.

“We are lucky that we are a limited company, which we decided to do when we started up, so we have some protection just in case the worst does happen,” he says. “Hopefully those who are self-employed will get the same benefits in the UK to help everyone – such as photographers, journalists and other freelance designers and consultants.

“We will need to see how the situation develops so we can plan what we do with the business into next year. We need to learn lessons from our busiest winter ever and how we can make it better going forward; analyzing the ordering trends and identifying new strategies that might help deal with high workload volumes.

“But alongside all of this, it’s particularly tough at the moment but we somehow need to try and have more of a life outside of work. That’s something that people underestimate as a lot of people assume we work literally every day at all times – which is sometimes true in January and February – but having a balance is also critical to stay healthy and keep producing work to a standard we and the client are happy with.

“A lot of people think it is just coloring on the computer or coding in a website with numbers and letters, but it is a bit more than that. To be a designer you have to have a solid mental state, as the entire job is constant debate, changes, opinion and criticism – which is mainly constructive, I might add! So being in the right state of mind, even when it is incredibly busy, is essential.”

That’s even more important with external pressures that are out of everyone’s hands right now, with no obvious way of knowing what the outlook will be as time progresses.

“It is always an unknown how busy we will be as the season goes on, and this year more than ever it is very hard to predict,” he says. “Traditionally it is quieter in-season, but we won’t really know for a while how we’re shaping up, based on what happens globally when racing restarts.”