Abstract Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common viral illness in young children. HFMD is caused by viruses belonging to the enterovirus genus of the picornavirus family. Recently, enterovirus 71 (EV71) has emerged as a virulent agent for HFMD with severe clinical outcomes. In the current report, we conducted a pilot antigen engineering study to optimize the expression and immunogenicity of subunit VP1 antigen for the design of EV71 vaccines. DNA immunization was adopted as a simple technical approach to test different designs of VP1 antigens without the need to express VP1 protein in vitro first. Our studies indicated that the expression and immunogenicity of VP1 protein can be improved with alternated VP1 antigen designs. Data presented in the current report revealed novel pathways to optimize the design of VP1 antigen-based EV71 vaccines.