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Listen to your Instincts

3ds Max, Keyshot, Photoshop


High-end Urban Headphones with ultimate adaptability: a new market entry for Oakley.

BlackCat was done as part of a collaboration between ArtCenter and Oakley with the GradID program. The project brief goal was to design a headset that could tap into a potential new market for Oakley through the launch of a new product. One which could provide a different type of listening experience or satisfy an unmet need within the Oakley brand structure.




Oakley headphones - a new take on sound experience for urban athletes.

The concept tackles the problem that many athletes face today in crowded urban centers. The struggle between maintaining awareness throughout their work out in order to avoid possible dangers while still listening to their favorite music, and having an undisturbed high quality audio experience when they finish their work out or through their daily commute.

BlackCat was selected as the winner class project by a panel from Oakley's product design team.


Athletes all around the globe resort to audio stimulation as means of achieving focus and to get 'into the zone', and they do it while performing the activity or before a competition, in order to get into the right mindset. Athletes require adaptability in their sports equipment, so that it can keep up with their variable lifestyle.

The key is to be able to switch between complete isolation and full awareness, and this is what BlackCat was specifically designed to accomplish. 

Awareness is not only relevant to the athlete himself, but also to those around him/her and this is where visibility becomes a crucial aspect of the design. A holistic approach to the needs of the athlete, all built in into the BlackCat system in order to provide a complete solution to the needs of the urban athlete.


With the rise of large urban centers and the constant expansion of cities, it has become increasingly more common to find athletes training in the midst of these crowded spaces. The challenges now extend beyond the workout itself, and new challenges like safety and awareness come into play, rising as a top priority for the well-being of the enthusiast. 

Through research it was evident that in spite of all these risks, athletes still prefer to have some sort of auditory entertainment, because it provides many benefits like increased focus, stamina, pacing, etc. Many athletes resort to using only one earbud (which reduces audio experience considerably), or using open configuration headsets that allow ambient sound to feed into the ear. Athletes however, noted that these type of open-ear headsets (also bone conducting style), let too much sound out when used in a more casual context and were not comfortable, opting to use instead a second set of headphones.

Urban lifestyle has also forced many athletes to train early in the morning or late in the evening because many hold day jobs or have other responsibilities. This compounds to the importance of awareness and adds visibility to the equation, to avoid any accidents between oncoming traffic and the athlete.

Listen to your Instincts

BlackCat is designed to adapt & configure between an open ear configuration and an over-the-ear closed configuration, to provide the ultimate adaptability between awareness and isolation, providing the athlete with a more robust headset solution.


Light sensor

detects oncoming traffic & controls lamp's intensity

Adaptive signal lamp

signals oncoming traffic

auto-dims to save battery

ambient sound mics

scan the environment & adapt the level of noise cancellation.

Open-ear mode

Isolation mode



All aspects of the design are meant to tackle a specific need in order to create a more holistic solution. The slim design helps with weight and placement for a more comfortable fit, adjustable strap secured the device, reactive lighting and light sensors react to the environment as well as surround sound sensitivity that fine tunes the level of noise cancellation depending on the user's settings.

directional speaker

unobstructed sound

connector hub

magnet guided


ambient sounds


Inductive charging allows the device to charge seamlessly while allowing the user to continue using the device while performing their activities. Reflective outer coating creates a 270 degree visibility view angle that enhances the protection at night and adding a unique visual aesthetic. 

The rear lamp includes a photo-receptor that increases or decreases the intensity of the rear lamp whenever it detects oncoming light source, like a car, increasing its intensity as the source comes closer in order to bring more attention to the user, and enhance its nighttime safety.

Isolation mode

Open mode

Reflective Coating

3 cups


Unobtanium padding

Oakley's proprietary silicon polymer blend

Fastening band

adjusts to provide a secure fit

1½ cups



Finding form, packaging components, testing fit.

Ergonomics played an essential role in developing the exterior shape and creating the packaging for the internal components. Leveraging rapid prototyping tools, in-person fit tests, it was possible to quickly iterate form studies and rough mock-ups  to find the best forms while ensuring a better overall fit. 

Ideation sketches
Ideation sketches
Ideation sketches
Ideation sketches
Ideation sketches
Ideation sketches

Full aesthetic mock-up was developed with multiple design iterations along the way. The design process began by selecting an appropriate head that served as an ergonomically accurate starting point. Then rudimentary mock-ups were built to test the feel and fit of the design concept.

After the design concept was validated, aesthetic exploration began through sketching and clay exploration in order to truly understand space restrictions and volumetric sizing. 

After a few variations were identified, the selections were then 3D modeled in order to find a more refined surface resolution and true sizing validation (to evaluate internal components and ensure a proper fit).

Several shape prototypes were printed based on 3D model iterations using a starch printer in order to identify the best shape distribution and shell design. A prototype was also printed in carbon reinforced nylon polymer to test out the actual fit and flexibility of the concept. 

After much review of the different design criteria a final concept was selected and then brought up to finished product quality, ready for display.

Finished prototype

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