Dampen headphones use replaceable water-soluble padding to provide an alternative solution to existing in-flight headphones, battling e-waste and reducing the spread of harmful bacteria.

The headphones’ modular design allows individual parts to be replaced or repaired instead of disposed of, further reducing the amount of waste produced by the airline industry. 




University Project


Product design, Manufacture 

An image of Dampen headphones on a disposable tray, accompanied by additional ear cups.

Project Overview

A more sustainable & hygienic alternative to existing in-flight headphones.


Free items given out on planes have been reported as highly unhygienic. Most notably, headphones, whose foam ear cups are hardly ever changed unless torn. Single-use earphones provide a solution to this problem but contribute toward a larger one surrounding sustainability. According to the ‘International Air Transport Association’, “In 2017, it is estimated that the airline industry produced up to 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste.” Approximately 9.7% of cabin waste comprises electrical waste products, the majority of which is IFE (in-flight entertainment) headsets.


Dampen headphones can be re-used repeatedly by using replaceable water-soluble padding. They are cleaned using a dishwasher-like system, where soap and hot water dissolve the foam padding off the plastic base, followed by UV light treatment to ensure they are sterile. Once dry, new padding is fitted to the headphones, ready to be used again. The headphones’ modular design allows individual parts to be replaced or repaired instead of disposed of, reducing the amount of waste produced by the airline industry.

An image of the double diamond design process: Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver.


Welcome aboard.

Initial research focused on better understanding the problem of cabin e-waste through both primary and secondary collection methods.

Focus Areas

What IFE products currently exist on the market?


How do passengers interact with existing products?


What are passengers current pain points with existing products?


Which features are essential to the IFE experience?

Competitive & Comparative Analysis

I decided to conduct a bacterial test using existing airline headsets. From this test, I would be able to determine if they were truly clean, as passengers expect them to be.

A diagram comparing bacteria growth of IFE headphones, from three different airlines.
A radar diagram comparing IFE headphones from three different airlines.

A survey was conducted on 35 participants to identify which products and features people are currently using and determine which feature are essential to the IFE experience.

90% - Percentage of passengers
wanting an increased level of cleanliness confirmation.
2/5 - Rating of passengers
average comfort - stated for improvements.
44% - Percentage of passengers
given single-use earphones.
4/5 - Rating of inferred headset
cleanliness due to the
supplied plastic packaging.
73% - Percentage of passengers
who received headsets on an aircraft
59% - Percentage of passengers inclined to take headphones with them off the plane.

A series of in-depth interviews were conducted with pilots, flight attendants, and headset servicing companies to further identify existing products' pain points, frustrations, and needs.

"They are out of their packaging, so we go through with one of the empty trolleys and chuck them inside. That’s the last they see of them." - Chloe | Flight Attendant, BA
"Headsets are supplied by handling agents, so they don’t get replaced all that often." - Luke | Pilot, BA
"If the sound quality were better than I am sure that would encourage more people to use them. They are not the most comfortable or ergonomic." - Charlie | MNH Representative
Key Takeaways

My product should be targeted at contractors, as they require methods to increase repairing and cleaning.


Special fittings deter passengers from stealing and are a vital feature to include.


When designing a final solution, noise-cancelling, sound quality, and ergonomics are aspects to investigate.


In addition to individual airline’s cleaning techniques, servicing partners provide additional hygiene testing.


Performance, customer comfort, cost, weight, and product robustness are the most critical factors to consider.


Kangawrap is a viable solution to reduce plastic onboard that passengers have well received.


Fasten your seat belt.

After establishing the problem, the passenger opinions were distilled down into user personas. These, along with the expert interviews, were used to inform the design specifications.


A persona was built based on the data collected to help keep the product focused on solving users pain points and frustrations.

An image 'Ben the Explorers' persona profile.
Design Specification
An image of the key points included the the project's design specification.


Be sure that your seat back is in the upright position.

Quick sketches helped me get ideas on paper to establish the product's aesthetics and kick off the development process. This fed into material and electronic exploration before realisation through CAD modelling, rapid prototyping and FEA simulations.


My solution will take inspiration from future design, with a modern colour scheme and geometric shapes. Headphones are typically elliptical to accommodate the ear; however, due to the modular features of my solution, a circular design is more suited.

Ideation sketches of Dampen headphone's aesthetics.
Rapid Prototyping

3D modelling was used extensively to test the proportions of the final headset and ensure harmony between the modular components. Below are iterations and ideas following the natural development of the driver units.

An image of the 3D printed components created to test the headphone's ergonomics and anthropometrics.
Engineering Analysis

FEA stress, drop, and excess pressure tests were used to verify the feasibility of the final design. A two meter drop test was simulated at extreme ends of the device to visualise the effect in reality. Increasing forces were applied to the device’s shell to simulate cabin pressure.

FEA - Fixed point during headband stress test.
FEA - Results of drop test (headband impact).
FEA - Fixed points during cabin pressure test.
FEA - Results of headband stress test.
FEA - Results of drop test (driver impact).
FEA - Results of cabin pressure test.


Prepare for take-off.

A semi-working prototype was 3D printed, painted and finished - later used for testing, feedback, and filming.

The components have been designed to be injection moulded with necessary draft angles and minimum thicknesses. Bosses and ribs have been utilised to secure internal components.

An in-flight safety card, designed to showcase Dampen's key features.
Final Prototype
A rendered image of Dampen headphones.
An image of the Dampen headphones model, on a plane.
An image of the Dampen headphones model, on a stand.
A close-up image of Dampen headphones, showing-off the adjustable design.
An image of Dampen headphones with a see-through casing to show-off the internal components.
An exploded image of Dampen headphones showing-off the internal components.
Technical Drawings
Isometric and exploded technical drawings of Dampen headphones.
Orthographic technical drawing of Dampen headphones.
Project Video