Young and innovative, Julia Marina Cunha is the person behind the technologically smart hearing device OH, a concept designed for those who are hard of hearing. The beautiful hearing aids are an idea that is so stylishly fashionable that we cannot help but be in awe.
Recently we did a write up on the design student and it got a lot of attention. That is why we decided to do a follow-up piece on Julia, so as to find out more about her general attitudes to hearing disabilities and how she plans to diminish the stigma usually associated with assistive technology.
Tell us about some of the projects that you have worked for?
I’ve worked on a lot of design projects, but I would have to say that the ones I enjoyed the most (besides the OH project) were the pasta measurer MEMA and Soundy, an inclusive headphone. MEMA was a concept with the primary purpose of reducing food waste and making an easy to use the product, reducing the structure to the minimum functional. The result was a minimalist product that satisfies the designated needs, has an ergonomic handle and it can also be used as a utensils carrier. Soundy was an idea that was designed to be a possible solution to the real (and urgent) problem of hearing impairment caused by the deafening music in headphones. The number of NIHL (Noise Induced Hearing Loss, also known as MIHL, Music Induced Hearing Loss) cases in teenagers and young adults has been increasing. Soundy works as an amplifier to the regular earbuds, so that the maximum sound intensity achieved is not loud enough to cause hearing impairment with a medium-long term exposure. It also has inclusive features, as it can be used by glasses and hearing aids users.
“Soundy was an idea that was designed to be a possible solution to the real problem of hearing impairment caused by the deafening music in headphones.”
What inspired you to come up with OH hearable device?
My sister has the hearing disability since she was seven years old (she is 19 now), so I could feel her struggle having to use hearing aids for so long and primarily as a kid. Although the real insight I had while reading the book Design meets disability, by Graham Pullin.
What highlights and challenges have you faced?
The challenge that comes to mind was trying to put me in someone else’s shoes. Trying to feel like the person with a hearing disability so that I could empathise with the users. I felt like needed to know their experience at a deeper level. The highlights were as I began to receive feedback from hearing aid users that showed how projects like this could make a difference to them.
When it comes to fashion tech, what has been your favourite collaborations so far?
I like the Tory Burch’s Fret bracelet for the Fitbit.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned to date?
“All endings are also beginnings”, a phrase that might sound optimistic but, I find it motivating. I feel that it can be applied to design too, including projects that need to improve. Designers we can always do something better.
What do you think is the most significant issue for women in the fashion tech/wearables space?
I think it is a problem faced in many professional fields, and it centres around the lack of female participation especially in tech.
Have you got someone you call a mentor who has made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Sure, my Professors Giselle and Eugenio Merino are exceptional researchers in the design and ergonomics fields. They have given me the motivation to learn more about design for change. This has made me think more about the significant purposes of my projects.
Are there any female leaders that you admire and why?
Well, I guess I admire every woman that succeeds in her respective field. I especially applaud Jude Kelly, not just for her brilliant career in arts but also for using her voice to make a difference in society and women rights.
What do you want to see the fashion tech space accomplish in the next 12 months?
I would very much like to see advances in fashion tech for the maker culture. More ways that the user could interact with the technology, personalising and even co-creating it.