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Darrin Caddes on Creativity, Soundscaping, and Why He Prefers Santa Cruz over Silicon Valley

Darrin Caddes on Creativity, Soundscaping, and Why He Prefers Santa Cruz over Silicon Valley
Darrin Caddes Plantronics VP of Corporate Design, Santa Cruz

By Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

Darrin Caddes, VP of Corporate Design at Plantronics, believes that the only bad ideas are those that aren’t expressed.

Every Friday, the Plantronics design team gets together for a collective review. Team members write any idea that comes to mind on a post-it, and in one session Darrin’s’ post-it read: ‘Fill a room with dogs.’

The team was trying to come up with a solution to the common experience of feeling stressed and overwhelmed at work. While Darrin strongly believes in the efficacy of canine therapy, he knew that filling a room with dogs at an office wasn’t feasible for a myriad of reasons. Yet, he still put it out there to see where it might lead the team’s thought process.

“It set the bar really low,” Darrin says, “but it also caused people to think a little differently. You never know what the domino effect of an idea is going to be.”

That idea’s domino effect led to a new approach to soundscaping, an emerging audio-technology that aims to improve people’s focus in their work environment through smart sound management.

Using sound to optimize your personal space

As work environments become denser due to factors including the cost of rising real estate and general business expenses, open-plan offices are becoming the norm. “You have a hope of increased collaboration and communication,” says Darrin, “but noise and distraction are a huge issue.”

Darrin explains that white noise is commonly used as a solution, but for many of us the constant static can deplete our energy and decrease our ability to focus. Instead, Plantronics has created a soothing combination of biophilia-inspired sounds that can mimic the burbling flow of a waterfall, waves crashing on the sand, or birdsong in a mountain forest. A visual element, such as a physical waterfall sculpture, a projected image of redwood trees, or an ambient light show, accompanies the soundscape.

This project, called Habitat, has the potential to radically transform our work environments. It’s an intelligent soundscaping system with all the features described above that also constantly adjusts depending on the sound levels of the space. They’re also exploring how to positively affect our mood through sound.

Darrin believes that creating the right sound environment can help workers decompress after a tough meeting or get pumped up right before going into an important pitch. “This expands into areas of mindfulness and unlocking creative potential,” he says.

Darrin describes a future version of Habitat that could create a personalized “cocoon” of sound around you. If you’re a mountain person, you’d hear the soothing sounds of a gentle wind whispering through the pines. If you’re a beach person, you’d hear the soft crash of the surf. “I think there’s real potential for self-actualization and empowerment through optimizing your personal space.”

“We’re an audio-centric communications company,” explains Darrin, “and to that point, it’s not just about transmit and receive; it’s really about empowering people to be more effective. Our vision is to create a world where people can listen, communicate, dream, and create wherever you are.”  

No plans to leave

It’s this type of innovative project that has kept Darrin at Plantronics for nearly 14 years. With a background in automotive design, Darrin came to the audio company expecting to stay for just 2-3 years. The dynamic, ever-evolving environment at Plantronics, however, keeps Darrin challenged and excited about coming into work.

The 30 creative individuals on the Plantronics design team work on everything from hardware UI to designing entire facilities like their European corporate headquarters in Hoofddorp, just outside of Amsterdam. Often, their next project is determined by those Friday reviews that generate countless ideas scribbled on post-it notes.

“I’ve been able to continue to grow and evolve and the environment in which we work is evolving continually and so quickly that it keeps things very dynamic and interesting,” says Darrin. “There have been opportunities to flex muscles that I haven’t ever used before, so I just keep expanding and learning. As long as that keeps happening there’s no reason to consider anything else. Plus the culture of the company’s pretty amazing. And I’m in Santa Cruz.”

The Santa Cruz tech perspective

When asked what it’s like to work in tech here in Santa Cruz, Darrin was quick to reply that our coastal community has the best of both worlds.

“I see more of a benefit than anything to being in Santa Cruz as someone in the tech scene,” says Darrin. “I think it’s a distinct advantage to be this close [to Silicon Valley] and yet far enough removed to have some perspective on the work, as opposed to being in that sea of sameness that I associate with the Silicon Valley. It feels radically different in Santa Cruz and I think the tech community here is a lot cooler, hipper, and fresher than what I judge that culture to be elsewhere.”

Darrin Caddes will speak at the Titans of Tech on Thursday, January 25 at the Dream Inn. More information and tickets at santacruzworks.org/events/second-annual-titans-tech

Santa Cruz tech companies: Join Santa Cruz Works at santacruzworks.org/membership

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Molly (Lautamo) Ressler is a writer and content strategist based in Santa Cruz. Find more of her work at mollylautamo.com