Designers always draw from personal experience. That's particularly true for Darrin Caddes, vice president of design for Plantronics. "Function has a deeper meaning for me," he says. Five years ago, before he came to Plantronics, he was working for Indian Motorcycles, after a seven-year stint at BMW. A motorcycle accident had recently left him wheelchair bound. "That's when I became a headset user. So being hands free became crucial, and headsets became a truly enabling product. And that's why coming to Plantronics really resonated."
Since then, in the headset market, Plantronics has always been the heavy-duty utility brand. But they've also been honing their design bonafides. Yesterday they released their newest offering to fashion-concious bluetooth users, the Discovery 975. Caddes gave Fast Company an exclusive look at the products myriad design cues.
Caddes's team wanted to depart from gear that looked like a cell phone, and produce something akin to any other high-end personal accessory. Thus, the diamond shape of the headset's body recalls jewelry; it's leather-covered faceplate recalls handbags and briefcases; and the subtle curve of the boom is meant to accentuate the wearer's cheekbone—which Caddes explains by saying, "I love the way the Jawbone looks on the shelf, but it doesn't make sense on your head."
But what makes the headset look like a Plantronic headset is something Caddes calls the "power funnel"—the pinched transition from the headet's body to the slender boom. Every Plantronics headset has that element in some way or another. It was inspired by the shape of a tuning fork, where the tines curve into the handle. "For me, it's a beautiful metaphor for precision and sound quality," says Caddes.
While the fashion cues are evident in the 975, the functional cues remain. The designers labored to make the gel earpieces clear: "Something about it being clear gives it a lightness that makes it seem more comfortable than if it were rubber," says Caddes. "It also lets you see the speaker, which instills more confidence in the performance." Meanwhile, Caddes remains an ardent fan of the boom mic: "A mic closer to your mouth performs better and there's no way around that. But it also tells people you're on the phone. People feel better wearing it if they don't look like they're talking to themselves when it's in use." Meanwhile, the case, as with the 925, serves to store the headset and charge it—providing a functional edge to those too embarrassed to wear their headset all the time.
"We're trying to design better looking products, but there's a deeper part of that approach," says Caddes. "There's still a negative connotation with wearing headsets. The more comfortable and confident people are wearing our products, the better that is for our business in the long run."