Reinvention and the search for meaning at the intersection of design, technology and art–previously featured in Santa Cruz Waves magazine
Life doesn’t always proceed the way we planned it. Many of us come to some kind of roadblock or speed bump that forces us to hit the brakes, change lanes, or turn around back the way we came. But what matters isn’t the loss of time or the frustration endured in the face of such an obstacle. What matters is how we choose to keep moving forward.
Enter designer/artist Darrin Caddes, a former board sports and motorcycle junkie who awoke facedown in the Mexican desert on March 6, 2001 with a broken back. He had been motorcycling from Southern California to Los Cabos with friends, and, around 600 miles from border, he went into a corner at 60 miles an hour, lost control, and crashed on a long dirt road. The crash resulted in the loss of movement from his chest down, dramatically altering his life in a matter of seconds.
While some would understandably struggle with how to move on, Caddes managed to kick start his life. He adapted to life in a wheelchair and learned to cope with his physical and mental duress by pushing through, shifting his spiritual motor back into the high gear that helped him achieve success prior to his injury. He worked in Italy designing cars for Fiat from 1991 to 1994, and for BMW designing cars and motorcycles from ’94 to 2001.
He designed first BMW GS Adventure, which was a bike set up for long-distance travel for both on- and off-road excursions. On his design, one could literally circumnavigate the globe. (Actor Ewan McGregor and his buddy Charley Boorman did just that, then wrote a book and produced a mini series about their travels, both called the “Long Way Round.”) After leaving BMW, Caddes took a job at Indian Motorcycle as director of design from 2001 to 2004, where he learned how to get the job done with his new limitations.
When offered a job as vice president of corporate design at Santa Cruz-based tech company Plantronics in 2004, Caddes found a position that let him work on something else he was passionate about: headsets. Being in a wheelchair can stifle one’s ability to freely move about an office space fielding calls, and he found that headsets helped solve this problem. Since joining Plantronics, Caddes has managed a world-class team of industrial designers.
His noteworthy work at Plantronics led the group Santa Cruz NEXT to honor Caddes as one of their four “Nexties” recipients in 2013. This award is bestowed yearly upon individuals promoting community action, spearheading innovation, and helping to reduce inequalities along the Central Coast.
While Caddes enjoys his job, his role as an overseer means less involvement in the creative side of the design work. Eventually, he found himself itching for an artistic outlet, and was inspired to fill this creative void with another long-lost passion of his—drawing.
“One day, I told myself, ‘You know, I’m going to draw something every day in 2013,’” he recalls. “I didn’t care if it was a smiley face, I just needed to do something.” He stuck to the challenge, posting his “Daily Doodles” to his Instagram account (@unclewillard). The sketches range from simple cartoons to intricate motorcycle designs, illustrations of waves to skateboarding scenes, and paintings to tattoo-inspired designs.
The posts began to attract a following. Without promotion, he garnered about 350 Instagram followers.
“Now I have this little audience who I have to feed—that I want to feed—everyday, and that’s been my thing,” says Caddes.
He has just two simple rules for himself: he must draw and post the image on the same day, and he must post a drawing every day.
“I’m so afraid that if I miss a day, the whole thing will be broken,” he says. He hasn’t missed a day since he started the Daily Doodles on Dec. 28, 2012, sometimes posting more than one per day.
“So I constantly remind myself, ‘I’m doing it everyday, I don’t care how bad it is, or how bad I feel. If I’m sick, in pain, or traveling, it’s going to be done,’” he adds. “They don’t all have to be masterpieces. It’s more about the discipline of drawing every day. Over all, it’s been very therapeutic for me. It keeps me in touch with who I am.”
Fueled by successes at work and his artistic endeavor, Caddes has nurtured a hard-to-miss joie de vivre.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘How do you do it despite all of your limitations?’” he says. “I find myself saying, ‘Honestly, I don’t find my accident or me being in a chair that interesting. Because there are so many other things in my life that are so much more interesting and meaningful.’”