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Industrial Designer Talk with Brendan Gallagher
Brendan Gallagher is one of the creators and founders of Onetwosix Design Inc, an Edmonton based Industrial Design Agency with fellow University of Alberta Industrial Design graduate Nick Kazakoff. The goal of Onetwosix was to provide world class product design services in the city of Edmonton while creating products that improve the human experience. In 2015, the duo elevated the world of office furniture by launching Loop Phone Booths. Over the last seven years, they have scaled the company to include a full manufacturing facility in Edmonton as they worked with clients ranging from Lockheed Martin to Pokémon to Google X.
After graduating from the Industrial Design program at the University of Alberta in 2012 and prior to co-founding Onetwosix, Brendan specialized in digital manufacturing and design for 3D printing. His expertise in additive manufacturing led to early career opportunities at the University of Alberta, as well as the Institute of Reconstructive Science in Medicine where he specialized in using 3D printing and digital surgical planning to assist in the treatment of head and neck cancer patients.
Brendan’s design philosophy was developed during his childhood while growing up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Being immersed in the natural environment helped develop his aesthetic which combines honest materials and sustainability with bold structures and silhouettes. Throughout his education and design practice Brendan’s daring designs have been deeply grounded by their simplicity and efficiency in manufacturing.
Now in charge of leading a diverse team of designers and talented fabricators paired with a full-scale manufacturing facility, Brendan balances his role as a creative with the responsibility of being a organization leader. All of which has come together, Onetwosix being named Industrial Designers of the Year by Western Living Magazine in 2020.
Industrial designers conceptualize and produce designs for manufactured products. They are employed by manufacturing industries and private design firms or they may be self-employed.
For Technical occupations in architecture, drafting, surveying, geomatics, over the period 2019-2028, new job openings (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) are expected to total 17,100 , while 38,400 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected to be available to fill them..
A university degree in industrial design, architecture, engineering or A college diploma in industrial design is required.
Creative ability, as demonstrated by a portfolio of work, is required.
(Visit the jobbank.gc.ca Canadian Website For Most Recent Numbers)
Full Length Episode:
Complete Episode Transcript
Today’s guest is Brendan Gallagher.
Here’s our Job Talk with an industrial designer.
Welcome to the Job Talk Podcast where we talk with people who love their jobs.
Our guests open up about their challenges, surprises and secrets to success in their industries.
Through conversation, we explore their careers, past work experiences and the education that got them to where they are now.
Brendan I am completely naive to the industrial designer part of the world.
Can you describe to us what an industrial designer is? Yeah, absolutely.
And thanks for having me.
Industrial designer, that’s always been a challenge.
And people, you know, in high school going to a career counselor, nobody’s going to get recommended to go into industrial design.
It’s kind of this industry.
It’s also described as product design, but a lot of that terminology is kind of looped into a bunch of different industries.
Industrial design is really studying how people use products, whether it’s physical or digital or even a service, and then taking that research and using that to create a new physical or digital or service based product to offer that consumer.
So it’s really this process of analyzing usability and function and then following that through to innovation and creating an end product.
Yeah. Are you almost an inventor? Is that the idea? Yeah, sure.
I would say, like most inventors could call themselves industrial designers, and almost all industrial designers could call themselves inventors.
I guess that’s the more professional level of that or kind of the next level.
We’re not necessarily tinkering in our basements, although there’s lots of that.
Um, but we will have people approach us with an idea.
Maybe they’re the inventor and they need help realizing their invention.
So they have a concept and they need to again, like look at their user group, look at how they would use this product and then create concepts, develop that concept into something that can be manufactured, and then taking that manufactured product and putting it out into sales.
When did you discover industrial design as an option? Yeah, so I grew up in Canmore, Alberta.
It’s in the mountains here, so it’s rather nice.
I spent lots of time in nature, did not again know anything about industrial design in high school, and no one would talk about this kind of thing.
But I was super interested in all the like hands on classes.
So like shop class really loved woodworking class.
And we had a mechanic shop in our high school.
So I was able to learn like welding and then some mechanics work.
And as well as that I was doing art just as a hobby here and there, drawing and sketching and painting and things.
I was always kind of interested in that as a kid, but the natural progression for someone like that is to go into engineering because that’s what everyone knows.
And that’s like where that, you know, paycheck comes out and people are like, okay, you know, you’re you like Lego and you like art.
So maybe you should be an engineer.
So originally I actually went into engineering school and took a term of that, but I ended up realizing that was not going to be my career path and I wasn’t too interested.
And then I really like technical side of calculus and, and chemistry and engineering calculations.
And, um, so I got out of that program and then my mom was like, okay, now what are you doing with your life? So I think she went on a bit of a deep dive for what sort of programs that are that are related to engineering, but less on the technical side.
And then I was actually my mom had found the industrial design program at the U of A here that I ended up applying to.
You took industrial the industrial design program at the University of Alberta, which is in Edmonton, Alberta.
What’s what courses are you taking when you’re taking that program? And it’s obviously a degree, is that correct? Yeah, it’s a four year degree program that a lot of students take five years to complete and call it a victory lap at the end.
It’s like at first year it starts very broad.
There’s a few different paths you can take within this program.
So some people go through it’s a B, as it’s called, so Bachelor of Design.
Some people will take that through the graphics design or visual communication design route, and then other people will go into the industrial design.
Or you can go into art, fine art.
So first, you’re very general courses.
You’re doing like drawing, like live model drawing and drawing bowls of fruit and you’re doing product design courses and then you’re also doing courses that are just electives, so you can kind of fill in where you want.
So I ended up kind of leaning more into the art history and the general, it’s called the General Route and Bachelor of Design.
But basically you can pick and choose what you want.
And knowing that I had done engineering courses and taken some physics and calculus and stuff, I tried to steer clear of that.
Did you enjoy your experience at the UofA? Oh, yeah.
Like it’s a great program, I think.
I guess that’s first year and then later on you specialize.
So you, you know, you’re in industrial design and that’s where your classes start becoming a lot more focused and and product design research or like product development, which would be, you know, sketching through the physical modeling and creating the end product design.
You take service design classes.
Now they’re doing a lot more kind of user interface like digital, trying to blend digital product design into the mix of that.
But it’s a super fun program.
A big factor is they have like a really big woodworking shop, metalworking shop, all of that.
And after second year, you, you get an access to that.
And not only are you doing your school projects, but while I was going through school, I was trying to do as much kind of extracurricular stuff as I could get done using their facility.
What was your first professional experience after you obtained your degree? Yeah.
So it’s actually kind of interesting in my in my victory lap there, we had a sudden departure of one of our techs in the program. So he was kind of instructing the 3D modeling and running some of the equipment.
And so they were shorthanded there and asked me while I was still in the degree program if I wanted to work as well as one of the techs.
So I started there and that was kind of in the early days of 3D printing, like really getting out to the masses.
So the university was bringing in 3D printers and I was in charge of getting those up and running, as well as helping teach the students the 3D CAD modeling.
And you moved into a career where you started to help people in their treatment with head and neck cancer, is that correct? Yeah, yeah. It was super interesting.
So because of my experience using the 3D printers and that being relatively early in in the days of 3D printing and its wide application, there was a local group here.
It’s called the Institute of Reconstructive Sciences and Medicine.
Yeah, it’s a bit of a mouthful and they use 3D printing in combination with digital surgical planning, and they needed help with operating and maintaining 3D printers as well as doing some CAD work.
So they brought me on board.
But what, what that group does, which is an incredible, incredible thing, they’re treating people generally with head in that cancers they will take your fibula and rebuild your jaw using the bone from your fibula and to improve the outcomes to restore full function of speech and your ability to swallow and eat.
It’s incredibly critical that you get your your bone structure and your dentistry, right? So what they do is they’ll digitally plan the whole surgery, so they’ll take a CT scan of the patient before surgery.
That usually gives them what they call the good side.
So the side without any cancer, and they can use that anatomy to mirror on to the cancer side.
And then when they go to do the surgical treatment, they have 3D printed jigs.
We would 3D print all these little jigs and fixtures that they could mount on the bones and give them precise cuts and then more jigs and fixtures.
That gives them the exact position of where these all go in your jaw.
And as well as that, they were putting the implants into the bone before they put that bone into your jaw.
So they’re taking out extra surgeries.
They’re ensuring that the surgery has optimal outcomes.
They preplanned the dentures right from the get go.
So the patient is getting through their treatment plan quicker and just doing incredible stuff.
Now it was a great industry to be in, but it was also in public health care.
It was fulfilling as all get out, but the actual nitty gritty of the work day was sometimes a bit monotonous, and I think that sort of works.
And after a while I was getting you know, not challenged creatively enough was really what it came down to.
Were you working directly with patients? To some degree, but not a ton? I was working much more with the equipment and on the back end, so helping get the medical devices printed and developed and then sterilized and after surgery.
That would be a fulfilling career.
How long did you do it for? I think I was there just over a year.
And that’s okay.
That’s sort of at the time we started building our business.
So then I got fairly distracted pretty quick.
Okay, you were in your day to day job doing that, then you got the idea for a business what are the first steps in starting your business? So really, I just got the money to afford a piece of equipment and I was just like because of my day job not having that creative fulfillment I was looking for, I bought a CNC machine.
So a computer controlled router cutter for cutting wood.
I was sick of working with all plastic at work.
I wanted to start playing with materials that are real from the earth.
So I bought the machine and I built that up and just started playing around with it.
And then Nick who I had done projects with the university.
We continued being friends since then, so he was like totally on board with this, wanted to come, you know, play with the machine, play with the new toys, help build it.
So we just started like doing projects together just for fun.
He was working in a similar, like career role at heavy equipment manufacturing, doing design for that, but still not feeling like that same level of creative outlet that you just kind of developed over four years in university.
So we were both like looking for a bit more.
Yeah, a bit more fun to have that one outlet for our creativity, different projects.
So we started working on just like random design competitions that we could apply for and create concepts for. And we created a table that we started showing at design shows locally and just sort of organically built it from there.
Let’s talk about your company.
What is the name of your company and can you tell us what what you do? Yeah.
So the company is OneTwoSix Design we’re a design service provider, but also a furniture manufacturer.
So we’ve kind of in recent years split into two reasonably distinct areas of operations.
So we have OneTwoSix Design which is providing straight industrial design, graphic design services to local businesses or individuals.
And then we have Loop Phone Booth.
Loop Furniture, which is our office furniture line.
And that’s where we’re developing a full line of office furniture that started with soundproof office phone booths or pods and now is growing beyond that into what will be a full outfit of different products.
Let’s let’s talk about the loop phone booth.
Describe what it is and maybe walk us through how you came up with the idea for it.
So we were actually approached by a client here called the Mosaic Center.
It’s the one of the furthest north net zero buildings in the world or something.
I’ll probably butcher this claim, but it’s got some great claim to fame there.
It was a really exciting building.
It was using like geothermal and solar and everything and doing it in Edmonton and for an oil company, so they were really like innovative and trying to push the boundaries of what an office looks like.
And they approached us of industrial designers to build them some product of, you know, soundproof rooms, micro rooms that people could go in to take phone calls or do, you know, Zoom calls, do this kind of thing.
And so through, you know, iterative product development, we created some prototypes, really basic like wooden boxes in our garage that we were operating out of at the time.
And from there developed a fully realized piece of furniture.
So it’s, you know, four walls and two glass walls and it’s got ventilation and lighting and then acoustically sealed door.
So you can go in there and it really cuts out the ambient noise and lets you do your work or do your phone calls and peace have privacy if you need it.
Inside of a busy, open concept office.
Does this idea just come to you and your partner Nick over drink somewhere or what? What starts it? Yeah.
I mean, the idea had existed already.
So there is a company in Finland who is doing a similar concept.
They’re very large.
They’re much bigger than our organization.
But they sort of started the phone booth market overseas in Europe, but they weren’t they didn’t have a big presence in North America. So Mosaic Center prompted us to kind of come up with this concept.
And then we came up with all sorts of wild ideas and picked the one that was best suited for manufacture ability for their needs, you know, a customer’s need using this kind of thing.
And that was sort of born out of that.
But yeah, it’s a lot of kind of evenings spent with Nick going back and forth with sketches and and 3D models and just trying to figure out like how this works, how you can fit it all into the material you can purchase readily available, you know, to keep the costs down.
It’s always on a fixed budget.
So you can’t just like shoot for the moon and go crazy.
Is that your best selling product, do you think? Is that your best selling product, do you think? Yeah.
So little phone booth line that’s been our our best selling product for the last few years, like four or five years.
That’s been our focus. Now, Loop Solo is our, our individual booth, so that fits one person.
But we also have the cube, which is a meeting room for kind of 2 to 4 people that we introduced a couple of years ago.
We just introduced a new single occupancy booth that’s got this crazy cell panel system that gets pressed all in one go out out east and then assembled to a frame.
And then we’re just developing bigger pods that are like rooms within a room.
So a meeting room where you can still put your own furniture and put it essentially replaces the demountable wall system, which is common in offices.
So people have these cool projects and like, you know, repurposing warehouse buildings or or trying to do minimal tenant improvements, minimal customization to their building.
They can drop a phone booth in there if they grow or or downsize later, they can take that with them versus, you know, investing in your your actual building fit out.
Are you surprised at how your business has grown like where you are today? I think you mentioned you had 20, 21 employees, is that correct? Yeah, we’re hovering in that sort of 20 an area and growing pretty quickly this year for sure.
So but surprised like. Yeah.
I was sorry to interrupt you.
Do you have moments where you’re like, I can’t believe we’re doing this and this is happening? Yeah.
And mostly when I reflect back, like early on when we were in our second studio, which was like a shared space with another woodworking company, we had some students from one of the local technical universities do like a business plan for us, and they were like, Oh, here’s where you’re going to be in three years.
And this many employees, and you’re going to have all these department and this size shop.
And I’m like, No way.
Yeah, and that have exceeded that.
So I’m like, looking back at that, it’s impressive.
Now you’re a business owner, so you have this is the my typical day to day what you do during the day.
Question You’re a business owner, so that kind of takes you away from what you’re passionate about in a way, I’m guessing.
What, what is a typical day like for you? Yeah.
So as much as possible, I try to, like, claw back the design work as I can.
And thankfully my partner Nick is very engaged in the business operations.
So that really helps with that.
But day to day it changes every single day.
That’s the reality of being a business owner is, you know, you have an expectation of this is what I’m going to do today.
And then that’s blown up in the first hour that you’re at work or, you know, you expect to be working on, say, designing a new product or helping with our design team to get that over the line.
And then instead, you’re dealing with sourcing new product or supply chain issues which is a common one today, these days, yeah.
So it varies runs the gamut though, you know, getting into a business which we’re still realistically a small business, you have to wear so many hats, you have to be in charge of human resources, finances, you know, manufacturing operations, sales, marketing.
You just do a bit of everything.
What do you love about owning this business and doing what you do? I mean that I got to do a bit of everything.
I definitely got bored in sort of stagnated roles of I have to do the same thing for even like a whole day. I’ll get bored.
So this gives me that flexibility or forces me to have the flexibility to do all these different things.
So when I go to work, I’m not sitting down and spending 8 hours over spreadsheets or anything.
I can break it up into all sorts of different things.
And then the other really rewarding aspect of what we’re doing now is seeing our product out in the world, being used by people and seeing the jobs that we’re creating locally for, you know, designers, manufacturing people.
We try to offer manufacturing jobs to a diverse range of people, which unfortunately in this province, maybe has not been available to them.
So it’s really great.
Are you selling right around the world? Yeah, our focus at the moment is on North America.
We have sold globally, though.
We have some product in Singapore, some in Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic.
So we’ve kind of touched on a few areas globally.
But really our focus right now is North America.
And then with an eventual expansion in the next coming few years to service the global market.
What are some obvious challenges to you in your in your position and running the business? You mentioned the supply chain issue.
Oh, that must be a nightmare.
My wife is an interior designer, so I’m hearing a little bit about it.
What were some of the challenges? Yeah, I mean, that’s a big one like that right now is an immediate challenge. But I think like the bigger challenge is kind of maintaining growth and culture and sales all at the same time.
And you’re trying to just step everything up all all the time.
You need to bring everything up a little bit to maintain your growth.
So, you know, if we want to bring on new staff, well, now we have to make sure our hiring processes are are adequate.
And then the next thing is to increase our sales because we have the staff to fulfill that product or to deal with the sales.
And so then you push and you’re just constantly pushing everything up a little bit or trying your best to do that.
And then, you know, things like supply chain challenges or a departure of an employee or something like that will throw a wrench in there.
Now, how long have you had this company for? How many years has this been.
Seven going on eight years now. Wow.
What would you say to yourself on the first year? Everything that you’ve learned in the surprises that you’ve experienced, what advice would you give yourself when you were just starting your company? Find mentors early on.
We’re we’re really lucky that we’re connected with a program called Venture Mentoring Services here in Edmonton.
That’s through the U of A.
So I think in maybe year three, we got connected with them.
And that’s been a huge help because that’s we’re surrounded by people who have started businesses run, businesses are running businesses, and they can just be sounding boards for our ideas.
We can, you know, come up with a problem that seems huge to us and to them it’s minuscule.
So that’s been really helpful.
I think like anyone who’s starting a business needs to find someone who can provide that level of advice because it’s really hard.
Either you’re doing something you don’t like.
In my case, we trained as designers.
We didn’t train at all as business owners.
I have no business background whatsoever other than growing up with my dad running a small business.
So you’re forced to kind of shift gears and you need someone to talk to to be able to help you through that.
Otherwise, you spend a lot of time Googling and getting six different answers for every question.
Is your partner, Nic, the same as you does? Did he kind of lack the business experience as well? Yeah, like maybe even more so.
He’s really thrived in it.
But his his parents are both teachers and he just, you know, he didn’t grow up in a small business or anything.
So thankfully, early on, I could call my dad and ask like, you know, how do you pay taxes? But later on, it was like getting into challenges that my dad hadn’t faced.
So he needed to find the appropriate people to present those questions.
There are all industrial designers.
They all have the same personality type.
What what attributes do you think make a successful industrial designer? I think there’s so much opportunity in the industry that there’s not one kind of mold that you need to fit into to succeed.
Like, obviously, a creative inclination is is fairly critical.
But then there’s also people working in industrial design who are just technical 3D modelers or something, right? So you could just be very technical or very research detail oriented.
Generally, the creativity is something that you’ll see across the board.
And then I think a willingness to fail really helps you go through a lot of ideas that aren’t going to make it.
So it’s you have to be able to approach things without that kind of preciousness and be able to crumple up that piece of paper and throw it out when you need to move.
On that advice of learning from your failures skills across many industries and it’s an important aspect.
Why would you advise somebody to take a look at pursuing a career as an industrial designer? Again, I think it’s because of the number of opportunities, the number of ways you can go with it.
A lot of people do start businesses.
They either, you know, like small scale furniture, manufacturing, if that’s kind of their interest, that’s a great pursuit.
And really the industrial design provides a foundation for that.
But similarly, if you want to get into kind of high level research and development or that kind of design for services, really studying how people act and and how they interact with products and services.
Like there’s roles for that.
There’s roles for people who like computers and 3D modeling.
There’s roles for people who like manufacturing and, you know, the kind of digital manufacturing side of things.
So I think it’s what industrial design does is teaches you how to kind of learn and how to approach a problem and that can be applied to any industry or any job following that.
So it’s a great general design or general degree that you then need to find your own way to apply it.
Well, Brendan, I wish you continued success with with your company and thank you for joining us today to talk about industrial design.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
It’s been a pleasure.
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