Growing up in Whistler and Pemberton, industrial designer Caine Heintzman was practically raised on a snowboard. And while the mountain sport may not seem to have a direct connection to the world of art and design, Heintzman credits those hours out in the snow for helping shape his creative mind. “You use your environment as a place to play, for creative expression,” he says.

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Pots, an adaptable surface-mounted planter system Heintzman designed using a 3D printer, is a return to his ceramic days. Each pot can be moved up or down on the support wire without tools, creating a flexible arrangement for a living garden.

Though he has far less time for carving up the slopes these days, the pursuit of creativity continues for our 2021 Industrial Designer of the Year winner. Whether he’s crafting an ever-shifting series of modular lights or a so-simple-it’s-genius aluminum wall hook, design is both his ongoing drive and his enduring destination.

It’s been this way since he was a recent high school grad and heard a friend mention an interest in studying industrial design. It was a field Heintzman hadn’t heard of before, but the mix of commercial and creative problem solving sparked something. “I’m somewhat pragmatic, and the practical application of something that was also fun made sense to me,” he says.

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Though Heintzman released the first Pipeline light in 2013, the series, as he says, is “ongoing." The linear LED light is infinite in its modularity, and has been used in a variety of creative applications, from a wall of mounted lights to a grand chandelier.

So, Heintzman enrolled at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and dove into an intensive period of arts education, exploring painting, photography and drawing. Sculpture was the sweet spot, though. “Making things with volume, that were tactile, that occupied space: that was appealing,” he says. Ceramics, too, tickled him. He followed the design bug to some more schooling in Germany and into odd jobs with various Vancouverites and makers before simultaneously launching his own practice and teaming up with Matt Davis and past DOTY winner Lukas Peet to start the lighting-focused studio Andlight.

His first product wound up becoming his most enduring design: Pipeline, a simple, elegant linear LED lamp with a beautifully diffused glow... and, more importantly, a clever connector that allows for infinite combinations. Since 2013, the system has only gotten more creative, with multiple Pipeline lights being combined to form a grand chandelier, or mounted on walls or ceilings to create artful installations in both residential and commercial spaces. 

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Like Pipeline, Heintzman’s Vale lights are limitless in their application, able to be mixed and matched and layered to the end user’s content. “The driving concept was to create a system based on a single unit that could easily be joined and repeated to create ‘tiled’ planes of light,” explains the designer.

“We didn’t know how big it was going to be,” Heintzman admits. “We put out a toolset, in a sense, and designers and architects can get really involved in the design of the light fixture. They become collaborators.” 

That modularity is a common thread in Heintzman’s work: the Vale series (another LED light) also allows end users to mix and match panels to suit their needs; his Pots hanging planter system can be built out and arranged to fill any size or configuration of space. “The notion of modularity means you’re not really arriving at a final end; there’s room for scalability,” he says.

The goal—whether it’s a linear light fixture or a cheeky coat hanger or a 3D-printed indoor gardening system—isn’t explicitly to make something beautiful: it’s to make something useful. And, yet, there always seems to be a thoughtful poetry to be found in Heintzman’s designs. “Any new design should do something new or be better than its predecessor,” he says. “Well designed and engineered products built from quality materials and with good technique will last longer in the world.”

He starts with a problem to be solved; there’s no way to know at the beginning what the solution is going to look like at the end. Vigorous research into material and production processes sparks a landslide of possibilities. Sketching and modelling goes on and on, a throwback to his art school days. Sustainability, he believes, comes from engineering timeless products, ones that will be desirable as trends come and go.

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The HSS bench is made from a simple steel tube, an exercise in streamlined manufacturing: the intention here is that a local welder could easily make this from an off-cut.

It’s this straightforward simplicity that caught the attention of our judging panel. “Although lighting is a common category for industrial designers to explore,” said judge Liana Thomson, product developer for EQ3, “Heintzman seems to have found the balance between function, quality and beauty.”

Part of creating something long-lasting, he knows, isn’t just to design with the right materials (or to create furniture that can be reupholstered and lights that can be repaired) but to design with an aesthetic that can withstand the test of time. “To a degree that I’ve got a signature of my own, it’s to try to veer away from being trendy,” he says. He tends to avoid bold finishes and colours, too: “One of the constraints is that a product can be used for a long time.”

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Credit: Jennifer Latour

Designer Caine Heintzman

Another constraint, of course, is time itself, the curse of any designer (or snowboarder in flow state). “When you’re a creative person, you’re always looking at the world through that lens,” he says. “You’re going to keep a notepad, take a sketch, always be on. The challenge is finding the hours to do everything we want to do.”

WL Designers of the Year 2021 ▸▸▸