In our imagination, industrial designers possess that rare mix of engineering skill, design creativity and practical know-how that makes them the design community’s true problem solvers—present them with a quandary and they find a way to not only figure out a solution but also devise the implement to do the job. So how come, when we look at the body of work from most IDs, it’s so consistently narrow?

That’s why Edmonton’s Onetwosix is such a breath of fresh air. They won this year’s competition with their designs for—wait for it—an innovative office module for privacy, a tricked-out Mercedes campervan, a housing for an MRI machine and a curling broom. Seriously, if you used a random word generator, you couldn’t come up with four more disparate projects.

xOnetwosix’s Nick Kazakoff (left) and Brendan Gallagher in their Edmonton workshop. Photo by Aaron Pedersen.

These unconnected wonders sprang from the minds of Onetwosix’s principals, Nick Kazakoff and Brendan Gallagher. The pair met at the University of Alberta’s near-mythic Industrial Design program, and while both went their separate employment ways upon graduation, they stayed in touch over their shared love of pure design. Soon conversations became after-work meetings, often taking place in the 20-by-20-foot garage of Gallagher’s 126 Street home (hence their name) in Edmonton’s Inglewood neighbourhood. In mid-2014, meetings became full-out tinkering sessions, in which they’d design and make a few tables to consign at local shops. Repeat. Onetwosix was born.

Their designs began to attract a lot of local attention, such that the duo took a deep breath and asked the big question: Can we do this for a living? Both had been extremely fortunate to get stable industrial design jobs right out of school, but there was no denying that their passions lay more in the objects that came out of Gallagher’s garage than in anything from their day jobs. So, they did it.

xOnetwosix's Loop phone booth offered a smart privacy solution for open-space offices. Photo by Tina Chang.

Their first big break came with the Loop phone booth. The pair had been approached by a client (who was unaware the “company” was still operating out of a garage) about finding a solution to an office privacy problem. They analyzed the inherent drawbacks of the then in-vogue open-concept layout that many offices were switching to and came up with a modern, soundproof solution that accomplished the task of having a private space for meeting without sacrificing the spirit of the open plan. It was an idea perfectly situated for the moment, and it resonated with big-city clients such as L’Occitane in New York, who struggled with the challenges of the open-concept office—but its initial success was both hindrance and boon: to that point, they’d been so focused on solving the problem that they hadn’t figured out the logistics of manufacturing the solution.

xOnetwosix's housing for an MRI machine was designed to help patients feel more at ease.

Here’s where the convivial closeness of Edmonton enters. The principals behind Izm—our Furniture DOTY in 2010—not only invited Onetwosix to set up shop in their large workspace, they also offered Kazakoff and Gallagher invaluable every-step-of-the-way advice on how to deal with day-to-day problems like shipping their product to the U.S. and related practical concerns.

xOlson Curling approached the Onetwosix team to design a new head for their upcoming line of curling brooms, and the result is Pyro.

With that base of support, there’s been no stopping them. By 2016 they were adding team members and had outgrown the shared space with Izm. They’ve added a group of projects in an amazingly diverse groups of industries. Their MRI project required the duo to think about how to take the menace out of a daunting machine that often enters a patient’s life at a most vulnerable time. The bespoke conversion of a Mercedes Sprinter van was done for a retiree who wanted a stylish and practical mode to explore the continent. And, in perhaps the most Canadian design gig of all, Onetwosix was hired by Olson Curling to bring some technological advancement to the staid sport. The result—the Pyro broom—is downright sexy.

xFor a stylish retiree, Onetwosix converted a Mercedes Sprinter van.

It all adds up to an expression of creativity married to practicality that refuses to be pigeonholed. As Judge Massimo Buster Minale of London’s Buster and Punch put it: “I really liked that these guys don’t just design for design’s sake (a disease in our industry), but they take an idea apart, innovate, change and then put it back together.” It’s that blend of curiosity and feasibility that’s made them this year’s Industrial Designers of the Year.