Full disclosure: I’ve always found the concept of industrial design to be more than a little fluid. Sure, I know the stock answer: “It’s design applied to products that are to be manufactured through techniques of mass production.” But when does a table move from the realm of furniture making to a product of industrial design? Or when does a shelf shift from the work of a maker to the output of an industrial designer? For this year’s Industrial Designer of the Year, Ko Júbilo, the answer to the question lies in a vintage Alfa Romeo Giulia.

The Vancouver-born Júbilo studied industrial design at Emily Carr and upon completing his degree landed a position at Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen’s revolutionary Molo design studio—a genre-bending institution that combines architecture, sculpture and industrial design. It was here that Júbilo honed his own love for cross-genre creation and experimentation while working on projects like the stunning Nebuta House museum in Aomori, Japan. The team was challenged with tasks that blended the artistic with the practical, like crafting a partitioning wall that evoked the feeling of wind blowing through a forest.

This international experience ultimately led him farther afield than his hometown of Vancouver—all the way to the prestigious design studio of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in London, where he worked on projects for established brands such as Vitra as well as the successful design for the Olympic torch for the 2012 London Games.

The Around About table has seating for eight yet rests on only three legs. The balance of heft and lightness is a hallmark of Júbilo’s approach to crafting objects that are practical and beautiful in equal measure. Júbilo’s Beam floating shelf was designed for stylish retailer Neighbour. Here it holds objects of inspiration for the designer—including some models of the famed Alfa Romeo.

As appealing as the buzzy design scene of London was, Júbilo returned to Vancouver to finish a very special project: the restoration of a 1960s Alfa Romeo Giulia that he had started before leaving for London. And not just any Alfa, but the first car his architect father bought in Canada after emigrating from the Philippines. Complicating matters even further, not only was Júbilo untrained as a mechanic, he also didn’t even really know that much about cars. But the Alfa was a beauty, and his process is telling as to what an industrial designer does—take each piece, examine it, determine its utility and then fix it.

Close to the time the car was complete, Júbilo had launched his own atelier in Vancouver. That same insatiable desire for understanding has imparted itself on the designs that wowed our judges this year, like his Around About circular dining table with a flush-mounted rotating centrepiece subtly inspired by communal eating practices. The first impression it gives is that it’s serenely balanced—no small feat, considering it features a massively heavy top on only three sculpted legs. With its nod to the function of a traditional dim sum table married to an unapologetically modern design, it may be the perfect piece to represent that convergence of Vancouver design in 2018.

With Arrays, a versatile series of modular, customizable lighting fixtures, Júbilo took his new talent for working with sheet metal (thanks, Alfa Romeo) and explored how both beauty and functionality can coexist: the lights are minimal to a fault but can be grouped together or aimed in order to solve whatever lighting issue presents itself to the end user. In his Beam floating shelf design, Júbilo again drew on his metal-bending skills and knowledge to craft a shelf that outwardly looks light and airy but is capable of holding significant weight. “My father is an architect, so the first idea that popped into my mind was to use the strength of an I-beam,” he recalls, and the result is ethereal to the sight but sturdy to the touch—the perfect combination for a high-end retailer.

“For me, restoring the car had a lot of parallels with industrial design. It was all about looking at a new problem with fresh eyes,” says Júbilo. So we offer a new definition of an industrial designer: someone with a relentless thirst for understanding the confluence of beauty, form, function and the story that links it all together (and who can replace a transmission in a pinch).

Júbilo’s Array light fixtures were inspired by his restoration of a vintage Alfa Romeo that belonged to his father. The Arrays pendant light. “For me, restoring the car had a lot of parallels with industrial design,” says Júbilo. “It was all about looking at a new problem with fresh eyes.” (Photo: Carlo Ricci)

2018 Designers of the Year ▸▸▸