Coquitlam-based design firm moves from art to part by offering solutions at all stages of the development cycle.
Tucked away in an industrial hub in Coquitlam, B.C., Igloo Innovations prides itself on offering clients complete design engineering services. However, this wasn’t always the focus for the design firm. Previously known as Digital Igloo, the company then focused solely on product visualization. Its key artists, Jason Clark (now Igloo Innovations President) and Scott Ewen, spent 2012 developing product launch videos for DELL and its Inspiron and Alienware brands.
However, in the background, Clark had been engineering subsea solutions with colleague, Steven Peddlesden (who now serves as Igloo’s Technical Director). Over the years, the duo say they had many conversations about the ideals of quality product development, but it wasn’t until 2013 that an opportunity presented itself to merge their synergy and ideals.
When that opportunity came, Clark and Peddlesden say they dropped everything. Within a week, they had rented an office and began working on the evolution, which finalized as Igloo Innovations Inc.
In the years that followed, Igloo has undergone a significant paradigm shift. In addition to the its existing Creative brand, which offers visualization, styling, theming, concept modeling, CGI animation, simulation, lighting and post production, Clark and Peddlesden’s background in mechanical engineering informed Igloo’s Ingenious brand. This “branch” of the company specializes in mechanical and electrical design for aggressive, demanding environments delivering on everything from component design to complete, integrated systems.
Currently, the company has six full-time employees, including Scott Ewen who remains with Igloo to satisfy the strong demand for creative and help developed key branding work for clients. While a relatively small team, the staff can fluctuate to upwards of 10 employees and multiple specialty contractors depending on the project workload.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that have come together with a wide and diverse set of experiences and skills, largely dominated by marine, offshore and subsea work,” says Igloo COO Joe Vosburgh, who rounds off the team with a background in electrical and power engineering. He notes that it’s Clark’s background in strong creative and product development that really drives the company’s vision.
“We solve customers problems in all stages of the development cycle from concept all the way to commercialization,” Vosburgh adds. “We tend to be pretty good at solving problems that other small focus firms don’t want to touch.”
For Igloo Innovations, their design philosophy is all about rigour. Dealing with some projects for fairly harsh conditions, like offshore and subsea, it was important for the team to meet a wide range of requirements and challenges.
Everyone at Igloo Innovations is expected to work together and collaborate on all projects that come through the door. The workspace was set up to maximize interaction and problem solving. Everyone is located in what Vosburgh calls the “design quad,” where whiteboards cover the walls and all members of the team have a chance to see and assist on every project.
“There are no islands,” he says. “The open environment makes us much more efficient and fast to solve problems than having everyone off in offices. Everything is done in the view and participation of the whole group, which is pretty kickass.”
For the most part, the company takes on four to six projects over the course of the year. However, many of these large projects often spawn smaller, more complex sub-initiatives.
“Every project often ends up drumming up two or three sub-projects that will take us into vastly different directions,” Vosburgh says.
As an example, the company began working with Dynamic Structures and its sister company Dynamic Attractions on a rides and attraction project. The team was tasked with developing creative designs for the project in a push to increase the aesthetic appeal of a new ride vehicle development.
However, after returning to the clients, Igloo Innovation then began working on the mechanical structures and support system for the ride. Once this was completed, the team expanded the project further by developing the restraint system and safety critical components.
“We started with one thing that ended up mushrooming into much larger projects,” Clark explains.
This is a fairly common occurrence for the engineers at Igloo Innovations, who got involved with a West Vancouver company who was designing an observing submersible. Over the span of three years, the company developed and produced a working prototype for their first product.
“They came to us to perform design analysis on the lift structure to ensure it would meet certification,” Clark says. “We started off doing the analysis, and once the company understood what our capabilities were, we began helping them with improving their marketing imagery also.”
Igloo was able to provide the support to validate the engineering that the company had done and the project expanded well beyond that initial investment.
Clark explains the company has been very fortunate to have a wide range of clients in various industries. Igloo has historically focused on projects for offshore, subsea, renewables and rides and attractions. For the most part, the rides and attractions sector is dominated by a couple of strong local customers, which enabled Igloo Innovations to familiarize themselves with this market.
A typical day at Igloo Innovation begins with a “sitrep” where everyone has the opportunity to hear what’s going on and the status of ongoing projects. The idea behind this is that where one solution is working on one project, it can be borrowed and used to solve a problem on an unrelated project.
“We definitely have a process and keep things somewhat fluid in order to keep the creativity as high as possible,” Clark says. “That’s where we like to set ourselves apart, we try to find the right or best solution given the parameters involved rather than say just trying to find the quickest and easiest option.”
And it is because of this attitude that the company has been able to maintain a steady stream of product opportunities and ideas.
The employees at Igloo Innovation regularly bring their ideas to the group for product sessions. Vosburgh notes that he expects the ideas to be fairly well thought out with drawings and a business case behind it. The team will then assess and evaluate the idea. If it is worthwhile, the employee will take the lead and further develop the project.
One of the biggest objectives for Igloo Innovations going forward is developing their own product.
“That involves a synergy with a passion project to ensure its success,” says Clark. “That’s definitely a longer-term goal for the company, while still providing the engineering services to develop great products. You need to have a lot of great experience. You never know what you’ll be exposed to or learn.”
Recently Igloo Innovations unveiled its engineered ride vehicle concept, STRATOS. Combining all elements Igloo showcases its creative, styling and engineering within the STRATOS concept.
“We looked for an avenue to showcase what we do without the constraints of non-disclosure. At the same time, we wanted to be aggressive with our concept so what better than a ride vehicle that can continuously rotated on multiple axes to give riders a wild experience,” Clark says.
Today, Igloo Innovations provides clients with concept designs, engineering services, full analysis, creative services from renderings, brochures, animations, ranking from technical illustrations all the way up to realistic portrayals.
For Clark and Vosburgh, Igloo Innovations is more than just an engineering company or design firm; it’s really all about the innovation and dynamism that takes place among all members of the team.