Matthew McCormick was a little nervous. He was about to present his lighting design for the Vancouver headquarters of video game giant EA Sports. It was a big commission, and he wasn’t sure how they’d react to the fact that the inspiration for his proposal was the blockbuster Star Wars series. “I had a bit of trepidation,” he says with a laugh. But this was a moment where his years as an advertising creative director came in handy: not only does McCormick know how to refine what he calls “crazy whack-a-doodle ideas” into incredibly elegant installations, he knows how to sell them.
“There’s a principle in advertising: throw a Ping-Pong ball at someone and they’ll catch it, but if you throw three or four, they’ll miss them all,” he says. “And so with design, that iterative practice of distilling an idea down and getting it to the simplest form is really my M.O.”
McCormick guided his clients through his rationale, from how the architectural drawings of the new office uncannily resembled Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon to the graphic wall patterns found on the Death Star to his proposal for a striking series of 72 lights that would cascade over the staff area. “It can sound very silly, but when it’s designed right and when you have these anecdotal stories, it can bring an idea to life,” McCormick says. “It was a slam dunk.”
That successful pitch shows how in just five years, McCormick has garnered a global profile. “His work demonstrates a high calibre of aesthetic, craftsmanship, and execution that holds its own alongside other international players,” says Nina Boccia, director of programs at Toronto’s Design Exchange. “Not only does he make great products, but he knows how to communicate that.”
Since leaving his post as creative director at Best Buy and starting his lighting company in 2013, the pace has been dizzying. He’s shown his lighting at the London Design Festival, Dutch Design Week and ICFF in New York. Requests are coming in from everywhere from Germany to Qatar, and these bespoke commissions have helped him build a burgeoning product line. Knock-offs have even started popping up in China. A pivotal moment came last year, when he was handpicked by the influential Italian tastemaker Rossana Orlandi to hang his Halo lights—softly glowing loops clipped with brushed metal— at her gallery in Milan. “That’s an international stamp of quality,” says Boccia. “She is the godmother of design, and when she decides to work with someone and include their work in her gallery, it’s quite an achievement.”
McCormick’s rapid transformation from a weekend tinkerer into an internationally known designer is even more impressive considering he has no formal training in industrial design. But in his spare time, he was always building things, including a sculptural chandelier built out of metal parts he bought online. It was this fixture that kickstarted his second career: a dinner guest was so impressed he commissioned McCormick to create the lighting for a Vancouver restaurant. That commission led to another and then another.
“When he gets onto an idea, his mind just thinks of the one million possibilities of what it can be,” says interior designer Andrea Greenway, who has worked with McCormick on a number of projects in the Vancouver area. “But he’s a real perfectionist, and he won’t sleep until it’s perfect—until it’s more perfect than perfect.”
That attention to detail may be his true secret to success. The power of his work lies in its simplicity: each design has been worked on and worked on until it’s been reduced to its purest expression. His Dodeca light—a 12-sided ring that hovers horizontally and is lit from its interior circumference—could double as sculpture. Mila, his latest pendant—a hand-blown glass orb nestled in a ribbon of rose gold—resembles a supersized earring. “My aim is to illuminate space with art, and for it to look as good switched off as it does on,” says McCormick. “I never stop refining.”