Spotlight on Glint HeroBy Gabrielle Whelan
The Glint Hero is a disruptive lighting system manipulated by a joystick that disappears into its environment. Its cool toggle allows users to point light in any direction without moving the fixture itself, so museum curators can now spotlight any piece of art at a moment’s notice, retail store owners can highlight their latest fashions, and architecture buffs can showcase the decor of their luxury home environments.
This radical product has already won five prestigious international lighting awards—and it hasn’t even hit the market yet. I recently moderated a discussion between the key Glint and Whipsaw players behind this project to uncover Glint’s story and shed some light on this unique luminaire.
10 Questions about Glint Hero
Okay, let’s describe what this product actually is for our readers.
Harden: So, traditionally, track lights consist of individual luminaries that can be individually adjusted on a track to point in different directions. When you move them, the reflector and bulb move together to aim the reflection, so the bulb is actually beaming the light outward. Well, when Andrew walked into our studio with a rough prototype of a new type of lighting fixture, it completely blew my mind. And that’s saying something because I see a lot of crazy inventions come through that front door.
What he and his team did was take that tiny bulb and aim it at the inside of the reflector. This reflector is shaped so that, as its angle of reflection changes, so does the beam of light. This meant you could now have it in a fixed position where you’re not just moving one reflector, but 10 or more.
Glint was such a fundamentally good idea that we decided to honor its incredible innovation and not take anything away from the physics of the device.
Instead of pursuing a universal product no one needed in their home or office, we pared our prototype down into a useful product.
– Andrew Kim
How does Glint fit within this product space as a Silicon Valley company?
Kim: Glint started as a solar company. We were mainly creating technologies to track the sun throughout the day and direct solar cells, which involved a great deal of optics design. I joined in 2016 when we were looking for markets that were faster with broader applications than solar. We turned that problem in reverse where, instead of having optics that tracked the sun, you had a light source that you could now direct on your own. We decided to use that technical capability to improve people’s lives and change their environments.
The first product we had looked like it was from Silicon Valley. It was color-tunable, zoomable, and ran off Bluetooth. It wasn’t a particularly good lighting product, but it had every technical capability we could throw at it. What we’ve done since then is to talk to people to figure out exactly what was useful about it. Instead of pursuing a universal product no one needed in their home or office, we pared our prototype down into a useful product.
Would you say the Glint Hero was the result of those early conversations?
Kim: Yes, I think having advisors tell us to do the simplest thing we could was the key. In this case, the simplest thing also turned out to be the most profound thing too. We’re used to grabbing a light and pointing it where we want it to go, but when we broke that fundamental rule, we found we could do all sorts of useful things.
It also meant we didn’t need to take up a lot of space, so we could now fit it into places we couldn’t before. We quickly found that all the physical things you have to deal with when adjusting light just went away.
Architects were also really jazzed by how much better their designs could look. Instead of having a beautifully designed building and then throwing track lights onto the ceiling—and all the chaos involved there—they could get rid of all that. That early feedback helped us, and when that became a core value, all the questions about how to make the product color-tunable or used from your iPhone became secondary.
What were the key pain points Glint was aiming to solve?
Harden: When it comes to track lighting, the problem is always, “We’ve got these beautiful ceilings or walls of artwork, but then we’ve also got these track lights just hanging down.” I’ve dealt with the problem. I’ve been up on these ladders and tried to adjust those hot lights. And then you’ve got to move the ladder and adjust the next one, and so on.
Terminel: My girlfriend used to work in retail and had to adjust window display lighting every week. She had to get on a ladder and manually move a hot lighting fixture, and she’d burn herself quite often. One of the great things about Hero is its toggle. Aside from it being easy to use, it’s also protecting the person making adjustments from getting burnt. This device is something the market desperately needs.
Kim: Our office manager also experienced this problem while working in retail and at one point even used oven mitts to prevent burns!
Terminel: The way this luminaire handles heat is also elegantly resolved. The main body is a heat sink, and the whole thing dissipates heat continuously to prevent the fixture from overheating.
It was an interesting challenge to design something to look beautiful when you want it to be the center of focus but then disappear by actively drawing your attention to something else when in use.
– Carlos Terminel
How was it trying to design something intended to disappear into its surroundings?
Terminel: It was an interesting challenge to design something to look beautiful when you want it to be the center of focus, but then disappear by actively drawing your attention to something else when in use. To get it right, we tried to go with as minimal a form as possible and incorporated subtle finishes so it would blend into places like art galleries, homes, and retail spaces.
We embraced the physics of this thing so that when you look at the face of the luminaire, you see the joystick on one side and then you have this perfect array on the other side with these reflectors, LEDs, and what we call a glare mask. The entire form is based around hugging these features and accentuating those components. This is an example of us marrying engineering innovations with design sensibilities into a beautiful product.
Harden: It’s truly a form that follows function solution.
Will Glint’s next product or iteration continue with this “less is more” aesthetic?
Kim: Architects would love us to keep producing lighting fixtures that simply disappear. It’s also interesting how pleasant it is to handle this thing. People are pouring over its details, and since having Whipsaw design it, they like the details.
Harden: There’s a reason there’s a big price difference when it comes to lighting. Maybe one is a hundred dollars and another is a thousand. It’s all in the details, materials, and quality, and all these things are evident in this product. It’s well made. It has a heft and weight which compels you to pick it up and appreciate the effort that went into it. It’s also a fine piece of design and engineering.
Kim: When we’re talking about less is more, we’re also talking about using less energy and fewer materials. Since we come from solar, we’re constantly thinking about energy efficiency and our environmental impact. The Glint Hero not only directs light in a more efficient and useful way but since it’s also half the mass of its competitors, we used half the amount of stuff to make it…meaning there’s also half the waste.
Who was your initial target market? (Is Glint intended for high-end homes and corporations or someone living in a Soho studio?)
Matsueda: These are high-end fixtures so they’ll be going into high-end homes. They’ll also be used by gallery owners or within museum spaces where curators will be potentially shifting artwork around by the season.
Within retail establishments, moving mannequins around different window displays also requires a lot of light movement. The ease of use Glint offers in quickly pointing the light in any direction means these commercial businesses can also save money. They won’t necessarily need a facilities manager since store managers or associates can now quickly adjust the light. Places of worship will also benefit from Glint. We also expect to be surprised at how people come up with their own uses as we introduce it to the market, because users will be so enthralled by the way it works.
Is there anything else you can share about Glint’s backstory?
Kim: When we were interviewing design firms to take on this project, we set down a prototype that was honestly kind of ugly. As soon as we turned it on at Whipsaw, however, Dan stood up to look at the front, back, and sides of it. It was as if he was searching for missing wires.
Harden: I think I responded that way because we see some crazy innovations come into Whipsaw and they’re sometimes fake. When we operated this prototype though, we noticed it was delivering a lot of genuine work in a simple form factor that I’d never seen.
I’m a lover of lighting—and don’t even wanna think about how much I’ve spent on lighting over the years—so I’m also very picky about it. The old Edison bulb style, including halogen, needed to be obsoleted, and Glint is at the forefront of solving the move to LED.
Too many designs can mask features for the sake of form, color, or material, for example. We felt strongly about keeping the design true to what the innovation was all about. So we celebrated Glint’s joystick toggle because no other track light can do this.
Glint has recently won an impressive list of lighting awards. Did you see this coming?
Kim: This has all been an incredible experience. Having award judges see the design in-person has been the winning formula because it’s something they want to interact with. The design just makes sense. I’m sure Dan expected all these wins though.
Harden: I did because it has all the criteria judges are looking for. It’s intuitive; it’s a beautiful object; it’s functionally superior; it’s ecological; it’s good for society; and all its features have been optimized for the utmost performance. Above and beyond that, the Glint Hero is not just another lighting iteration…It’s a breakthrough.
One other thing I wanna say is that this is also a great relationship. Good design and engineering come through teamwork. It’s not just about having a good idea and going through the machinations of the process. It’s about respecting each other’s needs and where both parties are coming from. Andrew’s team was very gracious with their time during development, and the project went smoothly as a result.
Matsueda: It’s weird how smooth it was given that the project wasn’t a straight line. This thing took a lot of turns. I liked observing how both teams interacted and found ways to maneuver those turns together.
What’s next for Glint?
Kim: We have to make and sell this thing!
Glint Hero is expected to hit the market in September 2020. It will be featured on the upcoming design competition series, California By Design, debuting June 27th on CBS.