Innovation Catalyst

Cluster Description

The Toronto Region is a North American hub for design and the centre of the design cluster in Canada with an extremely high concentration of designers in the workforce. The design cluster includes the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, industrial, interior, graphic, UI/UX and fashion design.

Design improves commercialization success for products and service, enhances place making, and makes technology work for users. Ontario has a rich design education infrastructure with all universities and colleges offering some design and design-related programs. In the past decade many of these institutions have also established design masters programs.

The design cluster has been a key contributor to global success for business sectors such as contract furniture, medical devices, and financial services. Design businesses in Toronto are concentrated in a number of areas. The innovative re-purposed warehouses of 401 Richmond Street, the Centre for Social Innovation, Liberty Village and the King-Spadina area, have attracted many design firms to co-locate and collaborate with entrepreneurs and creative businesses in their midst.

The next emerging design neighbourhood is taking shape on the Waterfront. Toronto is home to the Design Exchange, Canada’s design museum; the Toronto Fashion Incubator (first in the world); and the Design Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC), a non-profit, cross-disciplinary design research group established by the City of Toronto in 2001. DIAC brings together the various disciplines in the design cluster through their associations to explore new strategies that leverage the creative talents of designers to improve economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Why you should attend

  • Visit 4 award-winning buildings that showcase design-driven businesses and collaborative and educational spaces that enable collaboration.

  • Learn about placemaking in Toronto and urban planning and strategic design that reimagines historical sites to enable innovation and firm growth.

  • Learn how firms, educational institutions, and government work together to drive the design cluster in Toronto.


08:15 AM
Gather in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel Toronto.

08:30-09:00 AM
Walk to the flagship Umbra Store, a design company recognized for bringing intelligent houseware products to customers around the world. (See here for more information on the store.)

09:00-10:00 AM
At the Umbra Store, you will:

  • Meet Les Mandelbaum, Umbra President and Co-Founder who will share the story of how a small, Toronto manufacturer of plastic houseware products grew to become an international competitor in its sector by using design as a competitive tool for innovation and growth.

  • Learn tips and guidelines on creating a design-led business, and how Umbra is a case study on how to add value to everyday household products such as the garbage can, kitchen and bathroom accessories, and plastic furniture, through an integrated use of low-cost materials, colour, and design.

  • Have a chance to shop at the Umbra store at a discount!

10:00-10:10 AM
Walk to 401 Richmond, a historic warehouse that houses over 140 cultural producers and microenterprises.

10:10-11:00 AM
At 401 Richmond, you will:

  • Meet Margie Zeidler, visionary architect who acquired and transformed an aging factory building in Toronto's downtown core into an iconic arts, design and culture hub for the City. The landmark project of the mid-1990s inspired a Toronto trend in the adaptive reuse of industrial properties as co-working and collaboration spaces for the creative industries.

  • Learn about placemaking lessons, adaptive reuse, heritage preservation, and city building through strategic design collaboration.

11:00-11:15 AM
Board a bus and head to the Fort York Visitors Centre, an awarding winning building opened in 2015 that provides a gateway and front door to Fort York, Toronto's oldest settlement.

11:15-12:00 PM
At the Fort York Visitors Centre, you will:

  • Meet David O'Hara, landscape architect and Manager for the Fort York National Historic Site.

  • Watch an orientation film on the historic property and gallery viewing.

  • Tour the Bentway, Toronto's public trail and corridor space created on reclaimed land beneath the Gardiner Expressway. Ken Greenberg, urban designer and leader of the project will discuss the economic and social value of reclaiming public space in the City core.

  • Learn how these landmark projects created by award-winning architects and landscape architects demonstrate the impact of engaging various stakeholders in placemaking to promote community well-being and add economic value to City neighbourhoods.

12:00-12:15 PM
Travel to Daniels Waterfront City of the Arts, a 1.32 million sq. ft. ‘live-work-play-learn-create’ space that combines office, retail, residential, academic, and cultural components within 2 phases of the site.

12:15-12:55 PM
Have lunch in the OCAD U space with your fellow delegates. During lunch hear from Luigi Ferrara, Dean, Centre for Arts, Design & Information, and Kevin Morris, Managing Director of the Business Innovation Studio at OCAD U.

12:55- 1:20 PM
Move across the hall to tour Artscape Daniels Launchpad, a future community where emerging and established artists, designers and creators can work collaboratively. Tour one of Toronto's newest one-stop art and design collaboration hub opening in 2018.

01:20- 01:30 PM

Walk across the street to the George Brown Health Science Building, where you will participate in a mini-charrette, led by the Design Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC).

01:30-3:30 PM
Using Toronto as a model, the charrette will engage delegates in an interactive dialogue on the nature of design clusters and explore four key questions: 

  1. How can design act as an enabling cluster for other economic clusters to drive prosperity and social innovation in cities and regions?

  2. How can regions leverage their design talent pool to attract foreign investment?

  3. How can governments use design to drive innovation within their own organizations?

  4. How can a strategic use of design help to improve commercialization results from R&D investments?

Senior design professionals on the DIAC Board representing architects, landscape architects, industrial, interior, graphic and fashion designers in Ontario will participate in the charrette activities.

03:30-03:45 PM
Travel back to the Chelsea Hotel Toronto and Rotman School of Management.

Dress Code

As parts of this experience involve walking, please wear comfortable shoes and bring an umbrella in case it rains.

Meet your Organizers

The Design Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC) is a think tank and cross-disciplinary research group established in 2001. The activities of DIAC promote the strategic value of design and the contribution of designers from all disciplines to economic, social and environmental goals.

The City of Toronto’s Sector Development Office is the City’s lead for supporting key sectors of Toronto. Its mission is to advance competitiveness and vitality in the key sectors, based on its strategic knowledge and expertise. Its team of economic development professionals is committed to collaborating with businesses and partners to maximize business growth and overcome the challenges businesses face. 

George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology strives to build a seamless bridge between learners and employment by developing dynamic programs that are informed by industry and workplace-ready graduates who will be the candidates of choice for employers. The college offers a wide range of degree, diploma, certificate and apprenticeship programs at three campuses in downtown Toronto. George Brown’s location in the heart of Canada’s largest urban centre gives students access to top employers for field education and networking opportunities.


Image credit: photominus, istockphoto.