Emerging designers speak the truth about DesignThinkers Toronto 2018
A collage of six images. The images are different designs or pictures.

Six emerging designers who spoke their "design truths" were awarded Scholarships to attend DesignThinkers Toronto 2018. To conclude their DTTO experience, some of them highlighted their major takeaways, thoughts and breakthroughs from the Conference.


Miranda Allum Provisional RGD / Toronto, ON

More than a week after the end of DesignThinkers 2018, I am still digesting all the insight, inspiration and truths I took in over the course of the two days. Since the conference theme this year was "speak the truth,” I am going to attempt to be as honest as possible about my key takeaways from this great event.


1. Designers are my favourite people.

I never feel more like myself than when I’m at the DesignThinkers Conference. The opportunity to be surrounded by hundreds of other like-minded people who share my passion for branding, get my typography jokes and appreciate the subtleties and design details that I obsess over, is truly unique.


A collage of photos from the DesignThinkers Conference. Two photos on the outside are of Conference branding and swag, and the photo in the middle is of three women standing together for a picture.













2. Finding yourself as a designer can take a lifetime.

I was struck by Jessica Hishe's keynote talk where she not only presented a range of incredibly intricate and beautiful hand lettering but also used her platform to speak about some of the most basic principles of going through life and finding yourself as both a person and designer. Her presentation titled “Finding Yourself, over and over again” addressed what I think is one of the biggest challenges faced by any designer, particularly a young designer, answering the question “what do you want to do with your career?”.


Personally, I have devoted a great deal of time and energy, over the last year, thinking about this decision. It was the question posed to me by my RGD mentor in our first meeting last September. More recently, I was able to support designer Meg Lewis to come to Toronto and lead her workshop “Full Time You” where she shared her ideas on this topic as well. Bottom line, Jessica and these other designers have made me feel like I am not alone in struggling to answer this question and in fact, this will be something I will be thinking about for the rest of my career.


3. Design offers us the opportunity to make a real difference in people's lives.

This may seem like a bold statement, but I can think of numerous examples, from over the course of the two days, where this idea rang true.

The conference kicked off with Mohini Datta-Ray, Executive Director of the North York Women’s Shelter, sharing the story of how making use of a design advisory board helped her raise funding for a new centre to support women living in violent circumstances.

To wrap up day one, Alex Center of CENTER, showcased his work for ConBody, an inspiring story of a formally incarcerated man who started a successful fitness company doing “prison-style boot camps." The long-term goal is to break down the stereotypes between formerly incarcerated people and young professionals. Not only is Alex’s branding work outstanding, but he was also able to help the founder land a partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue.


4. Design work is only limited by our imaginations.

Finally, I should mention the Live Magazine being produced by the design studio, Frontier. I loved this interactive element of the conference and can hardly wait to get my copy in the mail. I found the concept that an agency could invest time and money into something like a magazine both innovative and exciting. This really opened my eyes to the idea that a design studio can be almost anything you want it to be. You just need to ask yourself what kind of impact you want to make.


A collage of two photos. The one of the left is of a woman on a stage delivering a presentation, and the one on the right is of two posters with quotes on them. The posters are white and the text is coloured.










Nana Iwamoto Student RGD / Moncton, NB

Being able to attend the DesignThinkers Conference was an amazing experience. I, a person who does not like lecture style talks, enjoyed every minute of the conference and it brought out a new side of me. As a beginner designer, I was able to learn from other people’s experiences in the design world, one example being that research is necessary when learning about a client’s background. The scholarship I was awarded with went to my graphic design class of 10 people. Coming from Moncton, NB, we had to work hard to fundraise enough money to travel to Toronto without having to pay from our pockets, and I can safely say that the hard work was worth it.

DAY 1 - On the first day, I was overwhelmed by the scale of the event. The building itself was not the biggest but the amount of people, fellow designers, were flooding into the venue. The amount of work and organization that went into this event was impactful as it made it easy to get my conference pass and immediately start enjoying the event. I walked around with a couple of classmates and visited the booths. We had a chance to visit the free sample tables and may have taken one too many magazines (they unfortunately did not fit in our carry-ons). After the opening remarks, we had planned to see Bruno Maag, Laura Stein, and the Social Good panel.


Bruno Maag on stage


















DAY 2 - The second day was a little more relaxing, now that I had a chance to take it all in. I’ve had more coffee in the two days than I usually have in a whole month and I was ready to start day 2. I went to go see Julian Brown, Michael Bierut, Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree, Josh Higgins, and a panel on discrimination in the design field. I, being the one who’s scholarship entry was a hand lettering video, did not get a chance to go see Jessica Hische, a lettering artist whose work I have used for inspiration multiple times in my life. We had to board a plane just minutes after her talk so I was unable to attend. On the bright side, I was able to purchase her book at the conference’s bookstore along with two other books on type which made for good reading material on the way home.


Michael Bierut on stage


















It was unfortunate that I was not able to see everyone that spoke at the event but I was satisfied with the ones I chose. Every speaker had a different personality to their talks with a different story to tell. It was incredible to see the unlimited range of design and how many options are within it. I have learned many things at the event and I highly recommend it to anyone with a passion for design. Big thanks to Design de Plume for helping me attend this event.



Kara Katon Junior Affiliate / Montréal, QC

Attending the DesignThinkers Conference 2018 was a great opportunity for me to gain a new perspective and collect memorable quotes, which surprisingly have little to do with the design work itself. A lot of the inspiring speakers present similar ideas about how the process behind our work is just as important as the final result. In the creative industry, we often measure our success based on other people’s reactions. However, on the first day of the conference, Alex Center, shocked us with a statement that says “success doesn’t actually exist”. He explained how success and failure are not two different outcomes, but simply two different states of mind. For him, success has more to do with self satisfaction rather than external reward. As we face different challenges when building a brand and crafting the personality of a product, he reminded us not to lose our own personalities.


On the second day, I learned about the transformative power of design as it interacts with the community. When presenting her work at Carrot, a digital health company that helps people to quit smoking, Grace Hwang demonstrated the impact of design in enabling good behaviour. She said the key to create an impactful design is to lead with empathy, which is the first step of design thinking. Michael Bierut, the author of the most inspiring design book How To, further revealed that the transformative power of design doesn’t actually come from the intricacy and perfection of the visual work, but rather from the way people connect with it. He talked about his recent logo creation for the last presidential campaign. While the simplicity of the logo was initially criticized, it turned out to be a positive thing as people were able to easily recreate their own version and participate in constructing its meaning together. His project made me understand how design has the ability to make creative process accessible to everyone, rather than exclusively belong to designers.



Clair Morgan Student RGD / Vancouver Island University

Upon listening to Clare Brown, Chief of Design at the National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution, I was fascinated that she still needs to fight hard within her institution to encourage collaborative thinking.


To someone who values collaboration deeply, this certainly came as a shock. To come together as a team is not only good for morale but it also encourages layered inspiration, ideation, and in the end, the best possible solutions. Collaboration allows people to be involved in the decision-making process and to support the project's future success.


After listening to Clare, I concluded that designers will always have to fight for our rights, good design and collaboration efforts. We have chosen a field where we not only need to stand up for ourselves and our work with our clients, but also with our co-workers.

I am grateful to have learned this from Clare early in my career. Now I recognize the importance of toughening up, sharpening one’s sword, and preparing for battle. It is not just good design that has changed the world. It is also the designers behind the work, their experience, and their beliefs. 


I cherish the DesignThinkers Conference because it is a place where designers support and respect one another. Thank you to RGD and Davis for the scholarship that enabled me to attend DesignThinkers Toronto 2018.



Paul Twa Provisional RGD / Edmonton, AB

Having previously enjoyed DesignThinkers in Vancouver, I was thrilled to get the chance to experience another RGD conference on the other side of the country.


One of the best decisions I made after I graduated in the spring was reading Michael Bierut’s book Now You See It and Other Essays on Design. Fresh out of the structured safety net of my design education, being able to read about a designer’s career path gave me some much-needed foresight and confirmation that I was ready for my own next steps. From the solidarity in knowing my mistakes have been shared by those more experienced than me to the excitement in seeing how designers can impact the world around them, his book showed how a design career can develop and all the twists and turns that it can entail. The chance to hear this explored further in person during Bierut’s keynote was a privilege and left me captivated and inspired, like so many of the presentations from that week.


Paul Twa, Rachel Lenihan and Michael Bierut posing for a photo at a book signing.


























Mitch Goldstein, as well as Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree’s talks, were delightful reminders that the process of designing should also be fun. They embody the mantra that finding your technical niche and a process that works for you are ways to establish a fulfilling career. Their success was marked not only by their hard work, but also their creative curiosity and keen understanding and manipulation of physical materials. The skills of these designers remind me to return to the fundamentals of design and its tactical roots.


Another highlight was getting the chance to introduce Tosh Hall on the main stage. While his current position may seem far off for someone in my shoes, his candidness in detailing his early career and all its ups and downs was reassuring. To hear about the challenges he encountered and the blend of hard work, timing, patience that led him to where he is today was a notable reminder to stay motivated. 


Paul Twa introducing Tosh Hall



























DesignThinkers Toronto was a moment to hit pause and take stock of where I am by learning from some of the master talents in the industry and fuel me with the inspiration needed to move forward.