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A Future without Work

Deadline: September 20, 2019

What is a future without work as we know it?

For most of us, it is impossible to imagine society without it, because work dominates and permeates every aspect of our lives.

Whether you consider work as a source of subsistence or purpose, the sacredness of work runs deep through both past and present social interactions, economy, and politics. An obsession with work lies at the core of our education system. The labour force drives our national economies. Working to earn a living is often a necessity and expectation. It can offer individuals a sense of purpose, providing opportunities for learning, growth, and prosperity. It gives status, and thereby access to many benefits and networks. Work shapes our lives and identity.

So, what is a future without work as we know it?

Globalization, demographic shifts, and technology are constantly and fundamentally shaping work and society. If the advancement of machine learning and artificial intelligence continues to change the nature of jobs, it’s possible we could live in an era of mass unemployment. If the price of automation continues to decline, innovation continues to be democratized, and renewable energy continues to be unlocked, we could also live in an age of abundance, where many of life’s necessities and luxuries will become widely available to us.

This “disappearance” of work would usher in a social transformation unlike any we’ve seen. The hope that machines might free us from redundant tasks has always been intertwined with the fear that they will diminish our sense of the value and fulfillment of work. The aspiration that technology will bring more abundance has always been clouded by the risk of increased inequality and division.

This year DesignTO investigates the theme of ‘A Future without Work’. We seek designers and thinkers exploring new forms of work. Whether you reflect on the past, design pathways into the future, experiment with new forms of work, or design alternative work environments, we want to hear from you.

We welcome diverse perspectives and responses to the theme with a specific emphasis on the following sub-themes:

Talks may be about current research or case studies, new products or technologies, spaces or experiences, speculative design or strategies, or new processes or policies.

All submissions must include the following:

  1. A description of your talk topic (max. 500 words), including target audience, format, length/timing (15 – 20 minutes preferred – presentation timing will be confirmed after acceptance), and equipment needed;
  2. a short bio on you and/or your creative practice (max. 150 words);
  3. 1 -3 visuals of your work (max. 1MB per image), or a link to a video (if available); and
  4. Your:
    • contact info (name, email, phone number, mailing address),
    • a CV, and
    • website URL, Twitter and Instagram handles (if available).

Click here to submit

* Only submissions through the online form will be considered. *


All submissions are due Friday, September 20, 2019 by 11:59pm EST.

How much does it cost to submit?

There is no fee for this submission. All successful applicants are required to cover their own
transportation to and accommodations in Toronto for the Symposium date. A modest speaker’s
fee will be paid to successful applicants.

When and where is the Symposium?

The Symposium runs Saturday, January 25, 2020 from 1-5pm. It will be held at George Brown College, in downtown Toronto. We reserve the right to modify dates or times if required.

What happens next?

Successful submissions will be notified by email by October 21, 2019.


Email any questions to Programs Lead Simon Mhanna at [email protected] with this subject line: Symposium + your name.


Going into its fifth year, the Symposium is a signature program of the annual DesignTO Festival, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing design culture. The symposium is made possible with the support of George Brown College School of Design.

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