Since 2011, the DesignTO Festival has featured a wealth of talent. From furniture to installation to architecture and more, artists and designers working in a range of media showcase exciting new and existing work. Through our Artist & Designer Spotlight series, readers will have the chance to learn more about the artists and designers that make up Toronto’s vibrant creative community.
How would you describe your practice?
Daily Goods Design LABS is a design, research and innovation consultancy based in Toronto. We enable and empower organizations, start-ups and individuals with a human-centered design process that focuses on what people value, desire and expect now and in the future.
We do three things: consult, make and teach.
From initial concept to final implementation, our design process consists of three stages: understand, explore and build. We start with research and observations based on real needs. We define, ideate and work through the challenges that need to be solved including whenever possible with the people we are designing for. Before producing and implementing any ideas, we prototype and test, discovering through research what works and why. We believe this results in better solutions.
We strive to empower those that want to integrate new and existing technology – such as AR, VR, and AI – due to changing values, desires and expectations (rather than solely for the sake of incorporating technology).
Is your work inspired by anything in particular?
In 2014, I founded Daily Goods Design Labs (DGDL) out of a need for thoughtfully designed products focused on improving the experiences that women have in mobile urban environments. In particular, I wanted to help women be more connected and aware of their surroundings through stylish and fashionable wearable tech. Interestingly enough the first project-based work that I landed after announcing a focus on women and wearables was a project to help design a system which included a wearable that provides track workers advanced warnings for trains and other moving vehicles. This was obviously not a female-focused project, but one that highly leveraged the things that women talk about as important in products that they want and need. The product itself needed to be useful and practical. It needed to help them be handsfree and mobile. The focus was on the value that the system and wearable could provide.
DGDL as a company is increasingly recognized for an expanded scope of work and other unique projects such as our MakerWear collection for women. Our team is growing because we want to re-balance the fact that women are far less employed in our fields than their male counterparts.
We’re likely best known for our “design-thinking, human-centered” approach that we use to develop products for specific clients, for our own products or as a way to facilitate “create your own future…“ activations at places such as the Ontario Science Centre. Our multidisciplinary approach means everyone has a role to play and encourages multiple ways to approach any design challenges that we’re asked to help tackle.
In light of recent events, have you had to change the ways you interact with the community? Were there any initiatives started because of the COVID-19 pandemic such as how you show your work, how you interact with the community, or how you inspire others?
Yes, a lot has changed for us. When we’re working together it’s typically always remote. For example, we’ve only met our new interns online. Last year the thought of this would have sounded strange, but now it feels, dare I say, normal and we’re glad that we can provide some interesting opportunities for people to work with us while the entry point for designers looking for new jobs is really dismal. Sadly, many of our previous clients no longer have budgets to support projects that they committed to, so our business model has had to change. Our larger in person design activities are all being revamped so we can run them remotely and online. Our focus now is connecting with others so we can make more impact on a global perspective, while at the same time we’re really starting to push harder to have a larger presence locally and want to partner with like-minded organizations and individuals.
Specifically we’re initiating a #shoplocal series that will help those that need to get out and shop. Our focus in this case is on how we can improve the things that we wear and carry due to the pandemic. With this in mind, we’ll be expanding our MakerWear line which is a series of workwear clothing for women that includes aprons, coveralls, shop and lab coats out of antibacterial fabric. We’ll also soon be launching a series of bags and what we’re calling a ‘Covid Essentials Kit’ that makes it easier for people to carry and remember what they need to bring with them when they’re on the go or when they plan to travel in the future.
We hope to inspire others to follow suit with these product examples. There’s a lot of waste that’s been created by the pandemic – single use masks and plastic gloves as an example. Our new bags and accessories feature easy to access pockets and a system that allows you to easily carry, wash and care for reusable masks and refilling of small bottles for hand sanitizers.
How long have you been involved with DesignTO?
As an individual I’ve attended the festival right from its inception. I saw it as a gift to Toronto. It was then, and continues to be, something that we as a design community need as a way to get out of studios to not only show our work, but to share knowledge, learn and network.
As a host of an event the first time I participated was in 2019. I and my DGDL team had hosted previously similar types of events and actually had our first ‘Women that Make, Create and Innovate’ event in 2017, but this was the first time we tied something that we were doing specifically for the festival. It felt like a great opportunity, perfect timing and we had a great turnout.
Do you have any memories from past DesignTO Festivals you want to share?
I have so many great memories of the festival. On a personal level it would be being out with my family on a snowy day and finding warm galleries or shops that are showcasing emerging designers that I’ve never heard of that are truly talented and innovative. Also discovering seasoned designers that are typically locked away in their studios and meeting them in person; this is always a treat and feels like a rare opportunity despite Toronto really not being that big of a city.
From the event that we hosted in January 2019, my memory is of some self-doubt and “why are we doing this in the first place as no one is going to come,” but then we had a full house and an enthusiastic audience. This was a nice surprise as of course you never can know in advance if an event that’s specific to a given audience will really have the traction that you hope it might.
Most memorable was seeing the men in the audience that showed up on their own, or men that work within my current or previous design teams, that brought their partners or girlfriends to the event as a way of acknowledging them and the effort that we were making to bring an event specifically focused on designing for women. That itself felt like an amazing accomplishment and is an example of how men are helping women initiate change in this field. These are the types of stories that we want to tell, and I’m reminded of this as I write these words how important it is to share these types of success stories with others as it’s not what people consider typical.
Why did you decide to participate in DesignTO again?
Well, first it would be because we really had a great time last time around, we met so many lovely people. Some have become great friends, others continue to support us. To our surprise last year we won a People’s Choice Award. This was an unexpected acknowledgement and really showed me how important it was to host events not only for the art and design community, but for the female-focused audience that we target and look to empower. It was a humbling experience to get the positive feedback that we did, it’s not something that we take for granted and we’re very thankful to have the DesignTO Festival as an opportunity to show and talk about the things that we do.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the Women That Make Create and Innovate project and what we can expect from this year’s iteration?
Similar to this past year, our event will feature women that are changing the landscape of design by intersecting it with fashion, science and technology. Our speaker line up includes seasoned professionals Adriana Ieraci (CEO, Conveyor Built and Executive Director, GYBO Robotics Network) and Kem-Laurin Lubin, a HCD Strategist-Innovation Coach and PhD candidate. Both have had great careers and have a lot of knowledge to share. Veda Adnani Chatterjee (UX Lead, Myant) is a new speaker to our events this year. Veda’s design practice explores the evolving role of the Quantified Self and self-tracking culture within personalized healthcare, with a focus on female health and well-being.
The main difference in our talks this year is that our discussions and insights will focus on what women want and need based on them bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19. Gender inequalities have come to the surface – women are not only suffering the greatest impact of the pandemic but are also more likely than men to experience the negative long-term effects created by the spread of COVID-19.
In regards to what you can expect regarding the event: I will kick off the talks sharing a point of view on how to design for women based on their lifestage, I’ll share some trends and female focused insights. Adriana will focus her talk on health care, while Kem-Laurin, who’s making progress on her PhD, will talk about computational rhetoric and how it informs digital biases. To close off the talks, Veda will share her unique point of view on how to design for women and will share some explorations into futuristic design systems for biological data that are coherent, contextual and humane.
A favourite part of our events is the wrap-up with a meet-and-greet at the end of the presentations where the presenters, female designers and engineers are present for conversations to discuss their work. We expect this year we may have to run the event online, so we’ll be looking to see how we can continue this aspect of the event by organizing some individual groups chats.
As an artist/designer working in Canada, what role do you feel DesignTO plays in our art and design industry as a whole?
DesignTO plays a role in celebrating and promoting Toronto as a city of art and design. Most Canadian artists and designers are not great promoters of themselves, and many within the community don’t have a business model to support what they do. We all need help to be more globally recognized, festivals such as this one are a way of helping us get there.
The festival as an annual event is something myself and other designers really look forward to. As an event that has many opportunities for submissions, it’s a deadline that one can work towards. It’s also a time when I know I will get to see many friends and old colleagues that I don’t typically get a chance to.
The festival has a lot to offer; there are opportunities as an individual or collective to showcase your work. As time has passed, there’s many options for people that want to be actively attending events and networking, while the more passive crowd can simply stroll around and have fun being part of the audience. It provides a really nicely curated selection of things to do. It’s well set up and organized. Regardless of where you’re at in your career, there’s always something that you can learn or do there – so I always say that DesignTO is a must attend event.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s important for artists and designers, companies and collectives like Daily Goods Design LABS to have opportunities like this in Toronto. To date we’ve self-funded all our events, so I’d emphasize the need for corporate and government support, which are both essential to support DesignTO to keep the design community flourishing and sustainable.
All images courtesy of Renn Scott and Daily Goods Design LABS
*Are you a practicing artist or designer that wants to share your story with the DesignTO community? We’d love to hear from you.