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InspirationSept 20, 2023

Top 5 projects by DesignThinkers presenters

Written by Dominic Ayre RGD

As many of you creative minds know, DesignThinkers is kind of like the Super Bowl, a wedding reception, the most joyous museum visit and the best design nerd marketplace all rolled into one event.

This year's Toronto event is no exception, offering an impressive line-up, with some of the greatest names in design appearing on one stage. Stephan Sagmeister, Paula Scher, Tina Roth Eisenberg (or swissmiss as you may know her) are all legends in our industry with incredible stories and portfolios.

Here, I wanted to share 5 projects from 5 of this year's presenters who maybe haven't had as much light shone upon them. We are blessed in Toronto and Vancouver to have this conference as a wealth of inspiration. As you will see in the following projects, the creativity and thoughtfulness has deep bench strength this year.

Catalina Estrada — Anunciação Brand Textile Design

As a designer who is often immersed in branding, my design conversations are usually about clean, clear and simple. Catalina's vision is wholly opposite to that. To see her illustrated work is to be pulled into other worlds. The natural compositions, intricate moments and powerful colour palettes combine to create places of warmth and genuine joy. The textile designs Catalina did for the fashion brand Anunciação from her home country of Brazil is so inspiring. Her compositions applied to fabric are vibrant and add movement to the already animated designs. It is impossible to not smile when you see this incredible work.

Plaid: Lauren Scully & Brian Studak — Tartan at the V&A Dundee 

As a multi-disciplinary exhibit design studio, Plaid is often given briefs that require consideration of upward to 200 or even 300 artifacts per show. This year, they helped the curators at the V&A Museum in Dundee, Scotland design the exhibit Tartan (fitting for a company named Plaid). The show celebrates the global history of a unique pattern and how the rules of the grid have inspired creativity from the everyday to the sublime. The gallery space is divided, like a tartan swatch, into nine equal parts, with the Tartan and the Grid in the centre. One exciting detail of the exhibition is its focus on colour. The show transitions from the first two stages being quite neutral and the last section being the most immersive colour system.

Zipeng Zhu — Stop Asian Hate

Zipeng's consistent advocacy work against Asian hate should be talked about at all levels. Reports show that hate crimes against the Asian community skyrocketed to over 300% in the US (Canada saw a spike as well). With his trademark chunky typography and super-saturated colour palettes, Zipeng's work allows people to consider this topic through in approachable and democratic graphic language. The takeover of New York City's Times Square gives Zipeng's work a canvas to highlight how large the discussion needs to be.

Base Design: Min Lew — Spoiling Fate

Created for The Royal Theatre of La Monnaie in Brussels, Spoiling Fate is one of the most interesting uses of AI generated art (in a world that is rampant with AI generated art). The theme of the season was Fate, which allowed Base Design the opportunity to deliberately lose control of the creation process (well, a certain amount of control). They asked the playwrights of La Monnaie to summarize each play in one line and used those as the content prompts for the AI generator. Base Design created a typographic system that juxtaposed tradition and modernity. That type system coupled with the AI-driven motion language allowed the campaign visuals to bring the story to life in often very unexpected and shocking ways. Watch the launch trailer here.

Christopher Rouleau — Sundays: A Celebration of Breakfast and Family in 52 Essential Recipes Illustrations

Christopher has been a hugely influential designer and letterer in the Toronto community for over 15 years. Recognized widely for his brush and hand lettering (the subject of his workshop at DesignThinkers), Chris is also a very accomplished illustrator. Sundays: A Celebration of Breakfast and Family in 52 Essential Recipes, written by Mark Pupo and published this year, features over 50 illustrations to accompany the recipes within. Often with a vintage feel, Chris' work balances the styles of heritage painting and fresh, bold flat design, allowing his work to find appeal from general fans and designers alike.

Dominic Ayre RGD has worked in Toronto as a designer for more than 25 years. At Hambly & Woolley, Dominic focuses on high-level strategic initiatives with clients such as York University, the RGD, OCAD University, CIFAR and Quadrangle Architects. Currently, on faculty at OCAD U, Dom is an enthusiastic mentor to new designers and is known in the design community for his expertise in typography, web platforms, design trends and popular culture.


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