DesignThinkers Conference at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts breaks records

Hosted by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD), the DesignThinkers Conference is the largest annual gathering of creative communicators in the country. Held at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, this year’s event was record-breaking in both the number of attendees (over 1,800) and the international roster of delegates and speakers who came from the United States, Brazil, Germany, Turkey, Spain and the Netherlands.

Each year the conference pushes boundaries with a fresh theme created by a new design partner. This year’s successful “The Awakening” campaign was designed by TAXI Canada with illustrations by Andrew Kolb. With 99 screens at The Sony Centre, the alien-themed campaign was rolled out throughout the venue.

One of the key themes that emerged at the conference was the concept of “play” and its role in work and productivity. Delegates heard about the importance of experimenting and being open to failure. Said Pentagram’s Paula Scher, “Making mistakes teaches you how you might achieve something.”

Richard Turley spoke about how some of his most eye-catching Bloomberg Businessweek covers were created: “Part of this was me becoming bored and looking for ways to make my work more interesting to myself.”

Sagmeister & Walsh’s Jessica Walsh ended the conference with her talk on “Creative Play,” explaining that “play isn’t one activity – it’s a state of mind, something that makes us feel alive.” She also advised, “You need to want to do what you’re doing before you can enter a state of play. If you don’t love your work, do something else”.

Another piece of advice bestowed by speakers was the need to find purpose in your work. Said JWT’s executive creative director Frederic Bonn: ”To connect with people, you need to create something that they care about – something entertaining, beautiful.” Willy Wong, creative director for New York City, hit the point home when he said, “All of us need to find purpose in our work and find a place where we can do what we love.”

One look at the conference speakers demonstrates that designers are continuing to transition into roles beyond the scope of design. Todd Waterbury worked in creative direction at Wieden+Kennedy and now resides over all marketing for Target. Richard Turley went from print design at Bloomberg to become the first V-P of Visual Storytelling at media conglomerate MTV. Henry Hobson, titles designer for The Walking Dead and Sherlock Holmes, has begun the transition to film direction. “We’ve seen a complete reimagining of what design is and what designers do,” said RGD’s executive director Hilary Ashworth.


Amidst the conferenc, Harry Rosen CEO Larry Rosen was named Canada’s “DesignThinker of the Year.” The award was presented by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) and Rotman School of Management.

In its second year, the DesignThinker of the Year Award recognizes a Canadian corporate leader who uses design and innovation to achieve business success.

“I am honoured to win this award,” Said Rosen in his acceptance speech. “I’m most appreciative to all the designers who help Harry Rosen express its brand with warmth and personality, and give it life and vitality. Those are the real winners.”

Bob Hambly, RGD’s V-P of Communications, said: “Larry knows that, like a fine tailored suit, the details are important to any design. He surrounds himself with people who are great at their jobs and encourages them to do their best work.”

About the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD)

Representing over 3,000 members, RGD is a hub for the community, promoting knowledge sharing, continuous learning, research, advocacy and mentorship.

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