In 2012, I was facing an issue: I was a couple years out of OCAD with a graphic design degree, and could only find in-house design jobs. I knew there were agencies and studios in Toronto, but didn’t know what they were called and google searches just turned up cheap, basic, graphic design services.
I knew a lot of my fellow recent grads were having the same issue, and it seemed kind of ridiculous to me: there were lots of professional designers in the city, why did finding them and their offices have to be such a challenge?
I had already built a lot of websites and knew how to code, so I decided to put together an online list of any and all graphic design businesses I could find to help anybody else who needed it.
Finding these businesses was still a challenge: this was 2012 and the internet was still growing. Instagram launched that year, businesses didn't really have social media presences yet, and google couldn’t tell the difference between a boutique design studio and a small family printing business that also designed business cards.
It occurred to me: working designers must know other working designers. So using my small LinkedIn network, I creeped second and third and fourth degree connections to see where they worked and who they knew.
Before long, there was a list of about 100 agencies in my spreadsheet. I told some friends what I was working on, and they started sending in lists they’d compiled for themselves so I could add their finds to my list too.
I built the website and called it the “Toronto Design Directory” because it was apt and very literal. No need to be fussy about it, this was a practical tool and an explicit name would help with SEO.
In 2014 the TDD went live, and I took a step back. This was a fun project and it felt good to help people, but it had been two years and I wanted to design other things, and focus on my full-time design job.
The reaction to the TDD was quiet for a few months - and then it blew up. Suddenly there was a lot of traffic, people were emailing me with new additions all the time, and industry professionals wanted to meet and talk about the project. I found the reaction intimidating, but one thing became clear: there were a lot more challenges that designers in Toronto faced than I realized, and they were looking for answers.
I had only been a professional designer for a couple years at this point, and I knew I coudln't solve everybody's problems; I could barely solve my own. But I wanted to help people, and I figured sharing whatever info I had using the skills I had (basic knowledge of web design and development) would be better than nothing.
I found the reaction intimidating, but one thing became clear: there were a lot more challenges that designers in Toronto faced than I realized, and they were looking for answers.
With this problem-solving attitude, I started adding events to help people in other ways, starting with portfolio reviews, then design talks and art shows. Designers needed - and wanted - to meet, to help each other, and celebrate each other’s achievements as well as get inspiration for their own work. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that while the industry appeared very intimidating to a newcomer, most people were eager to help each other and share their knowledge. You just had to give them an opportunity to do so.
There were a lot of challenges and failures over the years, but the TDD has survived until today with a lot of work, late nights, and creative thinking. As my own career has grown and evolved, I’ve faced more challenges and had lots of questions that were hard to answer. I’m continuing to work on solutions and create helpful resources that address these things, just like I did at the start.
The TDD started as a simple one-off web design project that I wanted to complete and walk away from. That changed when I saw how much people needed and appreciated what I was doing. I don’t know how long the TDD will exist, or what forms it might take on next, but I’m looking forward to finding out with all of you.
Founder and Director