Design Cluster Tour, TCI Network Global Conference

In October 2018, the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity invited DIAC to develop and lead a Design Immersion tour as part of the TCI Network Global Conference in Toronto. The conference focused on best practices in the management of economic clusters. It gave DIAC the opportunity to showcase, to an international audience, some vital aspects of Toronto’s design cluster. It also provided a chance to assess the assets of design in the context of local priority clusters in the Toronto Region, including advanced manufacturing, food, financial services, transportation and logistics.

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DIAC’s walking and bus tour attracted a diverse group of conference attendees from Spain, Denmark, Austria, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Mexico, as well as from other regions in Canada. The tour began at the Umbra store where the group was intrigued to hear about the design-led success of this Toronto-based manufacturer from co-founders, Les Mandelbaum and Paul Rowan. They were then introduced to the innovative thinking behind three placemaking projects: 401 Richmond, the Fort York Visitors Centre and the Bentway. The tour group travelled by bus to the Daniels City of the Arts on the Waterfront for lunchtime presentations co-hosted by the School of Design at George Brown College and OCAD University’s Business Innovation Studio, both new residents of the facility. Participants also enjoyed a pre-opening tour of Artscape Daniels Launchpad led by Carmen Douville (Artscape) and Udo Schliemann (Entro). The group then crossed the road to the glass boardroom at the George Brown Health Sciences Centre for the final session in the tour, a discussion exploring some of the opportunities for advancing design clusters in Toronto and other regions. DIAC invited Anne le Guellec, Consul General of the Netherlands in Toronto, as a special guest at this session to share her insights on the strengths of the Dutch design cluster.

A cluster is a concentration of industry specific businesses or organizations and supporting institutions in a particular geographic region. According to Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, who developed the cluster theory, it is mutually beneficial for these entities to collaborate to drive economic growth and prosperity in the region.

In the case of the Ontario design sector, cluster theory provides a helpful framework to assess our key strengths across the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, industrial, interior, graphic and fashion design. The framework is also helpful in identifying ways for the companies, academic institutions and other organizations supporting the sector to collaborate more strategically with the design workforce in order to reach common goals.

At the TCI Network Global Conference, DIAC was able to connect with cluster organizers and researchers in Europe and other regions. We will be building on these connections as we work to develop a more robust profile of our own design cluster.

In its research and program activities DIAC is working to position design as a strategic tool and enabling cluster for other industry clusters in our region. But our biggest challenge remains how to engage industry and government to leverage the talents of our design workforce as an essential resource for growth and prosperity.