I started this website about six years ago, and back then it was simply a solution to a problem I was facing, one I shared with other recent design grads: how do you find a design job if you don’t know where designers work? So I did some research, made a list, designed it, coded it, and put it online. In the rainy spring of 2012, I purchased torontodesigndirectory.com.
When I first designed this site, I was actually really scared. I knew the concept was good – I was definitely solving a problem in a useful way – but I also knew that a lot of people in the Toronto graphic design industry would see my project. People I respected and admired, people I didn’t even know yet, and people I might ask to hire me someday. I was only a couple years out of design school and I felt like I was establishing my design reputation with this one project: if I didn’t get the design right, I would be laughed out of town. Or at least, I’d never be hired for the good gigs. Honestly, it still feels like that sometimes.
I was still nervous once the site was online and running, but I was ready for it to be out there. It took maybe six to eight months before people really started taking note and spreading the word – I think probably the biggest boost to traffic was when I gave a business card to a former teacher of mine from OCAD, to pass the word on to his students and colleagues. It was just a couple months after that that I saw my traffic go up, and the Directory really started getting attention.
Over the last five years this project grew in unexpected and messy ways. The first couple years was just a matter of adding new agencies to the list as I discovered them or people shared them with me – I launched with about 100. I attended tons of design events in the city, very awkwardly meeting people and mentioning “this little website I’ve been working on”. People even started to recognize me after a while, although my purple hair (at the time) probably helped with that. I got to know the industry and its people in my own unconventional way, and I’m so glad I have, ‘cause these people are wonderful.
After maybe a year of running the Directory I launched the first Swash & Serif show with Ligatures. I approached them about running a typography and lettering show, but none of us had any idea how to do something like that. So we put our heads together, did some googling, and figured out that renting a gallery space isn’t actually all that difficult. Ligatures had developed a wonderful budding typography and lettering community that we shared the event with. Any turn out would’ve been great in those early days, but as it was we had over 50 people participate in the show, and over one hundred people came to opening night. I met dozens of new people and was inspired by so much beautiful work. “The Toronto creative community wants to celebrate good local work,” I thought, “there’s gotta be some other ways to bring us together more.”
Fast forward a few years and I’ve launched the annual Portfolio Review Night, the talk series Cool Concept, and the (potentially) bi-annual Hue Shift pop up shop. Along with Swash & Serif (which I run solo now), the Directory has a nice series of regular events under its belt.
The Toronto Design Directory is no longer a simple interactive list of agencies, it’s more of a basecamp. Out of this camp, I create resources, events, and opportunities, that help or bring together Toronto creatives in various ways: they can show off, sell, learn, speak, network, and more. I develop different events and programs, filling gaps I perceive in our community, and work on problems that interest me. And honestly, the TDD is also a place where I can express my own creativity and use my own design skills. I get to speak to my favourite audience, and design for people who really care about design and understand it.
I never would’ve imagined that I’d be in a place like this when I was brainstorming about this project years ago. Back then I wanted to create a static site that I could build once and forget about, so updating it wouldn’t take up my free time. Funny how things work out.