Prototype Exhibition
‘Purpose & Play’

Going into its seventh year, ‘Purpose & Play’ is a new edition of the annual prototype exhibition organized by DesignTO in partnership with Umbra. A dozen new prototypes by Canadian designers are shown each year at the Umbra Store during the DesignTO Festival. ‘Purpose & Play’ invites any Canadian designer (living here or abroad) to submit to this open call for submissions.

About the exhibition

Showcasing the work of Canadian designers, ‘Purpose & Play’ is an exhibition that explores fresh and original housewares and working products for contemporary life. Previous editions were ‘Work/Life’ and ‘Compact Living’.

‘Purpose & Play’ will run during the annual city-wide DesignTO Festival, January 21-30, 2022. All selected prototypes will also be considered for addition to Umbra’s growing roster of quality products, to be manufactured, distributed, and sold through the Umbra brand, with royalty. For example, The Bolo Planter by Simone Ferkul, a prototype from the 2017 exhibition, is now produced by Umbra and available for purchase globally.

Call for submissions

The past year has been hard. The effects of the ongoing global pandemic have been felt in almost every aspect of life, with serious illness and loss of life threatening communities, social isolation and stress damaging mental health, and restrictions jeopardizing livelihoods.

Throughout this year, we have been asked to stay at home as much as possible. Many activities previously spread across different locations and environments — live, work, play, learn, socialize — are confined to one space. The monotony of lockdown is contributing to brain fog and boredom.

In a time when everything can feel the same, how can we inject colour and levity into our lives? Where can we find moments of joy and spontaneity? How can we experience our environments anew after so much time in confinement? In contrast to restrictions, essentials, and necessity, how can we carve out opportunities for frivolity and play?

Drawing upon these conditions, the exhibition invites designers to explore new designs for the coming year. How can we create a “new quality of life” through prototypes? Consider opportunities for joy, humour, play, multiple functions, adaptability, personalization, entertaining, and other ways domestic objects can be fun to use and fun to own. The exhibition invites designers to think about the whole environment that we live and work in, and welcomes creative responses to the theme.

Design considerations

  • An understanding of Umbra’s core values: modern, original, casual, functional, and affordable
  • Opportunities for joy, humour, play, multiple functions, adaptability, personalization, entertaining, and other ways domestic objects can be fun to use and fun to own. (See Umbra’s Strumba Kalimba as one example.)
  • Anticipate or integrate technological developments
  • A product that can be used in multiple contexts
  • A product with a long lifeline
  • A product that you want, and that you can afford
  • Aesthetics, functionality, manufacturability
  • Global appeal

Submissions of new work are preferred and strongly encouraged; however, we will consider submissions of work that have not been publicly displayed before. Applicants can submit more than one entry using one submission per form.

All submissions must include the following:

  • A description of the product (max. 150 words) — please be sure to include the following details: title, function, materials, dimensions;
  • A short bio on you and/or your creative practice (max. 150 words);
  • 2-3 images of the prototype, such as a digital rendering, drawing, or sketch (max. 1MB per image);
  • Your contact info (name, email, phone number, mailing address), and website URL and/or social media handles (if available);
  • Signed copy of Umbra’s Design Submission Agreement (in PDF format).


All submissions are due Friday, September 24, 2021 by 11:59pm EDT.

How much does it cost?

There is no fee for this submission or for participating in the Prototype Exhibition. However, if selected, you will be responsible for arranging drop-off and pick-up of your prototype to the Umbra Store, 165 John Street, Toronto, at your own cost. Artist fees will be paid to designers selected for the exhibition.

When does the prototype need to be done?

The prototype does not need to be made when submitting to the call. Designers who are selected will be required to produce a prototype of their submitted design and ship the prototype to Toronto by January 3, 2022 latest. Additional details will be sent to successful applicants.

Who can apply?

All Canadian designers can apply. This includes Canadians living abroad, and anyone currently living in Canada. Students can apply as well.

When and where is the exhibition?

The exhibition will open Friday, January 21 and run until Sunday, January 30, 2022. An opening reception will be held during Festival Week if permitted by pandemic protocols. The exhibition and reception will be held at the Umbra Store, 165 John Street, Toronto. We reserve the right to modify dates and delivery formats if required.

What happens next?

Successful submissions will be notified by email mid-October 2021.


Email any questions to Robyn Wilcox, Head of Programming, at with this subject line: Prototype Exhibition + your name.