DesignTO Symposium
‘No Such Thing as Normal’

What is the new “normal” when there is no such thing as “normal”? In a post-pandemic world, how can we design to meet diverse needs?

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”
– Dr. Margaret Mead, pioneer in cultural anthropology

With over 7 billion people on earth, there are many different kinds of human beings in the world, each unique. As designer Kat Holmes describes in her book Mismatch, “[design] solutions need to work across a wide range of human diversity. But that’s easier said than done. People can be highly unpredictable. How do we design for so much complexity?”

As discussed at last year’s DesignTO Symposium ‘Towards Inclusive Design’, all design can and should be inclusive. Through participatory design, we can actively involve stakeholders and users throughout the design process to ensure the results meet their diverse needs. By decolonizing design, we can make space for unrepresented voices, truly value diverse perspectives and experiences, and design beyond only human needs.

Designing for an ideal is no longer a desirable outcome. Rather, this approach has proven harmful, contributing to systems of oppression that are intolerant of diversity, including race, culture, disability, gender, and sexual orientation. For many people, not feeling “normal” can be both a point of pride and a source of anguish. Canada’s forcible assimilation of Indigenous peoples is exemplary of the violence that “normal” can inflict.

This symposium invites designers and thinkers to explore how we can dismantle the long-accepted idea of “normal,” in order to design for diversity. How can we create great designs for both the individual and the masses? How can we present human-led solutions that move beyond the oversimplified average by designing “with, not for”? What tools can we use to build “one-size-fits-one” solutions rather than “one-size-fits-all”? What have we learned during the pandemic about systemic inequality? Has the pandemic created or revealed opportunities for change? How do we design a post-pandemic world that, to quote author and activist Sonya Renee Taylor, “fits all of humanity and nature”?


  • Design with, not for
  • Designing for health
  • Data bias
  • Gender data bias
  • Inclusive fashion
  • Human-centred design
  • Decolonizing design education
  • Designing for neurodiversity
  • Participatory design
  • Pandemic design
  • Post-pandemic design
  • Systems design

Talks may be about current research or case studies, new products or technologies, spaces or experiences, speculative design or strategies, or new processes or policies.

All submissions must include the following:

  • A description of your talk topic (max. 500 words), including target audience, format (keep in mind that the symposium will be online), and length/timing (15-20 minutes preferred);
  • a short bio on you and/or your creative practice (max. 150 words);
  • 1-3 visuals of your work (max. 1MB per image), or a link to a video (if available); and
  • Your contact info (name, email, phone number, mailing address), a CV, and website URL, Twitter and Instagram handles (if available).


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

How much does it cost to submit?

There is no fee for this submission. All successful applicants are required to cover their own transportation to and accommodations in Toronto for the Symposium date. A modest speaker’s fee will be paid to successful applicants.

When and where is the Symposium?

The Symposium runs during the DesignTO Festival, January 21-30, 2022. The dates for the Symposium are Tuesday, January 25 and Wednesday, January 26, 2022 from 6-8pm. Due to COVID, this event is to be held virtually. We reserve the right to modify dates, times or delivery methods if required.

What happens next?

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


Email any questions to Safoura Zahedi, Programs Coordinator, at with the subject line: Symposium + your name.

Going into its seventh year, the Symposium is a signature program of DesignTO, a non-profit arts organization that produces Canada’s largest and leading annual design festival.