Why the Design Sector?

Design is recognized around the world as a key to economic and social prosperity. Toronto is well positioned to take advantage of this current Design focus with a critical mass of designers working in the Design disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, industrial, interior, graphic, fashion, planning and urban design (https://www.diac.on.ca/quick-facts). This cluster includes both firms specific to these disciplines and the trained and skilled individuals working in various capacities and levels of formal education across a variety of related occupations and across numerous industries. Research from over 15 years ago (https://www.diac.on.ca/design-matters-study) found over 25,000 individuals working in Design across the GTA.

Of the 500 occupations identified by Statistics Canada, 10 have either the word architect or design in their title, and 42 have either or both in their description. The 2016 Census shows that the Toronto Metro has over 62,700 people working in one of those ten occupations with almost 24% being self-employed. (The average for self-employment in Toronto is 12.7%.) Making up 1.9% of the workforce, designers earn 2.0% of regional income, ranging in average from $38,500 per year for Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers to $120,000 per year for Architecture and science managers. 62% of these individuals have a University degree (the average is 40%), and 90% have some post-secondary education (Toronto average 67.5%).

The Design Industry has eight specific industry codes with design or architect in their titles and 34 industries with them in their description. As of 2020, those eight industries employed 82,800 people across 17,200 firms in the Toronto Metro and comprise 3.5% of regional employment by industry and 7.6% of all firms. Most of these firms are in the SME (small and medium enterprise) category with an average firm size of 4.8 employees versus the regional average of 10.4. 85% of firms in the Design Industry have 1–4 employees (vs. 62% overall), and 99.0% have under 100 employees (vs. 97.7% overall).

Given the prevalence of self-employment and smaller firms, the Design Sector is of special interest. With limited labour market information on this sector, both skill and labour market gaps are poorly understood, and with many working as freelancers, traditional job posting data does not capture the nuance of the situation. The Toronto Design sector needs to be profiled to better realize its potential and the potential of its practitioners to address innovation and social needs emerging in today’s complex economic and social environment.

What is the Design Sector?

2020 Design Industry

Using firm data for these industries, the Design Industry has nearly 38,000 people employed across 8,600 firms across Canada and 12,250 people employed in about 2,400 firms in Toronto (metro area). Toronto accounts for 27.5% of firms in the Canadian Design Industry and 32.4% of total employment. The higher employment share results from a higher average firm size for Toronto Design firms (5.15 employees per firm in Toronto and 4.38 per firm across Canada).

Table 3. Canada’s Design Industry

Location Firm Count Estimated Total Employment
Canada 8,642 37,874
Ontario 3,715 16,881
Toronto 2,379 12,407
Toronto % of Canada 27.5% 32.4%

Design is a growing component of what is being done in Canada.

Everybody wears multiple hats in our firm and that’s one of the things I love about it. We have this wonderful mix … wonderful sort of quilt of people and their experiences that we can pull from on projects very easily, move very fluidly.

2016 Design Industry

Using the occupations listed as the means of identifying Design workers, the 2016 (most recent Census data available) numbers show over 236,000 people working in Design across Canada with just over 51,000 in Toronto (metro area). While Toronto accounted for nearly 30% of Canadian Design firms, 21.6% of Canadian Design workers call Toronto home. This is still over one­in­five of the country’s Design workers. Design workers in Toronto earn a slight wage premium (6%) when compared to the country overall, but this is insufficient to offset the cost of living differential.

Table 5. Design Occupations (2016)

Location Total Workers Average Income
Canada 236,090 50,288
Ontario 89,285 51,113
Toronto 51,065 53,340
Toronto % of Canada 21.6% 106.1%

It [Design in Canada] has changed dramatically from more sleepy 22 years ago when I started. Canada has become more mature with hubs like Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto.

The Complete Design Sector

In 2016, 51,065 people were working in a Design occupation, and 12,257 people were working (in 2020) in a Design firm. While many people working in a Design occupation work in a different industry and not everyone working at a Design firm is doing Design work, some overlap exists. The 2016 Census provides the ability to estimate this overlap. 5.4% of 27,610 individuals in Professional Services in Toronto work in both a Design Occupation and at a Design firm. The result is 1,491 workers. Given the above estimates for occupation and industry totals, the result is an estimate for the Toronto Design Sector of 61,831 people who either work in a Design occupation or at a Design firm or both.

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