06/03/2012 11:09 am ET Updated Aug 03, 2012

The Designer Will Be Right With You

Designers always end up with the short end of the stick. Our work is misunderstood, and no one knows exactly what it is we do. When people do encounter a need for design in their lives, they don't know where to find their designer. Maybe they'll Google, and find links to Stefan Sagmeister, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid. But those people are too expensive, and they don't suit their needs.

People are often asking me to help them. They want tables built, well-designed documents and advice on creative strategies. And I know people who could help get these things done well. But what do you Google if you don't know someone connected to the field of design?

The Design Walk-In, launching in downtown Toronto this week, is a street-level clinic for people who value their design help -- a place to connect the public with professional designers working in a range of disciplines, including graphic design, illustration, artists, web development, branding strategy, photography, printing specialists, creative direction, architecture, and interaction design.

This experiment was born from a conversation I had with friend and fellow designer, Ken Chong. We were commiserating over our routine position referring people to designers, and finding that designers were willing to work within people's budgets, but were often left doing more work than the original scope of the project outlined. This may be common practice in other professions, but in design, process is the key element to meet a client's needs, and it's also an intangible that is often undervalued. For that reason, it is challenging for designers to work within limited budgets and invest themselves in quality work.

Another challenge is that the best young designers have yet to establish prominent web presences, making it difficult for the general public to access this pool of talent. If you Google 'best young design talent Toronto,' you still won't get the leads you need.

That's where Ken and I come in. During their initial "weigh in," patients (clients) will have a consultation with an experienced design expert who explores the root cause of their design issues and prescribes (on-site) a suitable solution with the creation of a Client Chart. If the consulting designer cannot treat the ailment, a referral will be made to a trusted specialist. This gives hundreds of local freelance designers access to projects, clients, and publicity. All specialists apply to be on the list and are reviewed and vetted by the Design Walk-In team, to ensure a high caliber of talent and professionalism. In addition to seasoned design professionals, the list of Recommended Specialists includes top tier students from the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U), offering clients the possibility of cutting edge design at a modest price point.

The project brings design to the street level, providing an opportunity for everyone to bring good design into their lives in a way that lets designers get fair value for their work. There is a reason that design seems to be finding its way into every industry and every sector these days, and with Design Walk-In, it will only be a few doors away.

The Design Walk-In clinic is located at 367 King Street West in Toronto. It opens this week and runs for the month of June.