Teehan+Lax is Shutting Down. What’s next for Toronto’s design community?


Following the Teehan+Lax shutdown news, BetaKit reached out to Toronto design community for comment. If you’ve followed the story on your Twitter and Facebook feeds, you know that emotions are flying high.

“It’s a changing-of-the-guard-type moment,” Nathan Garvie, design lead at Heist, told us. “The global reputation they built brought a lot of attention to the technology and design community. They proved that great UX design is more than just aesthetics, and creates real value for companies. The partners and team members leaving are a big loss for the city, but I’m excited to see the team they assembled spread out around the area and raise the level of work being done.”

Teehan+Lax built a legacy

Garvie also said that Teehan+Lax made him proud to be a designer from Toronto. The sentiment was common in our investigation, and should not be quickly dismissed as hyperbole. The Teehan+Lax team has helped give the world Medium, Prismatic, Readability, and Google Street View Hyperlapse, not to mention its annual tradition of GUI templates and other tools, as well as fantastic long-form case studies. The design firm worked with companies like Google, Facebook, Flipboard, LG, YouTube, The Globe and Mail, Obvious Ventures, and many more. T+L was known for mentoring countless designer folk, and sponsored community events large and small, from Podcamp and HoHoTO to Toronto Mini Maker Faire. In its 12 years in the city, Teehan+Lax built a legacy that put Canadian design on the map, globally.

“I think what really happened here was a loss to the city, a brain drain that hurts every agency here.”

“We lost a great lightning rod in this city,” Alkarim Nasser, co-founder and head of product at Gallop told BetaKit. “When I was just starting BNOTIONS I met Jon Lax, about seven years ago, and I admired what he was building. They were a good example of what a service company could be. A lot of young people got into the industry feeling the same.”

Brian Pullen of The Working Group called Teehan+Lax his first inspiration, saying it has been an influential and a rare loud voice recognized internationally for their work. “They cast a long shadow, gave away so much of their knowledge, and helped people like me start my own design agency,” Pullen told BetaKit. “I think what really happened here was a loss to the city, a brain drain that hurts every agency here. I feel sad. What we see is the obvious consolidation happening, with agencies merging and becoming in-house teams. Not a single designer I talked to was happy about Teehan+Lax leaving. It’s a loss and we’re sad to see it go.”

Much ado has been made online about the 30-40 people from Teehan+Lax now looking for new roles. Judging by the outpouring of support in the design community internationally, and with all the offers being made that we have heard of, Teehan+Lax closing doors may actually provide a talent windfall for companies looking to staff up and take their place.


“It will become more interesting,” said Matthew Milan of Normative. “Teehan+Lax was an inspiration and an influence. They pushed the practice of design forward, and challenged the design community by raising the bar at a global level. We feel the torch is getting passed, and Toronto will continue to make noise in a global design scene. Going forward, we will see a lot more diversity in the types of design being done. I spent a lot of my time talking to the people in influential design firms and organizations of all sizes, and I heard loud and clear that there’s a need for strong design partners. The trends in the design industry impact every industry, from architecture and industrial design to print. I’m excited to see what pops up.”

The business of design is changing

The acquisition trend is well worth mulling over, with Jet Cooper team joining Shopify, Adaptive Path acquired by Capital One, and now partners of Teehan+Lax taking on new roles at Facebook (we invite you to check out David Crow’s take on the implications on the local product design economy). That said, Toronto design agencies have never had it this good. The Working Group has expanded significantly, taking over extra space in its building. Normative just moved to bigger digs in Kensington Market. Rangle.io is expanding. In its goodbye post, Teehan+Lax also called 2014 its most profitable year. The business of design is definitely not dead.

“There’s an opportunity here, while the spotlight shines on Toronto (perhaps all too briefly).”

Taken in context, the loss of T+L is a sign that the business of design in Toronto is changing. Just ask Lee Dale, co-founder of SayYeah: “It’s a tremendous loss for Toronto having a world class design agency close its doors, but there’s an opportunity here, while the spotlight shines on Toronto (perhaps all too briefly), for the rest of the design community to show the world that Teehan+Lax was not the lone light here.

“There’s a focus on product design in Toronto which is setting the tone for process and results for companies the world over, from Business Model Generation (now Strategyzer) team, to the team at Shopify, and agencies like ours who serve the city and clients across North America and beyond,” Dale told BetaKit. “There’s tons of world class work happening in Toronto. We would all benefit from being a little more connected to it. And certainly from sharing it with the rest of the world.”

As Teehan+Lax put it in its farewell post, “We think that there is a bright future for companies wanting to continue to offer services — it just may not look like it did in the past. There is a whole new crop of smart, talented, and innovative companies coming up, and we are excited to see what they will do.” Judging from our conversations, it seems as though the Toronto design community is ready to pick up where T+L has left it.


Elena Yunusov

Elena Yunusov works at the intersection of digital communications and experience design. She is known in Toronto’s startup community as a HoHoTO & Toronto Maker Faire co-organizer. She likes coffee, robots, and wearable tech.

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