Designers Who Read

Women in graphic design (and why we need to talk about them) by Tori Hinn

2095 words
13 mins
Originally published 20/7/2014

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INTRO— Articles like this really pull in the web traffic. I have read two articles similar to this in the past month that have generated more engagement than any of the other current issues that critise the design field. For that reason, it's a great entry point into what DesignersWho is here to do. Another reason is the poor representation of women in design history, and the bizaare irregularity between the numbers of women who graduate design education, and those who have design jobs, is a real problem. Our industry is a concentrated petri-dish of our patriarchal society, and we - educated, enlightened, idealistic individuals that we are -  aren't doing much to challenge this. 

This article, by Tori Hinn of Women of Graphic Design, was published ealier this year in 'desktop' magazine. It caused a stir, which then died down. I don't know if it fulfilled its purpose by purely existing, or adding to the discussion, but I would like to know what could actually be done towards equalising the historical design canon. Because without the voices of these women, we are missing out on a richer ancestry and wealth of knowledge that could potentially inform all of our practices.

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Reader discussion

Nov. 6, 2014, 11:24 a.m.— Rachel A.

In response to aidnco — I always felt it was a bit of a shame that 'Creative Women's Circle' existed. It seems like such a old school feminist throwback: that to even out the current representation, we have to create exclusive, self-congratulatory circles. As a female designer, I would rather my work be celebrated within a wholly-inclusive circle, not one that requires criteria to be noticed.

Nov. 6, 2014, 12:24 a.m.— aidnco

I find it interesting that, in a career that professes towards minimising authorial voice, homogeneity remains such a troubling issue. And this is global—you can cross compare this with, for example, the debate on race and gender in ADC's Young Guns 12, in the US, or . And yet: when you think of, say, the top 10 most visible women working in graphic design in Melbourne, maybe only 3 or 4 we would consider designers in a traditional sense (by which I mean the current mainstream style, based principally in branding and derived from Swiss and American methodology). The rest are principally described as illustrators, and a few are in the slightly more nebulous position of tastemakers—bloggers, editors, people who decide what merits being seen*. The crisis is not that women are not finding success, I think, but that traditional notions of how a woman can be successful are still effecting their appraisal.

What's more difficult to summarise, though, is why these phenomena are still happening. The ultimate answer, I think, is patriarchal self-interest, but it seems unfair to accuse the vast majority of male designers working in Australia today of overt misogyny. Unconscious bias, or sheer tribalism, is probably the key factor here, and much harder to counter. The broader view of society also plays a role, attempting to determine for women what they should and shouldn't like, what kind of people they can be, etc. Part of this can be addressed by helping to expand the diversity of the design canon, but frankly, we've such a wealth of young female talent now—more than ever before—that it might just be time to throw the whole thing out and start a new cult canon on stronger, fairer foundations.

*Interestingly, at the moment I think the majority of people who fulfil this role are women.

Nov. 5, 2014, 11:24 p.m.— Rob

To recognise the work but not credit the designer because they are female is unacceptable. To dismiss the work because the designer is female is insane and detrimental to the industry. It falls to educators and writers - anyone with the privilege of an audience to ensure they're representing the industry accurately. Which is then strange if a lot of these bloggers seem to be female 'letting the side down'

It was interesting Tori Hinn mentioned Margaret Calvert, she appeared in an episode of Top Gear which was unexpected and pretty cool - for design and female designers.

Nov. 5, 2014, 10:24 p.m.— Jessica

The patriarchal system has long encouraged that a man is recognised by his ability to build something and leave a legacy. For a woman, it's been recognised as raising a family.

So when it comes to a history where women have been celebrated for a career, this is a relatively new idea, and the inbuilt attitude of the woman is still not to blow her own trumpet on the lecture tour, but stay at home with her family.

I personally don't understand why women can't do both (and many do), but international self-promotion is certainly still the realm of the man.

Nov. 5, 2014, 9:24 p.m.— Bonnie

As an editor and publisher (for a short time), I haven't commissioned or featured women as a way to 'even the score', but because it seems natural to have balance. I like articles from experienced writers and new ones. I like to publish thoughts from local sources and international ones. It therefore makes sense to publish women as much as men. Without doing so, as a publisher, you're not doing your research or presenting balanced views.

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