100 years of women graphic designers: why do we still need a female-only exhibition?

15 February 2016

Later this month Central St Martins is hosting an exhibition of work from the last 100 years of the college’s female alumni and staff. It will feature work by creatives including Morag Myerscough, Astrid Stavro, Lucienne Roberts and Sara De Bondt, alongside earlier 20th Century pieces by designers like Heather ‘Herry’ Perry, Dora Batty and Kathleen Hale. Why does this show have to happen though? Why do we still have to make a point of showing work by women? We asked the curator Ruth Sykes to explain why this show is so important.

“Until quite recently, there weren’t many female graphic designers to be found in design history books, exhibitions and design school curricula. But that has started to change in recent years. The Hall of Femmes platform has a book series on female designers such as Tomoko Miho, Lillian Bassman and Ruth Ansel; Gerda Breuer and Julia Meer recently wrote the book Women in Graphic Design; museums are beginning to put on shows that recognise the contribution that women have made to graphic design, for example the London Transport show last year on 100 years of posters designed by women. Graphic designer Marion Dorn even got an English Heritage blue plaque last year.

Female graphic designers are not well represented in the design press and on conference stages. There is still a pay gap and a lack of women in senior creative roles. However, there are organisations set up to help with this, for example Kerning The Gap, the Great British Diversity Experiment and the 3% Conference. Women also seem to be less likely than men to speak at conferences, to be on awards juries, or to be interviewed and written about in the trade press.

We put this show together to make a contribution to the growing movement redressing gender disparities in graphic design. Things are changing for the better, but the issue needs to be kept on the table to keep the momentum up.

It’s an eclectic show– there are over 80 pieces of work. But from the earliest piece of work (1910) to the newest (2016) there are some common threads. A concern with using graphic design to support positive social change is one: multi-disciplinary working is another. I don’t know that these are particularly female characteristics, they are probably more reflective of my own research interests.”


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