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How we can encourage the Hidden Women of Design into the spotlight

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Hidden Women of Design is an initiative aiming to increase the visibility of female designers in the industry, through talks, workshops and events. Ahead of its next event, ReAct, celebrating the power of design to effect change, founder Lorna Allan writes on the beginnings of her campaign and its continued importance.

Hidden Women of Design seems quite a contentious and provocative title when I think about it now. It was about 9.45pm in the LCC library, almost closing time, and I needed to give this project a title. It eventually came when I asked myself, what is it when you can’t find something? It’s hidden. It can be exciting to discover hidden things – a nice little bar round the corner, a fiver between your receipts – but not when it’s the work of amazing female designers that changed the course of design history, that many of us haven’t heard of.

Starting this project, I was quite shocked at some of the stats I came across. Simple Google searches of famous graphic designers came up with an overwhelming majority of men; the winners of design awards were mostly men; I looked into design studios that were run by a female/male partnership, and who do you think got the most hits out of these two designers? The male counterpart, by a long shot. When I started to gather the work of female designers and show it to my peers and explain, this was done by a woman, it was largely met by surprise – it was 2016, why were people still shocked that a woman can design?

Initially the aim of the project was to profile designers of the past and create a campaign to raise awareness of their work, which is still very important to us, but our main focus has shifted. Now we want to move forward and look at future female talent and representation. How can we encourage and support female designers qualifying and moving into the industry? How can we help them progress in their careers without compromising life choices? There does appear to be more women taking up employment as designers, but scratch the surface and you see that those roles are still at a junior level. The further up the ladder you go, the less women in senior roles you will find. In fact, The World Economic Forum predicts that it will still be another 116 years until the gender gap is removed completely.

Graphic BirdWatching was an initiative that looked to deal with gender representation in the design industry that ran from 2009-2014, and in an Eye magazine interview with co-founder Ann-Kristina Simon in 2010, I found one of the answers really interesting: “Have you experienced discrimination?” asked the interviewer. “I don’t think I have experienced discrimination in terms of someone else getting something I want,” Ann-Kristina said, “but I maybe made myself a bit smaller, was a little insecure.” A statistic from Graphic Designers Surveyed in 2015 showed that only eight percent of women are comfortable showing their work. It’s quotes like these that make me believe that support and encouragement could go a long way to helping the situation, through mentorship programmes, skill sharing, and having practical resources for preparing students for the industry, as a start.

I myself have received an incredible amount of support for this project from Kathleen Sleboda and Tori Hinn from the Women of Graphic Design website, Nat Maher from Kerning the Gap, Sian Cook from Women’s Design and Research Unit, Ruth Sykes from Graphics UK Women, Joanna Choukeir from Uscreates, even an email from Ellen Lupton to name a few. Not to mention all the designers that gave up their time to talk at our events on their practice. Learning from their honest discourse through the talks has helped me to celebrate the failures as well as the successes as all part of the process. This has opened the door to me to connect with projects further afield too, such as And she was like: BÄM, and Depatriarchise Design. There is real momentum happening, a sisterhood supporting and helping each other. We all have the same goal and we all want to help each other reach it.

HWODesign’s next event, ReAct is taking place at the Peckham Pelican, London on 28 March, featuring designers Louise Cooper from Shift, Rose Nordin from OOMK zine, Megan Conery from Hotdog magazine, Stacie Woolsey from Make Your Own Masters, Ashley Evans from Uscreates, Ness Wright from Snook and poet Amani Saeed.

Register to attend here.