It’s 2020, women are still underrepresented in leadership positions, and design is no exception to the rule. Research by AIGA (The American Institute of Graphic Arts) and Google shows that no less than 53.5% of designers in the U.S. are women, yet only 11% are put in leadership positions.
This year’s IWD edition centers on equality, and celebrating the accomplishments of women is an essential step towards forging a gender-equal world. And what better time to share the success stories of the women we admire in design?
With this in mind, eight leading graphic designers were asked about the challenges they face, and here are their heartfelt replies.
Click on their names to visit their work.
Illustrator, Designer, and Educator
‘’One of the biggest challenges I face as my career progresses is addressing the lack of gender equality in positions of leadership. As a design educator, I have watched many new generations of designers graduate – the majority of each class is female, yet this is not reflected in positions of leadership within the design industry.
According to AIGA, women hold only 11% of leadership positions and we, on average, make less money over our careers. This unfortunate reality is compounded if you are a woman of color. My challenge is to find ways to empower women when opportunities arise. Simple actions like referring work to women-founded studios, encouraging peers to charge higher rates or publicly recognizing the achievements of women help to encourage balance. Aspirations need inspiration, where possible, I try to be visible in my leadership roles – representation is incredibly important in addressing this issue.’’
Graphic Designer and Art Director
“Gender roles in my profession has never really been a question, mostly because I am a freelancer and I am neither in contact with toxic masculine environments nor do I have team peers I don’t like. But that changed since I became a mother 3 years ago! As career-focused as I was, I got quite shocked by the change. Mostly regarding time + creativity.
Society always requires more from designers: stay up to date, do faster and better and crazier and always push the limits. I realized that I don’t know many freelancing mother graphic designers that kept this rhythm. Even when I was pregnant I researched articles about it and only found one by Jessica Hische. I am invited to talks, and I am almost the only mother & designer. You wonder why! I can keep doing this because me and my partner are a team (most of the times) and I am lucky to have found a team at work too, but I know society doesn’t treat us equally, in what is to be expected as a mother and a designer.
For the introduction at the moment, I am more a studio, rather than one women band. I have a team of 2 great designers with me! ”
Designer of Political, Social, and Cultural Posters
“My biggest challenge as a designer is to give voice to a never-ending struggle, to serve the cause by creating images that may push mentalities a few inches forward. I would love to create empowering, collective symbols for women to share and use as a weapon. I am happy to see that more and more young women create their own signs and narrative. Whether because of my character or circumstances, I never experienced a negative bias for being a woman, but I reckon the absurdity of a profession where classes are usually 80% feminine: unfortunately most of these talented girls will be relegated to the less appealing and least paid jobs – if they don’t disappear altogether from the radars. A challenge at the future tense: my visual education is filled by great works by male designers – I am thinking about a book that would pay a tribute to women designers overshadowed by their (male) partners or simply forgotten. Let’s fill the gap! It’s all part of the puzzle we can contribute to change.”
Designer and Illustrator
“The biggest challenge for me as a woman in design is the constant battle with family time.I’m raising a little girl who needs all my attention. It is challenging to stay inspired and creative, whilst looking after your family at the same time. My day is strictly planned. So is my work.”
Graphic Designer and Art Director
“For me in the second year of running my own business, (my biggest challenge) it’s mostly planning out projects and working on many things in parallel while I still have to be laser focussed on the design part. Good design just needs time and can’t be rushed, but often I really have to set myself blocks of hours to get things done. I love to work on many things in parallel, I’d get bored otherwise, but this can also be challenging.”
Graphic Designer and Illustrator
“My biggest challenge would be not only being a woman but a woman of color in design. Because of the major lack of WOC (or for me specifically, black women) in these creative spaces, it can make you feel like you’re out of place. It’s easy to not see yourself in higher positions because those that occupy them don’t look like you and it’s easier to feel or be tokenized. I cannot emphasize enough how important representation is and creating work environments where everyone’s presence and thoughts are welcome to avoid issues like this and then some. So we should all be aiming to create more diverse and inclusive spaces no matter what kind of business it is. But especially in marketing and advertising where you’ll be connecting with audiences of all races, ethnicities, ages, gender identities, and sexual orientations. Your team should be as reflective of the audiences you’re looking to reach.”
Freelance Graphic & Web Designer
“I would say the biggest challenge for me as a woman in design, is juggling work and mum life simultaneously. Women are amazing multi-taskers, but it’s definitely something else to juggle looking after the home, baby, and trying to be creative all at the same time!”
Illustrator and Design Director
“My biggest challenge has been knowing my value. Not just understanding what my rates should be, but deeply believing in my own value as a professional.”
Graphic Designer and Illustrator at Bannersnack
“I fell in love with the richly illustrated colorful pages of manuals early in the first grade, and since then, art has remained my passion. I love to draw, experiment, and try out different environments simply by observing the world around me and learning new things every day. Design means life to me. All these years, the biggest challenge I’ve experienced as a woman was probably dealing with very stiff briefs that would not allow me to deliver my creative input and expertise to a project.
The difference in tastes and preferences expressed through bitter criticism was also something that I had to learn to deal with. These might or might not be connected to the fact that I am a female designer. But while it’s essential to be flexible and adjust my style and voice to fit the client’s needs and vision, I believe that authenticity is also critical. Luckily, personal projects can help me with that.
Regarding criticism, it has now become fuel to creative fire and my motivation. I’ve learned to give 120% and let go of the negative things. I try to focus on the process and have fun creating—although it’s not always so easy. At the end of the day, art is my biggest passion, and I can’t let it turn into something else.”