The heroines of design deserve a royal audience

It was remarkable to see a Buckingham Palace lunch attracting as much coverage as last Thursday’s event. But then it was special in that HM the Queen did her bit for the sisterhood, inviting some 180 female high-flyers from executives to actresses, scientists and a supermodel to lunch with her at the palace.

It was a great idea, but a shame so few women representing design were there. Fashion queens Vivienne Westwood and Amanda Wakeley were the only designers on the guest list published in the national press.

Of course, there’s more to design than designers and Royal Society of Arts executive director Penny Egan was there to fly the flag, design being one of the many activities the RSA covers. Similarly, design patronage was honoured, with the resourceful Julia Peyton-Jones present – the director of London’s Serpentine Gallery has commissioned temporary pavilions by international architects Zaha Hadid, Daniel Liebeskind, Toyo Ito and Oscar Niemeyer over recent years.

But what of the rest? It isn’t easy to identify strong women in design, though UK studios are full of females. The Design Museum’s all-male line up for the European Designer of the Year prize says it all – though its director, journalist and broadcaster Alice Rawsthorn arguably merits a place at the royal table.

But how about top creative directors like Mary Lewis of Lewis Moberly, The Chase London’s Harriet Devoy and exhibitions star Dinah Casson of Casson Mann? Surely Frances Sorrell of The Sorrell Foundation deserves a place, for work to bring design more effectively into schools and healthcare, among other projects. What about Glasgow designer and design stalwart Janice Kirkpatrick or Dragon Brand’s Dorothy Mackenzie, a fighter for years for sustainable design? And then there is design management doyenne Jane Priestman.

In the digital world, two women are shaping the future. Professors Irene McAra-McWilliam and Gillian Crampton Smith, of the Royal College of Art and Italy’s Ivrea Interaction Design Institute respectively, are helping to develop new generations of practitioners in the art and conducting research that links technology closely to human needs. It would have been great to see their efforts recognised there.

Sadly, design as we know it doesn’t yet have the public appeal of, say, fashion or theatre. But if women scientists can make it to the top table, so can design activists. Royal recognition isn’t everything, but it gives prominence to those who enjoy it, enabling them to make their case.

So come on, girls. Which ladies would you put forward for lunch with a host as influential as the Queen?

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