Discovering the forgotten female designers from history

A new exhibition at the London Transport Museum shows the graphics and prints of female designers who have been “criminally neglected”, curator David Bownes tells us. Now, contributors tell us about the women from design history who have not received the recognition they deserve.

Sorrel Hershberg, director, The Sorrell Foundation

“How about the many women who worked with male partners and faced the assumption that they played a supportive rather than leading creative role? Lella Vignelli, for instance. Some had the further indignity of people thinking they were men – Ray Eames and Denise Scott Brown (of Venturi and Scott Brown) spring to mind.

Thanks to the great Jennifer Higgie – whose Instagram @jenniferhiggie features many female artists, designers, architects and makers – I now know the work of textile designer Dorothy Wright Liebes, who opened her first studio in 1930 against her husband’s wishes (and then divorced him).”

Sarah Weir (OBE), CEO, Design Council

“2018 is the centenary of women getting voting rights. However, there is still not equality in the design world for women. 78% of those working in the design economy are men, compared to 53% of the wider UK workforce.

When British architect Elisabeth Scott (1898-1972) won the competition for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1927, this was the first important public building in Britain designed by a female architect. There were no prominent female architects at that time and this can still be an issue today.

While she was quietly determined and always included other female designers in her projects, it was only due to a concerted campaign that she was included on the UK passport in 2015. Under-acknowledged female talent is depressingly still with us. Let’s make 2018 the last year it happens.”

Karen Hughes, founder and creative director, Edit_Brand Studio

“I’d unknowingly been a fan of the work of Dorrit Dekk a long time before discovering it was the work of a female graphic designer that I had been admiring. Dating back to World War Two, Dekk’s timeless and joyful designs for clients including Air France and P&O have caught my eye many times throughout the years so it was a great discovery when I recently stumbled across a Pinterest board of her work.

Although I hadn’t consciously assumed that these designs were created by a male graphic artist, the fact I was surprised the work was by a female designer is telling. Digging a little deeper this week, I’ve found out so many interesting things about Dekk’s life and work, including the current exhibition Designs On Britain at the Jewish Museum showcasing her as one of the pioneering Jewish émigré designers who helped to shape 20th century design in the UK. Let’s hope that, in the near future, discoveries like this are no longer left to chance.”

Jack Renwick, founder and creative director, Jack Renwick Studio

“There are lots of unsung heroes who come to mind but let’s start talking about women who are doing it today and avoid the same problem going forward…

…Alice Tosey, Aileen Poe, Anoushka Rodda, Bethan Jones, Caz Hildebrand, Charlie Smith, Cheyney Robinson, Chloe Templeman, Christie Burland-Upton, Clare Playne, Caroline Rogers, Dani Smith, Eleanor Ridsdale Colussi, Emma Keogh, Gill Thomas, Harriet Devoy, Hazel MacMillan, Heidi Lightfoot, Hege Aaby, Jill Spratt, Jo Kotas, Julia Woollams, Jo Simpson, Kate Marlow, Katie Cadwallader, Kath Tudball, Katja Thielen, Keren House, Kristina Eklund Ryan, Leanne Kitchen, Lynne Devine, Lucy Hutchinson, Merje Shaw, Miranda Bolter, Moyra Casey, Nat Hunter, Nina Jenkins, Pamela Flanagan, Rachel Smith, Sarah Boris, Sarah Pidgeon, Shahnaz Ahmed, Susie McGowan, Tiina Björk, Vicki Young, Victoria Buchanan – and all the others who can’t fit into this word count.”

Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring

“Without naming a particular woman, it’s more an observation about where we do and don’t tend to appear. Look at design of drapery and domestic comforts and you encounter many celebrated women. From Clarice Cliffe and Marianne Straub to Emma Bridgewater and her mother-in-law Pat Albeck; from Elsa Schiaparelli to Vivienne Westood and Sarah Burton, we abound. Some use their celebrity as a platform for political lobbying, some not. But consider design with sharper corners; design that delivers sonic booms; design that kills or cures – and women occur less frequently. Is this down to social conditioning, glass ceilings or personal choice?”

Who is your favourite female designer from history who has not received the recognition they deserve? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • André Domingues October 25, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Has I’m passionate about Automotive Design, and a designer myself, three names come to my mind of recent female car designers: Juliane Blasi (BMW Z4 exterior designer), Nadya Arnaout (BMW Z4 interior designer) and Michelle Christensen (Honda/Acura NSX exterior designer). They did an amazing job, so talented! In these three cases maybe they did get the recognition they deserved, but I just wanted to give these examples of excelent female designers!

  • Baker October 25, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    I would recommend Jacqueline Casey she is best known for the posters she created for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

  • Tony Pritchard October 25, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    I would back Jacqueline Casey. This film lists my top ten women poster designers: UK designers today should include Lucienne Roberts, Sian Cook, Stefi Orazi, Freda Sack amongst many others. Great fan of Astrid Stavro. DVC alumna of note are: Valentina D’Efilippo, Sarah Schrauwen, Cat Drew, Henrietta Ross, Susanna Foppoli, Emily Fox, Valentina Verc, Carolina Magro, Lizzie Toole, Philippa Thomas, again amongst many others.

  • James Webb October 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Lynn Trickett deserves recognition, running the highly successful Trickett & Webb, with Brian Webb, for 30 years, where several listed above started out in the industry.

  • Jessica October 27, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Only propertied, married women over the age of 30 got voting rights in 1918. Women were enfranchised in Britain on the same terms as men in 1928. I hope we will see lots of graphic work reminding us of these anniversaries and the amazing sacrifices made by the suffragettes.

  • Jeannette Hanna January 17, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    Muriel Cooper, the progenitor of design and interactive technology, former head of MIT’s visual language lab, a catalyst to new ways of interacting with information

  • Cemal Cobanoglu January 30, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    Lilly Reich, Aino Aalto, Eva Zeisel, Maria Pergay, Lucienne Day

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