The best man for the job isn’t always a man

When British Design & Art Direction president Larry Barker announced that he was going to nail his flag to the cause of women in the ad world, his sentiments struck a chord with design.

When British Design & Art Direction president Larry Barker announced that he was going to nail his flag to the cause of women in the ad world, his sentiments struck a chord with design. For while, with a few exceptions, the creative side of design doesn’t have the same blokish image as advertising, women haven’t been as prominent as they might be.

Visit any graphics or branding studio and you will find a lot of women working away at their Apple Macs. But unless their name is above the door, chances are that, with notable exceptions such as Keren House and Alison Miguel, creative directors at Siebert Head and Coley Porter Bell, they don’t lead the design team. Both House and Miguel are welcome role models for the younger generations of women designers, partly because they are so rare.

In interiors it is much the same. The likes of architect Eva Jiricna and interior designer Linda Morey-Smith are beavering on at the head of their groups and women such as Aukett’s interiors head Vivienne Fowler and BDG McColl retail and leisure managing director Sue Wheldon have made the grade. But they are still in the minority.

As for product design, you get the odd proud boast by the (invariably) male creative head that “we’ve got one” of that elusive breed of female product designers, out of a team of, say, ten men. The jury is, meanwhile, still out on digital media, where a few women have surfaced, like Jane Wentworth at Wolff Olins, Gilliam Crampton-Smith, who heads the multimedia course at the Royal College of Art, and Sonia Lamba, creative director at The Attik.

Oddly enough, a quick tally of consultancy management teams reveals a high proportion of female managing directors and marketing folk. On the outside, “action” agencies such as Design Events are often led by women, in that case Deborah Dawton, who graduated in product design at Newcastle before taking a sideways step, and Sophie Williams. And then there are the clients, many of which have female brand or design managers.

On the face of it, design is more attractive to women than advertising, but does it offer enough career opportunities on the design side? We are constantly told by marketers that women make the most purchases, and women make up around half of the population, yet most design continues to be led by men.

Barker is carrying out research into why things are as they are in advertising. We, meanwhile, welcome insights about women in design. It’s not a new issue – and we’re told things are changing – but, in your experience, are they and will digital media set a new example? What is it that has held women designers back?

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