“Don’t design for women or men – design for people”

In the follow-up to International Women’s Day, we ask designers and industry experts about the main challenges they think women working in design face today.

Nat Maher, managing director, Good, and founder, Kerning the Gap – which is trying to get more women into leadership roles in design.

“The well-documented lack of women in leadership in the design industry has a compound effect. However enlightened the leadership team, without women at the table, the needs of women in the workplace are underrepresented, and progress remains slow. Equally, junior women lack leadership role models in their own image that they can empathise with, and emulate to get there themselves. And thus the cycle continues.

Work-life balance, maternity, paternity, returning to work, caring for a parent, pay gaps, sexism… all of these challenges we face need new thinking, and both men and women to be equally represented in the discussion – from the top to the bottom.” 


Georgina Denny, provocation director at Elmwood

“For me, the biggest everyday challenge (and opportunity) is making sure the work we produce steers clear of the dated gender stereotypes that are all too common in the design world. Seeing the word ‘feminine’ in a creative brief fills me with dread. ‘Designing for women’ is a sure fire way to totally turn off and alienate consumers – we all remember the Bic ‘Pen for Girls’ disaster and the more recent unbelievably patronising Seat Mii for ‘young women who are going places’.

It seems unbelievable in this day and age that these ideas ever make it off the cutting room floor. But the problem is that most of the key creative and commercial decision-makers are men. We all have a responsibility to ensure our work is culturally sensitive, intelligent and understands the reality of how consumers see themselves – particularly now that gender neutral ideas are becoming ever more prevalent. Don’t design for women or men – design for people.” 


Sophie Thomas, founding director, Thomas Matthews

“Women who run design businesses become masters in plate spinning. 20 years of Thomas Matthews doing business demonstrates that we can do it. Not only are we creative, bringing our passion and beliefs into work, we are good when it comes to relationships and impressions, which are fundamental to good business. Design still feels like a boy’s club. I hope it doesn’t stay like that – it’s boring when it is, and I don’t play golf.”


Jane Bowyer, designer and illustrator

“I believe there are many great aspects of being a woman in the design industry but we still have obstacles to overcome. In the UK, women take up the majority of university places on graphic design courses but this is reversed when it comes to getting jobs in the industry. In my opinion, we need more platforms to share the achievements and journeys of women in the creative industries to make them more visible and inspire new generations of designers.

The more we see and hear about women — at all stages of their career from juniors, to CEOs to retirees — succeeding in design, the more attainable a creative career feels. For those of us who are already working within the industry we need to create a supportive network for young female colleagues through mentoring schemes, critiquing work or a monthly catch up over coffee.”


What are the main challenges you – or your colleagues – have faced as a female designer? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • Teri Henman March 21, 2017 at 10:22 am

    It’s really great to see more women within the design industry speaking up and challenging the status quo, however it’s not enough say that women need to be given the job opportunities and featured more in the design press, they need to be able to be there in the first place for this to even be possible.

    There seems to be very few women with young families working particularly as designers within the industry. I was made redundant while on maternity leave and have found while returning to work that a lot of companies still don’t offer flexible working, one recruiter advised me not to mention that I had a young family as it might “put off” a potential employer.

    It seems about time the design industry caught up with the corporate sector and started offering more flexible ways of working so that people both with and without families can create a healthy work life balance that will ultimately benefit their creative work.

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