‘What are the challenges women face in design?’

In the follow-up to International Women’s Day last Sunday, we ask a selection of female designers about the biggest challenges they face in their work.

Viviana Doctorovich, senior user experience designer, Firefly
Viviana Doctorovich, senior user experience designer, Firefly

“One of the biggest barriers to women’s success in the design industry is a work culture that rewards male values like competition and the “hero mentality”, and undervalues feminine qualities like empathy, compassion and intuition. This means that most of the women who rise to the top are those who mould themselves to the existing culture and end up perpetuating the status quo. We need more women in leadership positions who have risen to the top without losing their authenticity and feminine values in the process, and are willing stand up for a different way of doing business. ”


Annie Atkins, graphic designer for film
Annie Atkins, graphic designer for film

I’m sometimes asked why there aren’t more women working in film – but almost half of the film industry is female. It’s just that when people ask this they’re usually thinking of the mostly-male camera crew, rather than, say, the model makers, the graphic designers and the set decorating department – roles that are often helmed by women. I think it is attitudes towards traditionally female roles that need to change. The job of a hair stylist is no less valuable than the job of a grip* – there isn’t a production in Hollywood that could make a movie without a make-up team.

*N.B. The grip is in charge of set operations on a film set, such as lighting and blocking.


Veronica Ditting, art director, The Gentlewoman magazine, COS magazine and her independent studio
Veronica Ditting, art director, The Gentlewoman magazine, COS magazine and her independent studio

I reckon there are more imbalanced industries and this is obviously a generalisation, but design is a male-dominated environment and women have to put in more hard work to get recognition. Consciously or subconsciously, women are being judged differently from their male colleagues. Therefore women are possibly often hesitant to voice their creative ambitions and subsequently are less visible. I’ve never encountered any direct difficulties myself as a result of being female, but I’m aware of the challenges. I owe this to having been taught by confident female teachers during my studies at the Rietveld Academy and FH Dortmund, who were fabulous role models for myself and my peers.


Ariane Prin, product designer, Ariane Prin Design Studio
Ariane Prin, product designer, Ariane Prin Design Studio

I will answer your question by replacing “Women” with “People”. That is not to say that gender specific challenges are a non-issue in design, but I have never experienced these differences personally. The act of designing is universally challenging and loaded with responsibilities. What I am personally aiming for with my “From Here For Here” project is to preserve the joy of making and to take full accountability for my contributions to design by creating more responsible pieces of work. Design is about exploring the social and cultural opportunities around us, and connecting human activities with environmental and economical principles.


Latest articles