My journey through the field of design has been diverse and remarkable. I studied at a time when graphics was greatly dependent on art based skills and started my first job without the aid of a computer. I worked with awkward and demanding clients, and experienced employment by both male and female executives and although I hate to admit it, the harshest and most challenging to work with was actually a woman. In hindsight I can now relate to her leadership ethics and her struggle to compete in a field which was back then, mainly male orientated.
I quickly came to realize that graphic design is a profession that often confused the public and has only recently been accepted as a respectable trade. I would often receive conflicting views and equally strange responses, such as “That sounds easy, you draw all day” or “You design dresses then?”, but the most amusing was when one person asked if I could design their house….”No sorry, that’s an architect!” There’s still a hazy perception, but graphics is now widely recognized in Cyprus and more youngsters are joining the BA Graphic Design course at Alexander College, each year. Some are still vague as to what the subject actually is, but by the second month they’re all aware that graphic design is a medium of communication with a broader spectrum.
Our profession is ever-changing and new methods are evolving to meet the demands of rapid advancements in both technology and cultural trends. Graphic design is no longer an occupation that only deals with logos, business cards and print. The various media a graphic designer is involved in today, is abundant and varied which also includes; packaging, book design, apps, social media, web sites, exhibition stands, movie credits and so on.
I walk into a class at the start of each academic year and notice that there are equal numbers of male and female students, this proves that there’s no gender preference in this field, although studies have shown that in the UK more women are in design education, but less in the actual profession. Why is it therefore, that graphic design is generally perceived as a man’s vocation? Do women graduate then decide to settle down and have children? Do more men actually enter the profession, whilst women may decide to follow a different route? Are men more driven and thus more successful? Or can it simply be our rigid understanding that through historical developments, all influential designers have been men, such as; Max Bill, Paul Rand, Neville Brody and David Carson. A few years back the stereotypical icons and representations of a graphic designer was seldom a woman and was often depicted as a man with spiky hair and glasses sitting by his computer or holding a portfolio and a cup of coffee. These icons were probably generated by ‘that same guy’!
Even though many of our female graduates have established rewarding careers, some have found it slightly harder to push forward and climb the ladder of success. One theory is that their male counterparts may be preferred by employers for higher positions and as general business liaisons. Others believe that their work needs to be more specialized or more unique in order to be noticed and thus tend to explore alternative disciplines. A number of ex-students have their own companies that have been operating successfully for years and have built a steady reputation in the community, although a small percentage are in fact women. Could this be the male instinct for survival and his role in society to care for his family and operate as the main household provider?
In the last 15 years or so, successful female designers are starting to emerge on the scene, making a name for themselves and empowering young women both in education and the profession. Women have contributed a great deal to the industry, yet still many go unnoticed. Practitioners such as Paula Scher, Kate Moross and my personal favourite Marian Bantjes, should all be explored further for their varied styles and amazing accomplishments.
Many female designers have felt the need to be heard and have introduced various projects focusing on gender equality and highlighting up-and-coming female talent. One particular website, ‘Women of Graphic Design’ featured a project started by Lorna Allan called ‘Hidden Women of Design’ that is dedicated to female designers of the past, questioning why many are unheard of. The purpose of the project was to involve public opinion by nominating a woman who deserves recognition for their talent and design achievements.
There are very few female pioneers recognized for their work, but as early as the 1940s, a designer from New York, Cipe Pineles was looking for her first design job and had sent her portfolio to a major magazine. The potential employers were interested in her work until they found out that she was a woman. However, she was not discouraged and continued to fulfill her ambition and eventually became art director at Glamour in 1942, the first female to hold that position at a major American magazine and also the first female director of the Art Directors Club.
Another pioneer of female graphic designers is April Greiman, although hates the label ‘Graphic Designer’ as she feels it refers to print work only. She has a rich multidisciplinary background and has explored many different types of media from art, textiles and architecture to digital technology, video and web design. She opened her very own studio in 1976 in Los Angeles and then began teaching at the California Institute of Arts in 1982. Greiman’s work continues to push boundaries as technology continues to evolve. She created a life size collage for the Walker Art Center in 1986, challenged by the technology that was available at that time which was rather limited working with only one megabyte of RAM and a monochrome 9-inch screen. When I first saw her collage in a book I was amazed, not only is it sustainable regarding concept and design, but could even be considered as part of today’s current trend.
Paula Scher is a name that most designers are familiar with. She is highly respected and well known for her conceptual and expressive approach to typography. Her style is mostly influenced by Art Deco and Russian Constructivism. She was art director for CBS and Atlantic Records in the 1970s, and then worked with editorial designer Terry Koppel for seven years before joining ‘Pentagram’ as a partner. Her personal project creating huge hand-painted maps from her own perspective is quite extraordinary. Although it may seem obsessive and rather pointless to some, her craftsmanship and total commitment to the venture is commendable.
I actually discovered Kate Moross through one of my students who had bought her book and was eagerly excited to show me her work. I was attracted to her rich, vibrant style and was drawn in to investigate further. She’s runs her own studio based in London and describes herself as a multi-tasker, involved in branding, illustration, typography and music videos. Her fresh pop style is strongly influenced from the 1980’s with unrefined shapes and bright colours, which she integrates in most of her projects, whether print, typographical or digital.
I personally find Marian Bantjes the most interesting of all designers. I stumbled across her work by chance on Pinterest and was instantly captivated. As well as a graphic designer she is also a writer and illustrator and her work is usually hand rendered with intricate detailing, flourishes and patterns, even her typography adopts an ornamental fluid style. Some of her designs employ a vast array of beautiful colours that transcends the viewer into an almost meditative state. Her fresh approach to design has a certain quality that can be effortlessly acknowledged as feminine, but still composed in a functional way.
I have no preference in design, whether created by a man or a woman, but I am proud of the developments and the exposure that female graphic designers have received in recent years. I am confident that women will continue to contribute to the world of visual communication and influence many young designers with fresh ideas, challenging approaches and alternative methods by adding a feminine flavour to the future of contemporary graphic design.
Graphic Design Lecturer