Equality in the Design Community

Earlier tonight I was informed of an article written by Dylan Lathrop for GOOD magazine which was essentially accusing the design community of being sexist against women. This has to be the most asinine thing I’ve read in very long time. First off, the whole article is based around attacking three things: the MOMENTUS project by Evan Stremke, the State Motto project by Dan Cassaro and the Weapons of Mass Creation Fest that was recently held in Cleveland, Ohio. Dylan’s point is that women were underrepresented or non-existent in these projects/events, and that “the personal benefit of discussing your work shouldn’t come at the expense of not fully representing the diversity within the profession.” But is that really the point of these projects/events? To my mind, I thought it was about supporting good design, no matter your sex or gender.

When Evan and Dan put together these projects, they asked their friends who they think are talented designers. Did they sit back and ask themselves, “Well, do I have an appropriate number of women for this?” No, because yet again, that’s ridiculous. And if you honestly think that the Weapons of Mass Creation Fest (or Evan or Dan) went out of it’s way to not invite female you’ve gotta’ be nuts.

I was speaking to Jennifer Daniel over Twitter earlier, who you may have noticed was the second artist Dylan listed of women who could have been included in these projects/events. She’s an amazing designer, she’s basically in the New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek every week and a million other things. Oh yeah, and she happens to be a woman. And that’s what she said to me, “women-designers don’t need the prefix “women”. Gay-designers don’t need the prefix gay. Smart-designers don’t need the prefix smart.” I liken it to blogging. I don’t think of Grace Bonney or Tina Roth Eisneberg as amazing female bloggers, I think of them as amazing bloggers, period. If anything, she thinks people should “invite speakers that have unique points of view. I don’t think anyone is talking about making conferences mediocre by inviting women. They seem to be mediocre on their own without them.” Why not just be an amazing designer?

To that effect, I think it’s funny that Dylan forget a huge, glaring point. He’s so adamant to point out that the “design community” is prejudice against women, but what about gays and lesbians? Where are the transgendered people? Where do these minorities fit into the big picture of everything? Why isn’t anyone inviting these specific minorities to projects/events?

Because it’s the same ridiculous point from a different point of view.

Here is my point. Don’t define yourself by your sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Why should anyone be singled out by any of the previously mentioned descriptors? How about we celebrate the people who are kicking ass and are doing amazing things? My writers and myself don’t care what the hell you are, we want to share amazing ideas from people who are doing brilliant things, that’s it. Personally, I don’t ever want to be known as a gay blogger or a gay designer, I want to be known as a dude who’s doing super rad shit.

As my friend Kate Bingaman Burt said, “I just want to make good work, be good to people and kick ass. I think that would apply no matter what gender I am rocking.”

After writing this I decided to follow up with Dylan about his post, and here’s what he had to say in return, which I thought was extremely well thought out and a perfect addendum to all that’s been written so far.

The thrust of the article wasn’t about celebrating based on gender, just acknowledging the gap existed, especially when paired next to these examples that all are reflective of design as community right now. MOMENTUS project lacking female designers struck me particularly because of the content matter; to have a project based around America—where equality and democracy are always being sought—without any female representation didn’t seem to conceptually jive. That’s why I asked Evan about it, since he and I seemed to have had good rapport on twitter. When I learned that there wasn’t much consideration for it beyond wanting to work with friends (something that’s valid, totally) I felt like this was something worth discussing as a larger pervasive topic, having seen the rollout of WMCfest that same weekend and 50 and 50 before that.

These three separate items I feel like are coming from within design, self-authored or driven by the people in it. With that, it seems like a bummer that young female designers—or designers of color, or designers that are part of the LGBT community—don’t see themselves reflected in that. I totally understand the idea that it should be about the quality of work that drives who gets asked to do something, which is why I chose to make the companion slideshow. If the excuse is there isn’t quality work out there from girls, then I wanted to prove that wrong. That list ranges too, from uknowns to well knowns, but all of them are well within the venn diagram of talented, young and hungry. If that is what is being reflected in these projects, why aren’t they there? I suppose hearing all through school from my female design friends about the lack of diversity from speakers always made me think they felt that that was demeaning, but I could be mistaken. I’ll totally own it if I’m wrong.

I’m also fine being viewed as a male designer, because that’s what I am. But I understand your point too that this isn’t the prefix the correlates to good, just as female, gay, black, or any other prefix would. My work isn’t indicative of my gender, but my gender is something I can’t subtract myself from. I’ve also never felt openly ostracized in my field, so I’m not sure what the feelings would be if I suddenly was a female designer. Or if I were gay. Or if I were non-white. But I want to insure that everything I do that is reflective of professional community doesn’t make anyone feel on the outside either. Again, this isn’t the prescription for everyone, this was just my personal (and by proxy, GOOD’s) take on the issue. I feel like everyone could stand to open their networks to new creative people, of any race, gender, or sexual orientation. I welcome it, because I’ve always been challenged most by those I wasn’t exactly analog too. It might be the fact that I was a lone liberal growing up in Wyoming, but I never wanted to be confronted by sameness.

At the end of the day, what I was positing wasn’t about hiring practices or strict doctrine for how to run any sort of conference or project, but just shining a light on the fact that everyone (myself included) can do better with their personal networks, and organically the work will be just as good, while also being more diverse. If projects are actively reflecting a community, then hopefully they can take that into account at the onset, but I wouldn’t want to put myself in the position of casting anyone of the above mentioned projects out of the discussion. Each of those things should be elevated, scrutinized, and celebrated. To say no one could grow from this (again, myself included) would go against the crux of what I was trying to say in the first place.


18 Comments Equality in the Design Community

  1. Margaret Kimball June 21, 2011 at 6:50 AM

    Hi Bobby,

    Interesting point. Part of me agrees with you, that we shouldn’t consider gender (culturally constructed, at any rate) or any superficial factor when assessing the design/work of a human. But the fact is that there’s a long and deep-seeded history in the Western hemisphere of men representing women and culture. We live, undeniably, in a hetero-patriarchal society (just look at our legal system). To ignore this fact, even today, is to potentially allow the trend to continue. (And believe you me, it does. I’ve personally been negatively affected in my professional life because of my gender.) I think it’s about power, conscientiousness and representation. If male conference organizers, for instance, are not held accountable for their selection process, then it might just happen that [white?] men continue to select each other and therefore become a singular voice of what is in reality a diverse/multifaceted culture.

    There are plenty of art critical articles, books and anthologies discussing this very reality. It might be called third-wave feminism, postcolonialism, gender theory or something like that. See also Patricia Matthews, Whitney Davis, Patrick Williams, Foucault…the list goes on. But I think it’s critical that we as culture-creators be hyper-aware of our position both in history and the current moment.


  2. Emmet June 21, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    Pot Kettle? While your feature on LGBT designers is interesting, and they are pretty talented people, you yourself are in danger of pointing out that they are LGBT first, designers second (and that they should only be celebrated in June, or the last Sunday in June!) Design is an applied art, at heart we are communicators and problem solvers. Who you are – male, female, gay, straight, all four or somewhere in between, will of course inform your approach and even your style, but should it really get in the way of the communication of an idea? Or has design now moved beyond that? What is allowed as self-expression as an artist vs. as a designer?

  3. mary June 21, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    i’ve been reading this blog for a long time and i’ve never felt the need to comment before but this post really got my goat.

    basically, it’s not ridiculous to ask yourself if you have enough people from minority groups represented at your design event/project. it’s called affirmative action and it exists for a reason.

    to first say that obviously these projects are not sexist and then turn around and note that unfortunately, there are no women included in them? that’s what’s ridiculous.

    employers have quotas for hiring minorities because minorities have a harder time getting the same kind of pay and recognition as white males. no one’s saying it’s specifically that employer who’s sexist or racist, it’s just a practice that tries to ensure a certain profession is accessible to all people, regardless of their race/gender/orientation. why don’t these design projects extend the same courtesy to minority groups? after all, it’s not like taking an extra few minutes to ask yourself if maybe you could think of a few women or people of colour or LGBTQ people is going to take anything away from your projects. clearly, you can think of excellent women designers off the top of your head, so it’s not like there just aren’t any.

    honestly, i think you should rethink just how ridiculous it is to make an effort to invite people from all sorts of minority groups to participate in your project. a world without labels would be great, but we don’t live in that world yet, not when you can still find plenty of instances where your specific label is excluded. and it’s not like women are even a minority! we outnumber men! so how is it possible that these events did not include a single one if we’re all so equal now that we have no need for labels?

  4. Jen June 21, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    Um, just to point out the obvious – weren’t you recently asking for a female designer to write for this blog?

    I agree that yes, one day it shouldn’t matter what your prefix is,
    but as Mary stated we’re not there yet. But there should have been a little more awareness on the part of the organizers – all that I think these people are really guilty of is maybe a little laziness and short-sightedness.

  5. nk June 21, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    Not actively making an effort to subvert the status quo is passive-aggressively keeping minority opinions off the chart.

  6. Vinciane June 21, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    It’s not asinine. Just as you have featured LGBT designers/artists this month in support of pride, female designers need the same support and recognition. There is certainly no shortage of talented women out there, and most of us do not define ourselves as specifically women-designers. We’re just good designers out there to do good work. The sad truth is that networks in the industry tend to be male-centered, so when projects like MOMENTUS are organized, women are all too often left out of the equation. Dylan raises a really fair point in his article: that diversity is at the root of the issue. It’s not necessarily about gender balance, it’s about equal representation across the board whether it be race, age, gender, or sexual preference.

  7. Alex June 21, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    I have to agree with the above commenters who noted that you’ve done the exact thing that you’re so disgusted with (within the last few weeks even) — namely highlighting queer designers and looking to add a female writer to your roster.

    I don’t think these are necessarily bad choices, but I wonder why you felt so compelled to speak out against this particular article by “Good”?

  8. rek June 21, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    I’m one of five men in a studio of 14 designers/ADs. What is this guy talking about?

  9. Bobby Solomon June 21, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Okay, here are my thoughts to the general comments so far:

    1) Featuring LGBT people on my blog is my form of pride. I find it interesting that there are so few LGBT designers, I’m not saying that we need more or less LGBT designers, or that we’re victimized or neglected. I’m pointing out shining examples of LGBT people doing great work.

    2) I get the point of what a lot of you are saying in the comments, that women have a harder time in general in a male-centric world. What I’m arguing is that we’re vilifying Evan and Dan and the WMC Fest because of this. I personally don’t see this happening within my design circle, by which I mean the people I follow and interact with on Twitter. The designers I know are extremely open, inviting and welcoming of all kinds of people.

    3) I was looking for female writers because I want the blog to have a well-rounded voice and opinions. I have Margot currently, and I’ll be bringing on two more female writers next week, as a matter of fact. I don’t think like a woman, thus I want that opinion and viewpoint, it’s obviously important.

    Here’s what I’d like to add to the conversation. This problem certainly exists, so what are you doing to change things? What should the design community be doing better? Instead of focusing on the negative, how can we get some shit done?

  10. s. bakr June 21, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    “Don’t define yourself by your sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.” Except non-white-straight males don’t have that luxury because society defines those persons FOR THEM. I mean honestly portions of this article seem very short-sighted.

    The GOOD article was calling for expansion of networks which many have pointed out are overwhelming MALE, which is why when these group projects come about, the friends the Curator wants to work with are usually men! The designers they’re exposed to are overwhelming male so expanding networks will help THE WORK of women and minorities gain the exposure to be CONSIDERED for more of these projects.

    I didn’t see the GOOD article as vilifying anyone. Pointing out a glaring lack of women in certain projects is raising awareness to these curators who might not have thought about diversity in the first place because they were solely focusing on aesthetics; which from looking at 50/50 and MOMENTUS steer in a certain way which can be interpreted as very masculine. There are lot of men working in that faux vintage/textured style that’s popular now and women’s work might not be considered because their aesthetics aren’t the style du jour.

    We don’t live in a world where people gain opportunities/work JUST BECAUSE they’re the best, that thought process is naive at best. Being able to have the opportunity to get your work in front of the right eyeballs is dependent on networking. So in my opinion GOOD was just calling for more women to be included in these networks so their work has the opportunity to be viewed on the same level playing field as the boys club.

    I’m not saying women should be included just because they’re women, I’m saying they should be granted the opportunities for their work to be considered and that can’t happen if the networks don’t expand and change.

  11. Sharlene June 21, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    I just wanted to post this because what’s a post about equality/inequality without some good old fashioned statistics?


    An amazingly small 23% of women perceive bias, but I want you to check out the salary ranges across genders on the “Evidence of Bias” section.

    Just because it doesn’t happen to you or where you work doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent.

    What’s really interesting is how the numbers have changed from previous years.

    Also interesting is that more women are “staying current” as well as freelancing. Is that what they do when the going gets tough? Are they finding the alternate solution than stomaching sexism?

    We work in a meritocracy. We love believing that work is all that matters, but when you apply as a Jennifer instead of a John, you immediately identify your gender.

    Our industry is not only a meritocracy, but in honesty, it is a traditionally and generously liberal industry and that makes accepting culpability for our prejudices, malicious or just negligent, a hard pill to swallow.

  12. David Amrock June 21, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    Bobby, not to belabor the discussion, but when you say there are ‘so few LGBT designers,’ do you mean actually few?—or few who are out, or few who are recognized?

    I ask because this is a really important issue for me, as a person who designs, blogs, and is gay. I always hesitate to mention I’m gay or bring up LGBT issues because I see heteronormativity everywhere, and I know how pervasive homophobia is, and how complicated things get when people deny that problems like these exist (or are problems).

  13. Bobby Solomon June 21, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    @Sharlene – Great, things suck, what are your suggestions to change it? I’m hearing a lot of woe is me, but no constructive answers on how to make it better. Get over the doom and gloom and do something!

    @David – Being LGBT and a designer is a rare thing, or so I’ve found. I don’t know why that is, but we’re a minority and that’s just how it is. But I don’t see my homosexuality as a weakness or a problem, ever. I’m proud of who I am and what I do.

  14. annie June 21, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    Putting the onus on Sharlene “to do something” is counter productive. She IS doing something, she is stating facts and engaging in conversation. Facts that may not have come to light otherwise. She is engaging in conversation. The double edge sword is no one believes that sexism still exists until they see tangible facts, but once these facts are spelled out then they are interpreted as women whining and moaning about inequality.

    I have one suggestion in case you throw it back at me: go to http://www.graphicbirdwatching.com. Bask in all the glorious work by talented illustrators and designers, who also happen to be female. Learn about female designers, we all know about Wim Crouwel and Stefan Sagmesiter et al but what about Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Gail Swanlund, ATWP, Stiletto NYC, APFEL.

  15. Bobby Solomon June 21, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    @Annie – I’m not putting the impetus on just Sharlene, I’m saying that if you have a problem with this, why not try to do something about it? What’s wrong with being proactive? Nodding in agreement isn’t going to change the facts she’s presented. It’s like you know you have a broken arm, but you don’t go to the doctor to get it fixed.

    You mention that no one believes that sexism exists, but clearly that’s not true, as evidenced by the great comments on this post. So why not get together and make some waves, get some shit done and make change happen?

    Also, thanks for the link, the site looks great. I don’t feel like The Fox Is Black, myself, or my writers need to be educated on women in design. We feature women designers constantly, go back through 5 pages and you’ll see plenty. We don’t write about women simply because of their gender though, we do it because they’re damn talented.

  16. Shannon June 23, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    To be honest, I think you’re missing the point. I agree that designers should not be defined by only by their gender/sexual orientation/race, etc, but it’s naive to assume that just because someone doesn’t go out of their way to include minorities means they are free of prejudice.
    To deny the existence of sexism, racism and homophobia is just incorrect. Being a white, straight male is still seen as the “norm” in our society. What can we do to change things? I encourage those who recognize inequalities to actively seek to encourage this type of equality you’re writing about. It’s not enough to passively acknowledge society’s woes. To create true equality one must recognize biases in oneself (everyone has them), and make an effort.
    I’m sure the designers at the events mentioned by Good didn’t intentionally exclude females, but maybe they should be questioning their reasoning, without copping out.

    PS, as for the rarity of LGBTQ designers, I have no idea where you are getting this information from, but this has not been my experience at all.

  17. Rodrigo June 23, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    Just adding two cents:

    ¢1: Just to add some info on the worldwide status of LGBT graphic designers: I am a gay graphic designer from South America (Uruguay), most of the graphic designers I know are gay, although when I went to school there were only two of us in our class. Even so, one of the most (if not THE most) recognized graphic designers from Argentina, Alejandro Ros (http://www.alejandroros.com.ar), is openly gay. So, over here in the southern cone, the diagnose I think would be: still a minority, but there are plenty, witht he potential of even more, and also there are very good ones who get the recognition they deserve as well.

    ¢2: I understand your call for affirmative action in the comments of this post, but it is not the center or end of your post, nor is it the center or end of what Dylan responded to you. As stated before, talking about it IS doing something, because now you know, now the dudes who made MOMENTUS, the State Motto Project and the WMC Fest know, too, and they will think about these things harder when/if they make another group project, which will (probably) also happen for other people who’re conjuring similar projects and are aware of these posts, and so forth, and so forth.

    Making a Diversity-themed collaborative project would be great, because it would promote a diverse range of designers as well as speak out about the way things are working and how they could be better, but a true change in attitudes would have to be reflected on non-diversity centric projects.

  18. Meredith August 27, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    I know this disscussion has been way over for along time, but I think a big part of equality is not just inviting women into projects, but inviting women into your network. But as well, I directly wasn’t so upset about the lack of women, but the fact that the coordinators mentioned choosing their friends. Friends are great, and I love mine, but because I love them it means it could sway how I feel about how they work. Announcing that big creative project as well as trying to break and reform your creative network(thank you internet) sounds like a great exercise as a professional.

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