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.


June 21, 2011 / By