Where Are The Female Designers?
Posted by Matt Davies on November 19th, 2007.
It is a fact that there are less women in the design industry then men. What the precise ratio of men to women actually is, one cannot be sure. However, as some indication, the guys at A List Apart recently undertook a web design survey in which, in their own words, “Close to 33,000 web professionals answered the survey’s 37 questions, providing the first data ever collected on the business of web design and development as practiced in the U.S. and worldwide.”. Out of those 33,000 only 16.1% were female.
So why is that? Why is it that females don’t seem to be as prominent in web design as they are in say fashion design? Is the graphic design industry sexist? How can we balance the sexes in the industry and do we need to?
To open up this debate and to get an insight into what it’s like for female web designers we contacted four notable designers who kindly agreed to answer the questions below. I’m sure you may have heard of some if not all of them so I’m sure there will be no need to justify their presence here. If you do wish to find out more about these professionals check out their websites below.
Now the intros are over lets get into those questions…
1. Do you think there are less female designers than male? If so why do you think this is?
I know without a doubt that there less female designers in the interactive medium but I don’t think that it will be that way forever. I’m not 100% sure why, but I suppose it has to do with misconceptions. Ultimately it’s a relatively new industry and in the past many women were not into computers because it seemed a bit too technically complicated. After all, how many women do you know that are into fixing cars? Many women are creative but the technical fears of computers can seem intimidating.
It just so happens that I personally know about the same amount of male and female designers. However, from my online experience there appear to be many more male designers out there.
I believe this is rooted in the tradition. Computers were brainchildren of math and engineering minds, where men held most of the jobs. From there, bits and pieces of design emerged and were mostly self-taught by computer techies. Schools didn’t begin offering computer design courses until very recently.
Coming from a technical school myself, I have learned most of what I know about design on my own and not in school. Only towards my graduation I started hearing about courses teaching computer design. But before then – a few of those who were interested in computers (mostly guys) self-taught themselves the art of web design.
I was asked a similar question before. There are definitely less female designers, though I’m not sure the reason. Design isn’t the kind of thing males would have a better aptitude for. I can’t seem to put my finger on it. Perhaps women aren’t interested in design as much as men are, much like with video gaming. Most women don’t care for it. It’s not to say that women can’t be better players… it just doesn’t appeal to them in the same way perhaps. Maybe this is a similar scenario.
Depends on what kind of designer you are talking about. If you mean a traditional designer then I would say there are a lot of female designers out there. If you mean web designers than it becomes the opposite and that’s probably because the traditional designer isn’t too fond of making things technical and it scares them.
2. Do you feel that there is a stigma associated with females within the industry? If so please describe it.
No, I don’t feel that there is a stigma at all. I have never had any issues with being a woman in the industry. I feel that I have had equal opportunities just like anyone else. If anything, I have a stigma from being on Reality TV.
Although slowly changing, a stigma certainly exists in the wider computer industry, but I don’t think it’s much of an issue in graphic design field. Rather the issue seems to be lack of awareness that graphic design is not the same field as development.
Companies will often rely on their development gurus to produce applications and websites - but chances are the resulting product will not be appealing to the user. iPod is an excellent example – if it wasn’t for the appeal of its design, it would have fared much worse when competitors introduced technically superior models.
I’m not sure it’s a stigma with women in design, or with women in the workplace altogether. I think that women definitely get taken less seriously by some men. I don’t think it is a problem that is getting worse, however, but quite the opposite. I think that this mostly happens in older generations, and as time passes this “stigma” will fade.
I certainly don’t think so and to be honest I never think in terms of gender when it comes to work. I strongly believe any woman can mean as much in this business as her male counterpart if she sets her mind to it.
3. Do you have any examples of sexism you have personally had to suffer - with clients or within the industry?
I’ve never experienced sexism in the industry.
I have been fortunate enough not to experience any obvious signs of sexism, but I did wonder on more than one occasion the basis for certain decisions.
As I was mentioning above… seriousness, accepting women are professionals and are as fully capable as men. Some men just can’t do those things. Personally, I’ve experienced a trace of this (with clients and within the industry), but nothing to stifle my career completely.
I never had that problem, in fact the opposite.
4. How do you think this lack of female designers could be changed?
With time, more and more women will enter the industry because of girls whom truly were born in the computer era. These are girls who had a mouse in hand before they could say their first words. As more girls learn design, code and user interactions on the web; more will come to find passion for the industry. This medium is the future and there are new opportunities every day.
I think it’s great that there are now classes which teach computer design - I sometimes get emails from students telling me they’ve been asked to analyze my website by their professor :) Like I mentioned before, I haven’t had the chance to take many of these while I was a student. But I believe that this is a big step towards establishing computer design as a distinct field, separate from technical computer fields, thus drawing more females to it.
At least in the industries I work in, I’m not even sure it needs to me changed. Would it make a bit of difference? Perhaps on some levels. The female perspective may be played down a bit. Though, I haven’t felt the dominance by an overly masculine design aesthetic guide my mouse clicking hand. Good work is good work. At least that’s how I see it. Maybe my experiences have led me to be a bit blindsided about the rest of the industry. But in any case, I don’t feel a strong male dominance impairing my work or my career.
That depends on the person in question if she is willing to learn and experiment and grab an opportunity. It isn’t like men are holding us back, it’s up to you to set up a goal and go for it. This isn’t a gender issue in my eyes.
5. What would your message be to any females wishing to enter the industry?
Work hard and never stop learning. Technology is always changing. To quote Leonardo da Vinci, “Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.”
I often get emails, many from females, asking me how I got to where I am and what steps should they take to get there. Ultimately, you have to love doing it. It is the most important part, in my opinion, regardless of which industry we’re talking about. If you love what you do, you’ll find a way to be great at it.
There was a point in my life right after I graduated from college where I had to decide between two paths: getting paid descent money for doing something I don’t enjoy, or doing something I love for a very minimal salary. Luckily I have chosen the second path. The low wage was only temporary, and now I’m earning good living doing what I love most.
Don’t feel threatened or intimidated by the (potentially) overwhelming amount of males in the industry. Just focus on being the best artist you can be and doing what you love, because in the end, that’s all that’s going to matter.
It isn’t a scary male world, in fact most men are glad to see a women and her fresh new ideas.
We’d like to thank the interviewees for their time and the interesting insight they’ve given.
So do you have anything to say dear reader? Any suggestion as to why women are few in number in our industry? Do you have any comments or questions for the above ladies? We’d love to hear from you so leave a comment below…
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