This year I took the daunting step of setting up my own design studio, making it the most exciting, yet challenging, of my career to date. Earlier in the year, when Art Director Jessica Walsh launched her own agency & Walsh it made me reflect on my experiences in the industry-leading up to this point – both good and bad. Jessica is also the founder of a global non-profit initiative, Ladies, Wine and Design, which was formed to empower women and non-binary creatives around the world. This motivated me to reach out to other women in the UK creative industry, and speak to them about their influences, obstacles and what they’d like to see change. And, maybe more importantly, are positive changes happening?
Tuesday is the Creative Director at Design and Code. It’s her aim to produce designs that are not only stimulating and attractive but also conceptually strong. With the experience of a range of design disciplines, her main strengths are in brand identity, user experience, environmental graphics and design for print.
Since graduating with honours in Graphic Design at Duncan of Jordanstone, College of Art and Design, Tuesday has gained a wealth of industry experience in a range of studios across the UK. This has led her to work on local and international projects in sectors including food and drink, energy, service, retail, hospitality, manufacturing and creative industries.
I’ve worked with lots of inspiring women who have influenced and motivated me and my work. They’ve been the women that are most passionate and creative and that’s infectious and expands your curiosity. It’s because of working with these women that I’ve become interested and worked on large scale wayfinding and signage, architectural, illustration and animation projects. I’ve been so lucky throughout my career to have incredible female role models and it’s still the case in my current role at Design and Code.
I’ve been really inspired by pioneering designers such as Marina Willer and Morag Myerscough after seeing them talk at Long Lunch events. Design and Code have been lucky enough to do a collaboration with Morag Myerscough this year on a project called ‘glisk’ for Look Again Festival in Aberdeen which has been a real treat.
There is noticeably more celebration of women’s work out there now. It’s clear that women are expanding opportunities for each other by celebrating their work and offering support in a way that I’ve not seen before.
At the beginning of my career, someone in the industry told me, “you’ll have children then open a florist shop like all the other women”. Comments like this didn’t fill me with confidence about my opportunities and the attitudes I’d come up against. I’ve had printers answer to my male colleague when I’ve asked a question and I’ve felt intimidated approaching top agencies with macho reputations. I’m also aware that as a straight white woman I’ve had the privilege of a really positive experience in general.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember any good quotes. I would encourage belief in yourself and speaking up when you have something to say. Use your passion to your advantage and follow where it takes you as it’s your huge advantage. Chase a variety of experiences and work with the most diverse and talented teams you can find. The best moments in my career have been collaborating with teams with almost nothing but design in common. Those are the projects where you could never have guessed the outcome but by trusting in the process of collaboration magic happens, it’s a pleasure to be part of when it does. Work hard and keep learning. Support your team. Listen. Care about the details but pick your battles. Never think you are above critique. Question and defend but don’t get hung up on it if you need to start again.
There is noticeably more celebration of women’s work out there now. It’s clear that women are expanding opportunities for each other by celebrating their work and offering support in a way that I’ve not seen before.
Design and Code is the only place I’ve worked that puts an important focus on doing good with design, it makes it the sort of studio I want to work and be part of. I’d like to see more agencies carry out not for profit work for charities or community projects. I would welcome more diversity in the design industry as we need different points of view and experiences to design for people of all cultures and abilities.
Christina used to be a Senior UX Designer at the BBC and is now Head of UX, Design and User Research at Digital Bridge In Manchester.
The main influences in my way of thinking about design are the people who use the product I design. You learn so much from people who use your product and so many designers will pass this by because they feel it’s not important. But the beauty of product testing is listening to all the amazing stuff your users have to say, and at the end of the day, they are the ones that matter.
I believe it’s getting better, but overall I still see the design industry being very male dominant. I’ve been fortunate to be trained by many strong female design role models during my time in the design industry and I hope to continue teaching others what they taught me over the years. I’ve been taking part in InnovateHER which is a fantastic program to help inspire young women and to let them understand that the tech industry is there for them to, no matter what path they wish to go.
Gender-wise, I have sat on many design panels or given many design talks where I’ve been the sole female design representative there, so it’s nice to break barriers. Couple that with my age (31) and my role as a Head of UX & Design, I do get a lot of funny faces, mostly from older males, sadly. But for the most part I get a lot of the younger generation look up to me, and I hope I can be a role model for them. The biggest one I have encountered is with my salary. Sadly in a previous role, I was quite a large amount underpaid compared to my male colleagues doing the exact same job, even though I was more experienced in the role and in some instances even had to train the male colleagues – what a way to feel undervalued. I soon got myself out that role and moved on.
You know your worth, you know your value. If you are not valued in your role, leave. They don’t deserve you.
You know your worth, don’t apologise for it! As women, we tend to back down easy, whether that’s being told what to do, or being unfairly paid. Don’t stand for it, you know your worth, you know your value. If you are not valued in your role, leave. They don’t deserve you.
User Experience should not be a silo skill or silo department. It absolutely drives me mad when I hear companies who have a “UX Department” and a “Design Department” to find out they don’t speak to each other! User Experience is a foundation and should be cross-company, everyone should advocate for their users and be driving design thinking, not just the “UX people”. The more people have this mindset, the better products we will produce, the happier our users will be.
With almost two decades of experience in the industry, Tasnim is a leading expert in social trends and creative ideation as well as being a brand strategy consultant, speaker, writer and content creator.
In her previous roles at the BBC, Yahoo and Tumblr, she has developed creative strategies for some of the biggest brands in the world, including Warner Bros, Disney, Amazon, Clinique, Twentieth Century Fox, Diet Coke and many more.
Chosen as one of Campaign’s 30 Female Creative Leaders, Tasnim has been featured in Huffington Post and Wired and most recently sat on the judging panel for the Drum Content Awards and the D&AD.
My sister is, without question, the person who made me fall in love with the entire concept of design.
An architect by trade, she was the first person that made me realise that creativity could actually be a career. She enlightened me to the fact that everything was informed by some level of design, from cutlery to nature. Design, she taught me, is fundamentally about solving a problem in the best way for your user. Empathy is what makes a designer, above anything else
I was sold and happily trotted off in my New Rocks to get my Arts degree, all while my poor Bangladeshi mother sobbed in despair at my terrible life choices. Thus far, it’s worked out quite well.
Women don’t get enough recognition in the industry, period, if we look at the statistics from Creative Equals. If only 16% of Creative Directors are women, how on earth can women be fully recognised for our talents? We can barely be seen within our own organisations.
And it’s even trickier for minorities, with 5.5.% of us making it to senior leadership in the creative industry. The day I met another Bangladeshi Creative Director, we were practically bouncing with collective excitement to have found one another. Unfortunately, we’re part of an extremely exclusive club.
Looking back, there have been brilliant women who have made a name for themselves, Margaret Calvert, Zaha Hadid and Susan Kare to name a few. These names, however, are scant amongst their male counterparts.
To be recognised, you have to be noticed first. It’s a combination of talent, exposure and some luck. We have the talent but exposure is difficult when women don’t always have the power to make the decisions.
Sadly, I’m pretty sure this is a question most women answer with a resounding “Where do I start?”
The one that comes to mind was working on a project with a very conservative international client who addressed all his questions to the man at my side. The man, incidentally, whom I managed. Even once I explained the situation, he refused to acknowledge me, leaving my poor colleague in state of fury and shock.
He was an important client so I was instructed to put up with his misogyny and leave my colleague to handle it. To my shame, I did just that because it made my life easier.
What irks me the most is that I had blamed myself at the time for my inaction, for not taking a tougher stand. I had taken his bad behaviour and somehow placed it upon myself, which to this day still galls me.
If you’ve made it up that hill, make sure to give the person struggling behind you a hand up. Be it mentoring or introducing them to the right people, remember that someone somewhere gave you a chance.
If you’ve made it up that hill, make sure to give the person struggling behind you a hand up. Be it mentoring or introducing them to the right people, remember that someone somewhere gave you a chance. Post it forward.
I think giving Creative Directors this one piece of advice would really help – stop hiring clones of yourself. We like our opinions, we like our taste, we like someone who validates our ideas and understands our point of view. The problem is that teams like this stay on one track – each other’s. Diversity is needed desperately for us to challenge ourselves, come face-to-face with new ways of thinking and break out of our own bubbles. From gender to background, culture and circumstance, diversity isn’t just the ‘PC buzzword’ one of my colleagues tried to convince me it was – it’s the backbone of innovation.
The good thing is that we’re seeing many positive changes already. As bleak as the 16% number is, I remember it being 12% a few years back. It’s more than obvious we need to do better but change is happening right now and I wholeheartedly welcome it.
As Creative Director at NoChintz, Lucy heads up the hospitality portfolio. In her 12 years since setting up the studio (alongside Directors Natalie Gray and Dominic Beardwell) Lucy has worked with clients across the globe delivering awards winning hospitality concepts; shaping the studios’ holistic approach to interiors and branding.
Designer Patricia Urquiola and Founder of Stusdioilse, Ilse Crawford, are my female design heroes. Both have moved through their careers to found international award-winning studios with projects and products that are truly inspirational.
The subject of gender inclusivity and recognition is one often voiced in the industry, especially in the graphic design arena. Running a studio of 15 creatives made up of 70% of women with a prominently female leadership team, I haven’t experienced this on a personal level within our industry of Interior Design. I am grateful that the NorthWest promotes and encourages female entrepreneurship and creative force.
Let the quality of your work do the talking, not your gender.
I’ve been lucky enough to have not faced any genuinely tangible obstacles related to my gender in my 12 years since co-founding NoChintz. There has certainly been a feeling of being on the ‘back foot’ as a woman entering pre-construction meetings, which in my experience is still an industry very heavily male-dominated; a feeling of having to prove ourselves or justify our experience to be part of the conversation, maybe even having to speak louder than everyone else to be heard. It certainly varies between industries for us – some being very progressive such as retail, and others still catching up, namely construction, where there is a quest to earn respect rather than automatically being given it.
Let the quality of your work do the talking, not your gender.
In 2019 women held just 11% of leadership positions in the design field, however more than 50% work in the industry. I would like to see this figure rise and for more females on Boards of Directors.
Claire is an award-winning print and digital art director who has worked on a multitude of publications during her 17 years in London. Titles include, WIRED, The Guardian, The Observer, The Times and Esquire Weekly. She’s currently the Art Director at Stylist
Having worked on and off newspapers for close to a decade, I find the work of Gail Bichler, design director at The New York Times Magazine hugely inspirational. She’s a visual storyteller on real journalism – real matters that affect us all and the type of content that I love working on – content that can make a difference. She pushes the boundaries like no other newspaper supplement and creates beautiful covers and features that feel fresh and different and is forever exploring and embracing new approaches to investigating and telling stories. Her clever and daring use of typography is always considered and integrates itself to be part of the design, part of the story and never something that’s an afterthought. She states in an interview that ‘We treat every issue as if it’s the last magazine on earth’, which is the perfect way to look at design.
Women are starting to receive recognition but it feels that we’re a long way off gaining the same acknowledgement as our male counterparts. It’s been a tiresome wait, but the multitude of movements that have graced the media like last year’s marking of the centenary since women were given the right to vote, has helped gain momentum in this area. Many women just got ignored in the past and only now are being celebrated.
Last year I visited the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft and absorbed the stunning work of designer and typographer Elizabeth Friedlander who is not well remembered, even in design circles today, yet most people will recognise her work. Coming up to two years ago now, TfL tackled the lack of female 20th C poster designers and exhibited the work of unknown female artists from the last 100 years. This year marks the 100th anniversary of The Bauhaus. Although the school welcomed women–the manifesto stated ‘any person of good repute, without regard to age or sex’–they were encouraged to study weaving. These innovative women who entered are often remembered as the wives of the successful males, if at all. The recent coverage has seen care being taken to celebrate these females, some of whom laid the foundations of art and design innovation to come after them.
The lack of female representation is a problem with society as a whole. Recognition is slow but it’s evident that there’s a change in the way brands represent and market to women, fuelled by social and political movements. It’s a huge step and history is slowly rewriting itself and propelling women into the limelight where they deserve to be. (It’s a shame a lot of these women aren’t alive to witness this).
Having worked on publications primarily targeted at men such as WIRED and Esquire Weekly and where males dominate the office, I often encountered obstacles. I’ve been spoken over, ignored and squashed in meetings by men. Occasionally items would get sent in to review and later distributed amongst the staff but I never got a look-in. I lashed out one day shouting across the office ‘Just because I’m the only person on the desk without a penis doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get a share’. Soon after this, I was labelled The Iron Woman. Strong women in leadership often get stereotyped for being bossy, career obsessive or brazen when actually, we’re just trying to get a job done. Women have historically been viewed as emotional leaders by men though researchers argue that empathy, emotional intelligence and vulnerability contribute to positive work environments and productivity.
On the flip side, I’ve worked with female designers (one above and one on the same level) who were incredibly challenging. I have, however, been lucky enough to work with some strong and intelligent female editors who have been brilliant role models for me. I’m lucky to have this opportunity again at Stylist.
There were very few female role models of colour when I was growing up, let alone East Asian ones. (My parents are from Hong Kong). It’s given me thick skin, determination and drive to get to where I have today. I recall being the only ethnic minority working on a publication in a large organisation and that has repeated several times in my career.
There were very few female role models of colour when I was growing up, let alone East Asian ones. (My parents are from Hong Kong). It’s given me thick skin, determination and drive to get to where I have today
Realise what you are worth and ask for this in an interview. Men are notoriously better at negotiating salaries that women. Be brave and don’t be afraid to ask for a pay rise too.
More female role models (including women of colour) especially in leadership roles; an equal number of male and female speakers at events; exhibitions celebrating invisible women and for those to be incorporated into our history books; gender equality; equal pay; more supportive and inclusive female initiatives that welcome men – they need to be part of that conversation in order to promote change; an overturn with sexual harassment in the workplace – where action is taken; gender labels to be erased; a halt on discrimination against women who want to start a family; the offer of guidance and mentorship to underrepresented creatives starting out in their careers… the list goes on but hopefully, changes will be made.
Hilary has over 20 years’ experience as a creative in marketing and communications. After graduating with an MA Fine Art degree from Edinburgh University & Art School, she went on to become an art director and subsequently joint creative director at one of Scotland’s top advertising agencies. She then founded her own small business specialising in branding and communications before taking on her role as Creative Director with Stripe.
She has won national creative and effectiveness awards for both advertising and design. Outside work she is inspired by art and creatively re-boots by dabbling in drawing, painting and anything that involves immersing herself in the great outdoors.
My background is in art, I am inspired by the emotional value of great painters and of the women painters that influenced me, Alison Watt would be the most significant. Her work and her resilience to change made me choose a career in creativity which started off with going to Edinburgh University and School of Art to study an MA in Fine Art. As a young art director I was very much inspired by Alexandra Taylor.
My background is in art, I am inspired by the emotional value of great painters and of the women painters that influenced me, Alison Watt would be the most significant.
Yes, from my clients perspective. But I found it a struggle for recognition within my own agencies and within the advertising creative community in my early years.
I have experienced harassment and bullying. There was a very ‘macho’ attitude to creativity, especially in advertising departments. Essentially it wasn’t always inclusive or nice. Critique is one thing, you have to be good and ambitious to do well. But there is always a place to nurture and respect. Creativity is subjective, you must be able to defend your ideas but equally not feel that what you are doing is wrong.
Mistakes are good. Learn from yours and those of others. Be prepared to fail in order to make the good into great. Being an excellent troubleshooter is a magnificent way to always hold your head up high. Whatever your gender.
I’d like to see a better understanding of what inclusion really means.
Award-winning designer, Ilaria Niccoli has worked for almost 15 years in Europe, Asia and Africa carrying out design, exhibition, branding and packaging projects for both startups and multinational companies. She’s worked for the Benetton group, Starbucks UNIDO/ United Nations, Ferrero and Disney. And she’s also taught and held lectures in packaging, design and semiotics in Milan and Shanghai, at NABA (New Academy of Fine Arts), Domus Academy, Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, Shanghai Business School. In 2018 she founded London based Niccoli.Design, a boutique consulting firm, specialised in advising & working with companies around the world.
My first real job in the design industry was in Milan, in a small design studio owned by a young, strong lady. She taught me how to think out of the box and questioning about the way things are and how they could be better. As designers, we have a responsibility in the way we influence our surroundings (the environment and the people that will interact with our product or service) and we always have a choice to contribute in making the world a better place to live in.
Some design awards recently established the ‘pink quota’ as a way to encourage women to stand out from the male crowd. I suppose it’s a good sign of time changing. Personally I don’t think women should compete in a separate category because until we’ll keep thinking in terms of men and women instead of people, there won’t be any equity. If a design is good it needs recognition, no matter if it’s been done by a man or a woman. What needs to be worked on is giving to both genres the same opportunities, which, in some industries and countries, is still far from happening.
I have to admit, I grew up in a big family dominated by women and I almost always worked with women and homosexual guys, so in my workplaces I didn’t really experience sexism.
However, then I started to work as an industrial designer, which is an industry dominated by men. Once I went to visit an international fair of industrial design where many manufacturers were present. I was with a male colleague and every time we met a potential client they’d start to look and talk to him. It was my responsibility to gain attention and answer them to show that I was actually the one in charge and would be able to solve their problems.
Fortunately, this doesn’t happen everywhere. For example in China, where I worked for the last three years, I had the chance to work with many teams made up in the majority by women, with amazing female leaders in charge.
When I was a little kid my family wasn’t wealthy and my mum told me something that it’s always been impressed on the back of my mind ever since. “We can’t help you, you can count only on yourself. You have a great talent. If you really want something, work hard, and to go and get it!”
I don’t think this only belongs to the design industry but to the working environment and the society in general. Women need to have the same opportunities as men do, both in terms of salaries and flexibility.
I don’t think this only belongs to the design industry but to the working environment and the society in general. Women need to have the same opportunities as men do, both in terms of salaries and flexibility. None of them should be put in the position of having to choose between family and career or being judged for the choices they make. I think this is still the biggest gap we all encounter after a certain age and that leads us to different decisions in our career.
What I see is that in a society where women are more independent and have reached good positions in terms of career, there is a big births’ drop. This is something governments should work on, guaranteeing flexibility to women and the same parental leaves to men, so that the responsibility of having the family is equally on both shoulders.
Suha is the Creative Director at Manchester-based Ad World Marketing.
I can easily point to the legend design queen Jo Arscott. She is a major reason pushing me to fight to be fit in my misfit. She didn’t wait for a masculine approval to become a designer, she just forced herself in. Dug the path for herself and despite the hardness of her journey, she has been on top of her game. What better module to learn from her courageous, insistence and creativity?
Women have not been well recognised in many industries as well, but the design field has been one of the hardest. Luckily enough, changes are taking place and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the path is still tough though for many reasons; stereotype is one, women automatically are a second choice/level, just sub-consciously. When it comes to recognition, it is a good habit to focus on creative work rather than gender.
Being a woman means I have had to work harder to prove I am at the same level as my peers and being a Middle Eastern woman has made it worse. It is a pity that creativeness and design have no face. During my career path, the doors closed in my face many times. People, men and women, are the biggest obstacles a woman face, not lack of abilities or creativeness. While some people think life is not fair, I’ve always believed, people are not fair. While I started my digital career in 2009, I was already carrying a decade of work experiences in various fields, companies, languages and countries, that cannot be deleted but built upon. If that past is perceived as an obstacle rather than solid value and strong base, then professionalism has failed.
I want to advise women not take anyone’s critics personal even if they meant to, but if it is constructive, take it, correct yourself, learn, produce and come back. Remember never to be jealous of another woman but be inspired and motivated to become even better, everyone is born creative but we decide what to do with it.
Megan is Creative Director at Birmingham based Curve Creative.
Influence and recognition
I think women role models encourage and inspire other women to make different choices. Unfortunately, women rarely have women leaders, colleagues and role models in their immediate surroundings. I feel Design in a hugely male-dominated area of work and women get lost amongst the waves of men who are in the industry.
An issue I’ve come across on a regular basis is socialising with managers outside of work. If you’re not willing to attend out of hours socials I believe this has a huge impact on your career progression. Unlike others that have regular interaction with management – Ultimately landing these individuals leadership roles within the business.
We hope you enjoyed reading and would love to hear about your own personal experiences in the industry. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to answer our questions for this blog!
This is the first of a series of ‘Conversations With’ which we will be collating in 2020.