In every discipline there are icons; those recognised as having contributed something novel and inspiring to the field.
In graphic design there are many, and as students, we dedicate years to learning about the greats.
Starting with the pioneers like Jan Tschichold and his modernist contribution to the field of typography. And who could forget how David Carson’s irreverent, distressed treatment of Ray Gun transformed how people approached design? Not to mention the iconic type designers behind the likes of Futura (Paul Renner), Helvetica (Max Miedinger), and, love it or hate it, Times New Roman (Victor Lardent). However, looking around my lecture theatre, filled with my fellow female design students (and the handful of male students), I remember wondering “where are the iconic women in design?”
It’s not that there aren’t any, and while it’s true that men dominated most fields in the early 20th century, women have contributed vastly to the history of design but have been underrepresented in the canon and textbooks. Here at Ronin, we’re a mostly female team, with 3 out of 4 of our designers being female. We are committed to destroying the glass ceiling and recognising the amazing work of past and present designers, regardless of their gender. So this post is dedicated to rightly acknowledging some of the most influential female designers of our time.
1. Susan Kare
“In design, there is not one right answer, there’s a range.” – Susan Kare
‘Susan Kare icon mousepad’ by Nam-ho Park available at Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at creativecommons.org
Though you may not realise it yet, if you’ve ever used a Mac computer (or Microsoft, Facebook, or iTunes for that matter), you’ve interacted with Susan Kare’s work. A member of the original Apple design team in the ‘80s, Kare designed many icons and typefaces that are omnipresent to this day, including the paint bucket and lasso icon, as well as the typeface Chicago – used in the first four generations of the iPod. Truly, Kare can be credited to have given the early Mac interface its distinct personality.
Kare went on to become a creative director in Apple Creative Services before joining NeXT (an American software company founded by Steve Jobs), where she worked with the likes of Microsoft and IBM. A pioneer in contemporary iconography, Susan Kare definitely deserves to go down in graphic design history.
“Find out what the next thing is that you can push, that you can invent, that you can be ignorant about, that you can be arrogant about, that you can fail with, and that you can be a fool with. Because in the end, that’s how you grow.”
– Paula Scher
Paula Scher is one of the few female graphic designers who has achieved recognition that’s on par with her male counterparts. She was recently featured in the Graphic Design episode of the Netflix Original Abstract, the Art of Design, and for good reason.
She is the first female principal at Pentagram, one of the world’s most acclaimed design firms, and while working there received widespread praise for her award-winning work designing a new identity for The Public Theater in New York. Her dynamic posters for Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk’ reveal her eclectic way of using type graphicly to seamlessly create a sense of rhythm and movement.
Scher is also well-known for her design of the new citibank logo, an iconic logo that she drew on a napkin within seconds. Designed after the merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group, the genius of the design comes from its simple embodiment of both original logos in a clean and recognisable way.
Jessica Walsh is an inspiring young woman, starting her career as a pre-teen in web and logo design. By the time she was a senior in high school, she had already proven herself and was offered a $200,000/ year salary designing websites, which she turned down in favour of a university degree. After completing her studies, she scored an internship at Pentagram (age 22) under Paula Scher, and was soon after made partner with legendary Stefan Sagmeister (forming the new firm Sagmeister & Walsh) at 25. Her work has won a copious number of design awards, and she was featured in Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 top creatives designing the future in 2015. Her distinct style is bright, bold and daring, her untethered creativity lending itself to cutting-edge work for massive clients like Levi’s, Jay-Z, and Adobe. A personal idol, Jessica Walsh pushes boundaries and proves that women can kick butt too!
These three inspirational designers are just a tiny proportion of the many women who have greatly contributed to the modern design scene as we know it, and they clearly deserve to be recognised in the design canon as much as their male counterparts. By recognising their contributions within design courses, which are mostly female-dominated, we are not only giving them the respect they deserve, but we are encouraging the future generations of female designers to believe that they too can make an impact without being held back by their gender.