Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At? Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At?

Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At?

by Alissa Walker

August 11, 2010

But as I dug deeper into the issue, there was another figure that dismayed me even more: As of early this week, the IDSA conference estimates that only 100 of 550 registered attendees are women. It gets worse as you zoom out: This is an industry where females are estimated to make up about 10-15 percent, not any kind of official stat, but one that seemed right according to many of the designers I spoke with.

Members of the Femme Den, a collective of female industrial designers at Smart Design

GM's "Damsels of Design" brought the colors and finishes of fashion to the automobile industry

"Unless women write their own history, sometimes a lot of this documentation doesn't happen," says Nancy Perkins, who has been an industrial designer since 1974. She points to a resource she created for the Association of Women in Industrial Design about her great aunt Anna Keichline, who was the first female registered as an architect in Pennsylvania in 1920, held patents, and was also famous due to the fact that she, gasp, fixed her own car! Books and museum shows, like a recent one which profiled GM's "damsel designers" who worked for the automaker in the '50s and '60s, help expose different audiences to the discipline, including the all-important audience of young women.

But in this age, women can't wait for someone else to organize the event or to curate the museum show. Being visible means speaking at conferences and talking to students, yes, but also finding other ways to show what it's like to be working as a woman in design, every day. Using social media to share the innerworkings of daily studio life is key—can you imagine what delectable gems design pioneer Ray Eames would have delivered on Twitter? Creating a rich narrative, illustrated with videos, photos, blog posts, essays, is something I don't see nearly enough from women in the field. Their numbers may be small, but it's the responsibility of that 10% to tell at least 50% of the story.

Top image, the famous Playboy photo of leading industrial designers in 1961

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Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At?