Hey Mary, thanks so much for agreeing to catch up with us. We’re massive fans of your gallery and check in to the DesignbyWomen page regularly for inspiration! Can you tell us a little bit about why and when you started the page?
Hey, thanks so much for having me!
I had the idea for a blog providing advice and support for women who juggle a career in design with raising children, whilst doing a workshop with Chris Do called ‘Finding Your Superpower’ at Birmingham Design Festival in 2019. I forgot about it for a while, but the idea of hearing the stories of other women working in the design industry was something that kept coming back to me. I also feel that when you hear about successful women designers the same few names keep coming up. Although the list is expanding all the time – which is great to see – I wanted to find out more about women that contribute to the design industry and produce interesting work, who haven’t necessarily won big name awards or work for big well-known design agencies.
It was during the first UK lockdown in spring 2020 that I found time to revisit the idea and decided to start DesignbyWomen. I’m based in the Midlands UK and initially spent the first three months focused on designers based in my local area – this has now opened up to include designers based anywhere in the world. I started by contacting around twenty creatives to be featured on the blog, not expecting everyone to respond. The response was brilliant and more-or-less everyone wanted to be involved and some contacted me directly asking me to be featured after hearing about it! I created the visual identity, enlisted the help of a developer friend to set up the website and started interviewing via zoom.
The Instagram @designbywomen_ started because I needed a way to drive people to the blog and read all the amazing stories I was hearing. I realised it could be an inspiration feed for all women designers and should feature under-represented designers from anywhere in the world. Since it started at the beginning of June 2020 the Instagram feed has been very successful and the response and support is amazing – far more than I expected! The blog launched in August and we have posted 30 articles including established ‘featured females’ and also a ‘women to watch’ series showcasing new and recent graduates. We are now a team and I have six collaborators who help with running the blog:
- Camila Cardeñosa @camilcardenosa
- Laura Bertinelli @laurabertinelli
- Helen Tong @helenhltong
- Rebecca Burrows @rebeccaburrowsdesign
- Nathalie Ellis @natellisillustration
- Tina Jiwa @tinajiwa
As a female designer, do you feel that the creative industry supports gender equality and have you ever noticed any issues around this?
I think there is definitely a positive shift within the design industry to address gender inequality and lack of diversity, particularly in the last few years. There are many amazing initiatives that have recently started up but there is still a way to go. I believe that a positive way forward is to encourage discussion and collaboration between different genders, minority ethnic groups and LGBTQ+ creatives. It’s about realising that we all need to work together effectively to make change happen. What is so wonderful about the design industry is that because we’re all visual communicators we have the tools to do this.
I also think it’s important for women to feel supported by each other and form connections. I’m a big fan of Ladies Wine Design – so thank you Jessica Walsh!
One issue I have noticed is the way women tend to feel that their input is validated by bringing a ‘feminine’ or ‘emotional’ perspective to a design project or even a team. I think this attitude, to some extent, undermines the value that women bring as designers in their own right. I believe it should be about the quality of your work and design skills, regardless of your gender. It’s an issue that not only exists in the design industry but in everyday work situations across all industries.
How long have you been working in the design industry and does client work still take up much of your working week?
I retrained to be a graphic designer nine years ago. Way back when I did a degree in Textile Design and started out working as a sample cutter and embroidery designer for a company that made wedding dresses! I then worked in retail for a number of years before having my son and working various part-time jobs, including teaching – I also completed an MA in Surface Pattern Design along the way. As a graphic designer I’ve worked in-house, freelance, and in small design agencies. I currently work four days a week for an agency and take on the occasional freelance project. Running DesignbyWomen is fitted around this.
What’s your typical day like then, and has this been affected by COVID-19?
My typical day at the agency used to involve quite a long commute to the office, so from that point of view working at home has been really beneficial. A lot of my freelance work dried up last year due to the pandemic which is why I had time to focus on setting up DesignbyWomen. I have continued to work remotely four days a week for an agency and I usually spend between one to two days per week on DbyW. My time for DbyW is spent researching talented designers, interviewing via zoom or email, writing up articles and posting on the blog.
At the moment I think it’s easy to get trapped into a continuous work cycle because most of us are at home so much. It’s much harder to switch off. Things are starting to feel much better now that the restrictions are slowly being lifted.
What’s the vision for the DesignbyWomen and how do you plan to get there?
I’m still working out where I want to take the platform in the future. But I would like to do a series on studios founded by women this year. A few have contacted me directly to be featured and I think it will be really interesting to find out their perspectives on working in the design industry. I want to continue featuring inspirational women designers with interesting stories on the blog, with a focus on women of colour and other under-represented groups. Eventually I’d also love to do some form of publication. Writing a book is something I’ve always wanted to do.
What are some of your all-time favourite designers / projects you have featured? Can you choose a few that stood out?
Hmm there are so many. But some of the designers who really stand out for me are:
Chris Campe @allthingletters – an amazing lettering artist based in Berlin. Her work ethic and skill are inspirational, just go check her out.
Kelli Anderson @kellianderson – a designer I have long admired for the way her practice intertwines technology, motion, and design. I’m also a sucker for pop up books and making things out of paper so I absolutely love ‘This Book is a Planetarium’.
Shamma Buhazza @shamma.buhazza – Her project for the ‘Threads of Inspiration’ series in partnership with Pinterest and It’s Nice That – where she repurposed her Pinterest board as a ‘resource to decolonise and question homogeneous narratives in graphic design and its history’– is very timely and a worthwhile resource.
Maram Al Refaei @maramalrefaei – a Cairo based designer, who co-founded design studio Archief Cairo and Cairo Print Club, she champions change through self-expression, illustrative typography and community projects.
And finally, can you recommend any other awesome places for inspiration for up-and-coming designers and illustrators?
Currently I like @wepresent by WeTransfer, which showcases ‘unexpected stories about creativity.’ It’s a wonderful resource. Amber Weaver is doing amazing work supporting women in the typography industry through @femmetype. And a new one @agentsforchange championing greater diversity in illustration.
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for more articles, features & updates from Mary & DesignbyWomen team;