In honour of International Women’s Day yesterday, I wanted to write a post on a few of the women designers that have impacted my practice. I remember during my final year of undergrad (in 2000) being asked by my professor to name some female designers that we admired and, very ashamedly, drawing an almost complete blank (not that I was that aware of design culture or history in general at the time).
I asked my portfolio class this same question last night and was happy to see them fare better than me, but not by very much… So as always, there’s work to be done, and I’ll start with a (very) select list of women who’s works have directly guided my own.
“I think I developed language skills to deal with threat. It’s the girl thing to do-you know, instead of pulling out a gun.”
Barbara Kruger’s artwork introduced me early on to the idea of design (and let’s not get into the design/art debate right now) as a powerful polemical and political vehicle. Her arguably simple text and image compositions clearly demonstrated to me the visceral power of graphic design in its most fundamental terms. She was the first artist I ever wrote a decent essay about, and introduced me to Futura Bold Oblique.
“Stupid people shouldn’t breed.”
Similarly, Jenny Holzer’s typographic artworks, especially her truisms, brought to my attention the power of words taken into the public context. Her statements were evocative and problematic, and exposed me to the intricacies of aphoristic writing that I would later explore through the likes of McLuhan and Debord. Her recent projections series are incredibly beautiful and powerful.
“Form and content exist together.”
April Greiman was a pioneer of digital art while extending the typographic tradition established by Wolfgang Weingart in Basel. Her personal approach to the use of digital technology coupled with her acrobatic application of typography and colour opened up vast new worlds (ie. new wave california) to me. Her work literally taught me the concept of layers, and her book Hybrid Imagery was one of the first I ever stole… oops.
“You read best what you read most.”
Co-founder of the magazine that was, and in many ways still is, my bible of inspiration. Zuzana was another (emigrated) West Coast digital pioneer that brought typography into the digital era. Designer of Mrs. Eaves, the first typeface I truly fell in love with, because I found its ligatures so god… damn… sexy…
“Typography is language made visible.”
Design, Writing, Research pretty much defines my practice, perhaps not in the way Ellen Lupton intended it when she named her practice that, but somehow, I think she would approve. As a designer and educator, Lupton’s work provided me with a thorough introduction into the meaning of design and an understanding of how design means. Design Writing Research is in my opinion the best design textbook out there (alongside Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics) and she’s followed it up with a series of very accessible, yet no less rigorous books that have helped me both as a designer and educator myself. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her back in 2001, the results of which unfortunately never saw the light of day.
When I first “met” Debbie Millman on Speak Up, I (along with many others in the community) greeted her with a certain air of hostility due to what we saw as her and her firm’s “corporate and populist (soulless even)” (re)brandings for major corporations and their consumer products. She entered the fray with tenacity and intelligence, taking the criticism head on, and in time revealed through her discourse, truths about design and consumption that I personally had been very reluctant to face. The contrast between how I perceived her branding work and the humanity and wit with which she expressed herself and her personal work seemed so irreconcilable, yet I have since grown to understand it, and in turn learned a hell of a lot about design and branding because of it. Her continued commitment to the profession of design, as AIGA president, publisher, and radio host is a constant inspiration for me. I was so very pleased to include her paintings in the last issue of 2356.
If dialogue is not owned but exists in the spacebetween, then this dialogue exists somewhere between London and Boston, between the stranger who initiated and the stranger who responded.
A little closer to home (though Maya and I have never met) there’s no doubt in my mind that I need to include her in this list. I met Maya, who was teaching at Montserrat College of Art at the time, through the Cranbrook design blog while I was doing my MA at LCP. She took an interest in my thesis and provided not only an amazing amount of support, encouragement and feedback, but helped to connect me to a larger community of designers and thinkers without whom I would never have completed my project. In short, she believed in me and my work when it really mattered. Thanks Maya…
It’s only fitting that I end this list with the woman who started it, my former prof at Concordia, pk langshaw. pk taught me a hell of a lot, though we didn’t often get along until later when I returned to do my graduate certificate degree. Through her I gained an understanding of materials, typography, poetry, sustainability, interactivity, and fundamentally how to be an artist as a designer. Important lessons all of them. She helped to bring me into the academic fold and my participation in the declarations conference, which has brought me so much (directly leading me to my MA) was largely due to her support and faith (and ass. prof. Michael Longford‘s) in me. I’d like to hope that I’ve done you proud!
This list could continue on ad infinitum now that it’s started, but instead I’ll point you to Bryony and Armin’s amazing book Women of Design. To all the ladies out there, inspiring and innovating, thank you and much love!
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