What's design got to do with feminism?

My job is to look at the visual world, and believe me I spend about 90% of my time in my own bubble of design. That's how I notice trends, and trends start with society and culture, which brings me to a little known secret - my first degree was in Sociology and I became a designer later. I've never regretted this zig-zag career path because it gives me a fab overview of how people and design relate to each-other. Indeed there's a famous quote "the only important thing about design is how it relates to people" from Austian designer Victor Papaneck - and you've been under a rock if you don't know the adage 'art imitates life, imitates art'.

All visual work from fashion to craft, art to advertising, is a form of expression or communication from one person or group, to be seen and interpreted by other humans. This is what makes design history just as fascinating as looking ahead to future trends. Design is a visual reflection of societal values at any given time. At this particular point in time, we're talking feminism. So it follows that you see it around you, a lot.

I love the illustration above by Violetta Noy, what a dreamy notion to imagine a future where females rule? Why not, we've encountered yonks of being the lesser sex so isn't it our turn? And then maybe after that, when we've made our point, we can all agree on a period of equality... Hmmm I suppose history never works out so simply does it. The question as to whether an oppressed group deserves a few years / decades / centuries of positive discrimination to redress the balance is a big debate. Nonetheless this illustration is as thought provoking as it is beautiful, offering an impassioned contribution to the debate.

Looking around us lately, there have been some fantastic messages about feminism emblazoned on all kinds of visual media. (E.g. above teatowel by Guerrilla Girls) Many have harnessed the power of design to pose potent questions and ideas, a lot better than others. For example when every Topshop going teen has a 'Girl Power' T-shirt on, does it start to dilute the message? Do we all forget the point? Do we get so drowned in 'sisterhood' that we start to get sick of it? Ah NO! That wasn't the idea was it? We're not done yet are we sisters? So let's not oversaturate everyone without making our point clear! Ummm... so what was the point again? Because I've forgotten. All I keep seeing is FEMINISM emblazoned on everything from totes to T-shirts until my mind is addled. But I think the point was actually Equality. Eventually we all want equality right? All of us. So that's why one of my favourite pieces is the Dior T-shirt with the words "WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS" a great phrase borrowed from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Because, thankfully someone remembered amidst all the noise, yes, that was the point!

Sadly we have to keep reading between all the hype because not all designers are motivated by a good conscience. This is far more eloquently explained in a brilliant post by fashion blogger Natalia Borecka below. Fashion and advertising will never, for even a moment, forget that they are trying to sell you something. They are also terribly scared that actually if you get too 'empowered' you'll realise that clothes and shampoo don't make you a better person and you might buy less. So think twice when you see some rather more confused hijackings of the feminist movement. For example the Spanx slogan “Reshape the way you get dressed, so you can shape the world!” ...Err you can probably change the world in any type of pants, don't worry about it. Or when Chanel inadvertently mocked Women's March in a campaign with models holding meaningless protest signs like 'Ladies First' and 'Free Freedom'... great! Women looking silly and trivial again, thanks Chanel we're back 50 years! For more riveting insights on this topic I highly recommend Natalia's article.



To round off I'd like to share my favourite thing I've seen lately in the design world, and that's this glorious banner made by Alice Gabb. Now that's a sentiment worth shouting about.

  • Instagram
  • Facebook