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Designers Speak (Up) launches directory of New Zealand women designers

To be included in the directory, you need to identify as a woman designer and have been born in New Zealand or be a permanent resident. Designers Speak (Up) says they want the list to be as inclusive as possible and span the full spectrum of design, from students, to graduates, to practitioners, to teachers, to educators and academics and women of all cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds. It also is both contemporary and historic by marking the names of deceased New Zealand women designers.

The directory includes designers’ ages, design disciplines, locations in the world and websites and social media handles.

This initiative follows on from Designers Speak (Up) and Auckland Feminist Action’s protest outside the 2018 Best Awards last month, which aimed to spark a conversation around gender diversity issues within the New Zealand design industry. About 30 to 40 people took part in the protest, which highlighted the amount of men versus women who had won the prestigious Black Pin award (now 42 to 3), as well as the number of men versus women who had judged and convened the awards (46 men, 15 women).

Reflecting on the awareness the protest achieved, Auckland Feminist Action’s Katherine McAlpine said she considered it to be a success.

“Many attendees walking in stopped to talk to the protesters, enthusiastically took 40/3 badges, thanked the protesters for their activism and promised to attend the forums. Some avoided eye contact or looked confronted, many clapped and cheered,” she says.

“The protest did great job of indicating the tone for the ongoing conversation around diversity in the New Zealand design community, as intended by Designers Speak (Up) and their supporters  – inclusive, focused, coordinated, colourful and determined. The protest was live streamed and watched by members of the design community in Amsterdam, amongst others.”

In response to the posters made about the pin winners, DINZ announced it would be holding three workshops in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to discuss how the industry can work towards better and more diverse representation. The first workshop is being hosted this evening at Warren & Mahoney Architects in Auckland.

Upcoming workshops on diversity in design:

Workshops being hosted by DINZ

Workshop One
Date: Tuesday 9th October
Time: 7pm – 9pm
Venue: Warren & Mahoney Architects
139 Pakenham Street West

Workshop Two
Date: Thursday 11th October
Time: 7pm – 9pm
Venue: City Gallery

Workshop Three
Date: Wednesday 17th October
Time: 7pm – 9pm
Venue: Warren & Mahoney Architects
254 Montreal Street

Workshops being hosted by Design Assembly

Diversity in Aotearoa New Zealand Design — what does it mean and why does it matter?
Date: Tuesday 16th October
Venue: Thievery Studio
203 Karangahape Road

Diversity in Aotearoa New Zealand Design — what does it mean and why does it matter?
Date: Tuesday 16th October
Venue: Credenza Shared Space
40 Taranaki Street, Level 2, NEC Building

“There has been a conversation on social media and within the design community on the importance of diverse and inclusive representation in our industry. However, rather than conducting the conversation through the media, we will talk directly to our community. Therefore, the Designers Institute of New Zealand has invited the design community to come together for a conversation on how we effect change and move forward as a community,” DINZ CEO Cathy Veninga said.  

Graphic design industry body Design Assembly has also gotten involved with the conversation, announcing its DA Conversations Spring series will be themed ‘Diversity in Aotearoa, New Zealand Design — what does it mean and why does it matter?’ with a range of speakers weighing in, from Designwork’s Anzac Tasker, to Double Denim’s Angela Meyer, Johnson Witehira, RUN’s Raymond McKay, the Centre for Social Impact and Designers Speak (Up) co-organiser Jade Tang-Taylor and Colenso BBDO group creative head Beth O’Brien.

Some of the speakers featured in Design Assembly’s Spring conversations

Going forward, Designers Speak (Up) founder Catherine Griffiths says beyond these public forums, the group would like to see an audit of DINZ to see how the representation of men and women designers has become unbalanced.

“The Best Design Awards, for better or worse, as an archive of design, is writing women out of Aotearoa New Zealand’s design history,” she says.

“The July response to the original posters revealed a depth of frustration voiced publicly for the first time by Aotearoa designers. The issues are not just about awards, not just about gender, they go far deeper, are historic, systemic, and on a trajectory that raises real concern for the future. Had it not been for the posters, this trajectory would continue, unquestioned, unchallenged.”

Founder and CEO of Wellington-based digital design agency Springload Bron Thomson also weighed in on the debate following the Best Awards, saying in the past, she was against the concept of a quota, as she didn’t think someone’s gender should be prioritised over their talents.  

“But I believe intervention of some sort IS needed, because currently our entire society is primed from birth that the image of success, of leadership, is white and male. In order to change subconscious bias, we need to see more people succeeding who look different. And in order for this to happen we need to actively push for equal representation at the highest level,” Thomson wrote.

Gender bias in design is a complex issue, as it’s no longer as easy to pin point than in previous decades. Leyla Acaroglu, a researcher on gender equality in design, writes: “Equality has moved from an explicit conversation where we rally against the ass-pinching and sexist slurs, to an implicit one, where we deal with micro-aggressions and silent stereotyping, which is fuelling the persistent underrepresentation of women in positions of leadership.”

There’s no doubt these community-wide discussions at workshops around the country will help get the ball rolling, but what next steps should be taken to address the systemic issue aren’t clear yet.

Griffiths says Designers Speak (Up) doesn’t have all the answers, but initiatives like the Directory of Women Designers will help lead Aotearoa in the right direction.

“The kaupapa (agenda) of Designers Speak (Up) and its protest action is to spark a conversation around a positive and inclusive future for all designers – that embraces the true spectrum of diversity – in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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