Women + Design Summit        

Women + Design Summit

October 23, 2018

Fresh off the heels of the Midwest UX conference, we had the opportunity to attend the IDSA sponsored Women + Design Summit in the West Loop.  McKayla Barber (Design Strategist and Industrial Designer) headed to R5, the stylish design research facility in the West Loop, this past Saturday where she connected with female designers from around the country and learned how to take on a male-dominated industry and ways to support and foster mentorship amongst women in the industrial design workplace.

Graduation to Pro-Practice

The amount of women and men studying industrial design is nearly an even split. It’s postgraduation when the ratio skews and dips, showing a much higher amount of those grads that take industrial design focused roles being men while the female grads more often than not get pushed into more research and user experience focused roles. With head designers being nearly 90% men, there is a lack of representation that can create bias, doubt, and lack of progression that trickles down into the female culture of a company. With the disparity starting almost unknowingly in undergrad, how can an industry recognize the problem before it’s too late?

Starting with Research 

Betsy Barnhart and Kellie Walters kicked off this discussion with their presentation, The Gap: ID Women’s Struggle after Graduation to Pro-Practice.  Barnhart is the Director of the Institute of Sport and Entertainment Design at the University of Kansas.  Her expertise is in performance-based products and she is busy making strides to prepare her class for a more fluid and agile world (both related to athletics and worldview) and building a more balanced Industrial Design future for women and minorities. You can check out her latest work with Nike Women’s Lacrosse equipment here.

Kellie Walters joined Barnhart in the conversation as the two of them have teamed up to research women in the industrial design field and how it affects the industry as a whole while trying to pinpoint the problems and solutions to lead to a more equal playing field and more recognition for female designers.  Recently graduating from Iowa State University, Walters currently works at Newell brands as a CMF Designer while continuing to gather substantial research in hopes of making real change. The ultimate goal of Walters and Barnhart is to receive grants to validate the work they have done and continue their research on a larger and faster scale.

Finding a Voice 

Following Betsey and Kellie was fashion brand owner, Adilah Muhammad (ADILAH M.). As a Chicago native and Black and Muslim women, Adilah stressed the importance of keeping your unique voice and not letting it be drowned out by more traditional work norms or prejudices.  Adilah started her brand in 2016 after obtaining the Bachelor’s of Science in Fashion Merchandising and Design from North Carolina A&T State University and has made a name for herself in the city for her storytelling and unique pieces.

The Power of Mentorship 

A constant point made by each of the 8 speakers was the importance of mentorship. With a small amount of representation, female designers need to foster inspiration and encouragement amongst themselves. Mentorship leads to trust in each other, trust in your own design, and trust to take risks.  With an industry that pushes women, sometimes subconsciously, into positions that don’t utilize their skill set and potential, it is important to have the support and confidence from fellow female designers.

Advice to Young Self

Ti Chang, entrepreneur and co-founder of CRAVE, gave an invigorating presentation on what she wished she could say to her younger self and how to be a confident female designer.  Her San Francisco-based company, CRAVE, specializes in discreet and luxury sex toys.  Needless to say, Chang has no issues with bold ideas and designing outside the box.  She dove into a not only male-dominated industry but a stigmatized industry and has made waves with her innovative and high-quality designs and sex positive mission.  You can follow Chang and the CRAVE Build-A-Vibe RV that she takes across the country to different festivals and events here.

Ti in her roaming “Build-A-Vibe Workshop.” You can help get the RV to more places by backing her Indegogo campaign here

Marianne Grisdale, VP of TEAMS Design, and Julia Burke, former TEAMS member, and current Whirlpool leader spoke on how to break monoculture mindsets and rising above personal doubt.  Marianne has over 20 years of product design and development experience and focuses on brand management and human-centered design at TEAMS.
Julie spent nearly 6 years at TEAMS where she started her career and has been at Whirlpool leading everything refrigerator related since she arrived in 2012. The pair spoke back to back on how the industry is inconspicuously gendered biased and how to take change into your own hands.

McKayla attended the Summit with former BD summer intern Zoe Gomer (far right), and designer Mallory Evans from our Ravenswood agency neighbor, Linx Global (left).

Empowered + Inspired  

We left the summit feeling inspired and hopeful that there are female allies working with and for us to change the industry for the better.  Stay tuned for where we end up next and feel free to contact us with any questions or comments about our time at the Women + Design summit and our capabilities at Beyond Design.

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