"Ghettoizing in design can also be within the practice of design itself. Most design offices, of whatever size, have tended toward the corporate organizational model of pyramidal hierarchy, with power (ideas and money) concentrated at the narrow top. When women are owners or partners, has this been conceived differently? Recently there have been increasing reports of women-derived alternatives that are less structured, non-hierarchical and more collaborative. In business, some examples have described more open and cooperative production groups in factories. In design, female principles are less supervisory and more collaborative, giving equal credit to associates for design projects." {43}

Martha Scotford
Messy History vs. Neat History:
Toward an Expanded View of Women in Graphic Design


In the nineteenth-century utopian thinkers speculated that expansion of the United States would not be merely westward. The manifest destiny of the country might veer to other continents where capitalism could continue to thrive, building upon untapped resources and slave-wage labor. They were right. Covertly, corporation by corporation, the expansion continues. Now this cheap labor bends on tasks too tedious for U.S. workers.
Like Grimm’s Industrious Manikens, little people make shoes while the master shoemaker sleeps. Fortunes double, magically, mathematically, overnight. Cyberspace looms in this same collective imagination as our next frontier. Disembodied hands, like a magical labor force, provide a solution to this twisted extension of manifest destiny: unclaimed territory and the slave labor needed to thrive in it.

Isn’t the mark of success how many people you have working under you...
how many hands? One, Two, or many.
As U$ consumers we have vague knowledge of the sweat shops, the hot houses of industry where people in other parts of the world are busy making the clothes we wear, the toys for our play. Workers in factories outside the United States are printing our digital manuscripts. Still others are occupied with the business of animating our entertainment.

Perhaps the story of Cinderella is so prevalent because as the tale of a degraded girl it provides clues to the structures which enslave any oppressed being. When we access the truth in the tale of Cinderella, we access the truth of humans struggling to lift themselves up and out of crushing conditions. Yes, it is the story of a girl’s individuation, but it is also the story of her employment.

It is the story of girl’s work.

It is the story of servitude
and even slavery.

First Things First Manifesto
is a public call for graphic designers to use their tools toward utopian goals.

The manifesto was first drafted by Ken Garland in 1963 at a gathering of industrial artists in London. Circulated in an era when graphic design was finally coming into its own as a well-paid and semi-respected profession, the manifesto raised issues about the social implications of design’s close relationship to corporate money. Nearly forty years later, these complex issues have not subsided, spurring the resurrection of the first things first document and a new wave of signatories. The manifesto has provoked new dialog between designers about their ethical role in society.

Responses to First Things First Manifesto 2000 have appeared in
Emigre, I.D. and Eye Magazines. Adbusters has featured threads of this debate in its magazine and on its website. It even offers a contest for designers to try their hand at redesigning the revolutionary artifact.

Adbusters Media Foundation describes itself as a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Their magazine and website provide a place for designers to try their own hand at social commentary. A section of their website is devoted to parody ads, wherein designers spoof corporate advertising with the new activism of “culture jamming”.

One section of spoof ads takes aim at the tobacco industry. Here you will find a series of believably rendered spin-offs on the Joe Camel ad campaign. Only now the friendly smokin’ buddy is called Joe Chemo and he’s sadly on his way to the last stage of life. The trickster energy employed in efforts like Adbusters may represent the designer’s use of the design object (an advertisement) to vent destructive impulses. Children move through various stages in development with the help of their favorite toys, sometimes even putting them to subversive use. Advertising is after all, the designer’s playground.

Can the designer remain in the house, under the rule of a corporate client or a commercial design firm, and actively take up the purpose of toppling money’s most corrupt interests? Perhaps a fundamental redefinition of the designer’s role is only made possible by leaving the corporate house. Then the Manifesto is the walking papers for our designer as protagonist: Out you go...into the woods...on this crazy utopian mission of creating politically correct graphic design!

As designers tell stories

about themselves to themselves

will the strategy of renaming their identity transform their circumstances?

(Hello, my name is Joellyn Rock and I am a:




Will making different allies in the new media industry help designers elevate their status? And if they can’t improve their own lot, how can designers possibly effect change outside their own sphere! Perhaps the conditions of new media design call for a break down of the hierarchical assumptions that provided authoritarian structure in the first place.

Martha Scotford stresses the intersection of private roles and public roles for women designers. She reminds us how working women have been less able to keep their domestic and professional lives as separate as men have. She writes that “the connection of private and public affects all the decisions they make and, for many women designers, impacts the work they do, how they do it and what it means.” {45}

Liz McQuiston’s 1988 book, Women in Design was one attempt to chart the impact of women’s design practice upon the landscape of design history. Although the author resorts to the traditional showcasing of solo makers and their biographies, the book does reveal examples of new design formats forged by women.

One of the designers she interviews is Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, who articulates her own desire to create graphic design projects that foster dialog and reciprocity. Levrant De Brettville outlines her own methods for inviting audience response. She advocates “the inclusion of several perspectives on the same subject”, welcoming viewers to add their own. {46} Her 1974 project, Pink created a gridded format for women of varying backgrounds and ages to contribute their own views on the color pink. Women wrote their thoughts onto 36 equal squares of pink. Levrant de Brettville saw the grid as a non-hierarchical organization of information, allowing the viewer to experience the messages as equal in importance. Blank squares offered space for viewers on the street to add their own content, the graphic work evolving via audience interaction. Pink represents a feminist collaborative work from the pre-digital era. The same effort toward inclusivity is visible in some of today’s interactive websites.

Today you might find women designers dialoging about the
First Things First Manifesto at http://www.deskwithdrawers.org.
This is an online location for the UK based Women’s Design + Research Unit.
The site has two main aims. First, to raise the question:
What is design responsibility? Second, to provide a forum for students, tutors and design professionals for trading current ideas about design and design practices. This is one place where you may find designers telling their own story. The Women’s Design + Research Unit (WD+RU ) was founded with the intent of raising awareness about women in the field of visual communication as well as design education. Their organizational structure reflects a desire to remain flexible to the realities of women’s lives, personal circumstances and family commitments among more professional concerns. Members of WD +RU have included Teal Triggs, Sian Cook, and their collaborators.

Oxygen Media’s format for showcasing the digital stories of its own audience presents a mainstream example of collective storytelling. <http://www.oxygen.com/ourstories/archive.html>

Our Stories is a space on the Oxygen web where women are invited to express their creativity in a variety of forms such as animation, fiction, poetry and personal essays. The site’s slogan, “your stories + our technology”, tags Oxygen’s effort to get their audience to provide the narrative content, while their staff produces the visual design. This is one example of digital design creating space for audience interaction. Oxygen Media was founded in 1998 by Geraldine Laybourne, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Caryn Mandabach and Oprah Winfrey.

The company statement posted on their website <http://www.oxygen.com> describes their philosophy:

"The growing network of popular web sites located at www.oxygen.com and a 24 hour cable network is the first and only to combine advocacy, technology and creativity for a single purpose: releasing the energy of women to do great things. Oxygen is a home base for women offering tools to simplify their lives and programming that matches their energy, wit, intelligence and lifestyle."

It’s unclear how Oxygen tracks its success at meeting these ambitious goals. But they do seem to provide multiple places for women to extend their social needs into the web’s environment. Oxygen’s web sites reflect consensus that women are attracted to story saturated experiences. One of Oxygen’s sub-sites,
Moms Online, attempts to nurture women at various stages of motherhood. It’s graphic interface features a softly curving pastel background with black silhouetted illustrations that are as cozy and familiar as a storybook. Clicking through the interface will take you to more information on mothering topics such as: Home Space, I’m Pregnant, Mom to Mom, Life in Progress, and Ages and Stages. Moms Online targets women in the phase of their life when they are negotiating parenthood. Other branches of Oxygen’s vast network for women cover other bases. They include websites for teen girls and other sites for the mature business woman.

Subject: Uses of Adversity
Date: Thu, 29 Mar 2001 10:58:58 -0600 (CST)
From: mara hart

Transitions involve the paradoxical stretches between places. Considered developmentally, these are the times of growth between stages of relative stability. Child development experts have charted these stages for children. There is less awareness of how this step by step development may continue into adulthood. The remnants of ancient rites of passage (the high school graduation, the bridal shower) hint at our continuing development. Phrases like “mid life crisis” do more to reveal our lack of insight into life’s complex journey.

Joan Borynsenko’s A Woman's Book of Life : The Biology, Psychology, and Spirituality of the Feminine Life Cycle proposes a chronology of female development that begins in childhood but extends beyond it. Her chapters that deal with menopause are a generous attempt to normalize this demonized developmental transition. It is reasonable to suppose that humans use objects to ease them through all periods of transition. The prevalence of self-help literature points to the book as a favored transitional object for adults. Websites like those produced by Oxygen Media seem aware of the emotional need they may fill for women negotiating various life stages.

If designers are going to bring about significant change, especially women designers whose hands historically have been paid less and praised less, they too will need to tell their own story. Many of the realities within the profession remain unspoken. This is only partly due to the constraints of the designer / client relationship. Design’s lowly birth, from the slavishness of the medieval scribe to the humble typesetter, also plays a role. Story may be the object required to transform the profession. Student designers need to hear what the future bodes, just as seasoned designers need to bear witness to the truth: the hours, the pay, the power structures. I’d make that step number one on Manifesto 2000’s call for social change.

If Graphic designers can employ the powerful signs of the fairy tale to sell a product, they may also use these tools to tell their own story: the tale of the designer as worker, the designer as woman. The story can be a transitional object, bridging an age when women were ghettoized into professions of manual labor with a new period in female agency. Today women may rise through the system, or reconfigure the patterns of production altogether. Step one may be well on its way: questioning the hierarchical distribution of wealth and the credit for design innovation. Transforming corporate values will be trickier.

"Yes, folk and fairy tales are ideologically variable dream machines....I find I want to emphasize the ideological paradox or “trick” which in its multiple performances informs both: that magic which seeks to conceal the struggling interests which produce it. ...My point is that the tale of magic within a folk contest was not and cannot be simply liberatory because within its specific community it would also to some degree rely on and reinforce social norms." {48}

Cristina Bacchilega
Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrrative Strategies