Women who shaped the design industry


Every International Women’s Day, my feeds get taken over by articles and facts about the first women programmers. As we all should know by now, programming was initially advertised as a woman’s job; in 1967, Cosmopolitan magazine wrote an enthusiastic article about women’s future in programming that quoted Dr. Grace Hopper, who said “Programming is like planning a dinner”. Can you believe programming used to be a woman’s job because it’s like cooking?

Dr. Grace Hopper invented the first compiler, Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, Margaret Hamilton led the NASA software team that landed astronauts on the moon. It’s undeniable that the tech industry used to have a much better gender balance than it does today, but in the past few years I definitely noticed these women starting to get some of the recognition they deserve (although we still have a lot of work to do!)

But what about design? This year, for a change, I wanted to honour women designers whose work had a significant impact on the field.

Carolyn Davidson

The Nike Swoosh is one of the most recognizable logos in the world. It was designed in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, who was at the time a graphic design student at Portland State University. Although she was originally paid a mere $35 for her work, she was later given a generous amount of stock in the company, estimated to be worth upwards of $1 million.

Gail Anderson

Gail Anderson is an American graphic designer known for her typographic skills and poster design. Some of her most notable works are from her experience creating posters in the entertainment industry while working with Rolling Stone magazine, and many theatre organisations, including Broadway. She designed the NYC subway-inspired Avenue Q puppet fur logo that quickly became a core part of the play’s marketing. She also designed the 2013 Emancipation Proclamation US postage stamp.

Susan Kare

Susan Kare is a graphic designer who worked for Apple in the 80’s. She was tasked to design the first set of Macintosh icons. There were no design softwares at the time, so she bought a grid notebook and started drawing everyday elements that served as a metaphor for the action they represented; among them was the wastebasket, the clock, and the famous Happy Mac icon that appeared on the initial screen.

Margaret Calvert

Speaking of easily recognisable icons, Margaret Calvert is another designer whose work you’ve definitely seen before. In 1958, she was commissioned by the Ministry of Transport to create new road signs to be used throughout the United Kingdom, Crown Dependencies, and British Overseas Territories. She also designed the Transport typeface, used on road signs in the UK and several other countries, as well as the Rail Alphabet typeface for British Rail.

Sylvia Harris

Sylvia Harris was a ​​graphic designer and design strategist, and an advocate for using design to improve the civic experience. She was the creative director behind the design of the 2000 Census for the United States Census Bureau. Her impact on social impact design has been huge; after her passing the American Institute of Graphic Arts created the Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award, which honours designers who created a project that enhances public life.

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