The influence of women in design

On the occasion of International Women’s Rights Day, we gave a voice to some female spirits who bring design to life at CBA.

Does design have a genre? And if the woman had an influence in the design, what would it be? Whether a muse or an artist, women have always been present in the world of creation and design. Although they has long been in the shadow of men, what is it today?

With the rise of feminist movements and the fights for gender parity in society, we questioned the place of women in companies in France. Although actions, such as the equality index, have been put in place, these represent today (2020) only 18% of management positions in our country *. Of course, gender diversity is more and more accepted, standardized, and demanded in different fields, but women are still too rare when it comes to leading. (Since Isabelle Kocher was disembarked at the beginning of February from her position of Managing Director at Engie, there is no longer a woman at the head of a CAC 40 ** company).

Design has long been a man’s business.


Women more often than men tend not to feel legitimate in certain positions of responsibility. The world of design is no exception. Indeed, design has long been a matter of man. In fact, the most famous designers have often been men; women having been completely excluded until the 1930s. A phenomenon that could be explained by the following fact. Women have long been seen as simple housewives, unable to understand the business world and run a business or a team. Another explanation could be that of “impostor syndrome”.

However, there are exceptions! Some women still manage to find their way in this world long dominated by men. Ray Eames, Charlotte Perriand or Florence Knoll. These names mean nothing to you? Understandable. These are women who, despite their talent and skills, have remained in the shadow of men. For example, Charles and Ray Eames have long been thought of as two brothers. Now, Ray is a woman. And what about the furniture designed by Charlotte Perriand that was signed Le Corbusier? But still, you surely know the Nike’s swooch ? One of the most recognizable symbols in the world. It was also created by a woman. And no, this is not the achievement of one of the brand’s co-founders! The artist’s name is Carolyn Davidson; yet, still too few people know her name. And finally, let’s talk about the Knoll furniture publishing house, inspired and founded by Florence Knoll, and not her husband. It is important to keep in mind that in the 1950s, when women were supposed to stay at home, a young woman like Knoll was able to build what is still the biggest furniture publisher today! If this has been possible, it is because all women can do it and, above all, be legitimate to do so.

The stories of these women remind us of how important it is to fight for your passions. These design pioneers, who at the time were not rightly regarded for their work, are now among the most recognized female designers.
So, to all future generations of designers, DARE!

But then, beyond the place of women in design and their positions of responsibility, do the latter influence creations? Can we, with the naked eye, recognize a feminine creation from a masculine creation?

Emotions have always been considered a gender marker. The men are in the reason, the logic, the pragmatism while the women have a more sensitive and in fact more intuitive approach; which will make them more inclusive and emotional in their approach. However, one is not better than the other. What makes design so interesting and powerful is the combination of the two influences: sensitivity and pragmatism, emotional and functional, compassion and logic. Creation is therefore an act that goes beyond genre. When you are a designer or a creator, there is necessarily a more important dimension of sensitivity, which goes beyond the genre. However, when the council looks at more technical, performance-oriented design registers, there may indeed be more men, such as architecture. We can then wonder if this is related to emotional creation versus mechanical creation?

So, the question could be: does the genre has an impact on the perception that the designer has of what surrounds them and what feeds their inspiration, on their approach ultimately? A designer is someone who observes the world around them and who responds to issues. The world around us does not look the same for a man as it does for a woman, so they tackle different issues.

A concrete example: at the end of the 1940s, Charlotte Perriand invented the open kitchen; why the kitchens should always be relayed to the back of the house, isolated? House in which the woman would only have the right to appear with the finished dish. With an open kitchen, she can cook, chat with friends and family, have a glass of wine, etc. A purely design issue that a man might not have thought of; and it is in this sense that the genre has an influence. This influence will allow women to be more attentive, especially to brands, which are more collaborative with consumers and their customers.

The future of women in design looks bright and promising.

The future of women in design therefore promises to be flourishing and very promising; even if it will always be a rocky road. This notion of resilience that women have, this courage and this selflessness make them forces capable of creating designs that are more respectful, more durable and more human. We have gone beyond the demands, and arrive in a logic of appeasement, and recognition of the strengths of women, without comparison. A balance, a complementarity.

Fighting today goes way beyond what it was even a few years ago, and is gender-neutral. At the moment, society is moving at high speed on the issue of gender. The new generation takes up subjects with greater heights, focusing their struggles on equity and diversity. In addition, there are more and more collective movements, led by women, which are flourishing, in all fields. These collectives will make it possible to break these glass ceilings. Women, just like men, will finally be able to show their talents and be recognized for it.

Thus, female influence is therefore present in the approach and analysis of a problem. But in the end, the expression is done in the same way since all designers are passionate about their profession and sensitive by nature.

In short, the design is therefore non-gendered.
And, because design is a mirror of society, and society is multi-gender, it must address all targets, and all walks of life.