A design journalist in Los Angeles, Alissa Walker has had ample opportunity to notice the gender disparity in industrial design. In 2010 she wrote an article titled Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At? We caught up with her to see if she thinks anything has changed in the last five years.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about what led you to become a design journalist?

I got a degree in journalism but was actually working in advertising for a while until I realized I hated it. After a short stint working production, I decided to start freelancing for a few publications on the side. The topics I knew about were advertising, graphic design, animation, illustration, which led to covering other design related topics like architecture, urban design, infrastructure, transportation, and industrial design.

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I go to conferences now and see way more women onstage, and I see women represented more equitably in publications.

Q: As mentioned, you wrote an article some years ago about the gender imbalance in the community of practicing industrial designers. Do you feel there has been a change in the last five years?

I think there has definitely been an increase in awareness and inclusion throughout the industry, not just due to gender but also when it comes to people of colour. I go to conferences now and see way more women onstage, and I see women represented more equitably in publications. Companies know they have to do better, and that their bottom line will benefit when they do. However that doesn’t guarantee that more women are necessarily choosing industrial design as a career.

Q: Cathy Lockhart, a lecturer at UTS (University of Technology Sydney), has looked into the increase of women graduating from industrial design programmes, and how they transition into the workplace. Based on her investigations, women industrial designers are out there, they’re simply doing things differently. Because of this, they are not as well-represented in traditional settings.

Are you noticing an increase in female industrial designers in any particular non-traditional area(s) of practice?

I’ve definitely heard that before—that women are more likely to go into research or some design-related field without becoming a practicing designer. I’ve heard the same thing about architects, too. It’s hard to track this kind of data without focusing on anecdotal evidence, but I can say as a person who now has a child that I could definitely understand not pursuing the idea of working full time once you have a family. Design is a field that requires intense collaboration and relentless hours. It’s simply too difficult for many women to manage full-time child care in that situation unless they have a partner with a flexible schedule or who makes at least as much money as they do, and that’s messed up. Until the United States has some kind of comprehensive policy in place that allows women to not only take the necessary paid family leave after childbirth but also helps to offset the great financial burden of childcare, I think we’ll see women leaving the industry.

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Why aren't more women putting themselves out there? Tools like Instagram and Pinterest can serve as incredible ways for me to understand what makes you different, and why I should pay attention to your work.

Q: Going back to the article, you seem to be encouraging female industrial designers to take matters into their own hands and promote themselves through social media, blog posts and other.  Why is visibility important?

Yes, I would say in this instance women still have a long way to go. I just got back from SXSW* where all the panels are proposed by attendees. After all these years of talking about gender and racial diversity, there were still so many panels that were straight up a bunch of white dudes. Why aren’t more women putting themselves out there? I think self-promotion, or branding, or whatever you want to call it, is important not only because it gets the word out about your projects but also because it helps people see how you look at the world. Speaking at events is one of the most critical skills you can acquire because it teaches you to take a stand on an issue and present your case to an audience. Tools like Instagram and Pinterest can serve as incredible ways for me to understand what makes you different, and why I should pay attention to your work.

Q: What single change do you think would improve the outlook for female industrial designers trying to establish themselves in the field?

I’d like to see more companies being more proactive when it comes to pursuing those family-friendly policies that allow women to continue their careers without feeling they are sacrificing time with their kids or becoming financially strapped. And let’s publicly list and celebrate these companies who are doing the right thing!

Q: What is your best advice for young women thinking about a career in industrial design?

Make things you are proud of and share them with the world! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

* South by Southwest® (SXSW®) is a series of conferences and festivals on music, films, and emerging technologies.

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About Alissa Walker

Alissa Walker writes and speaks about design, architecture, cities, transportation and walking. She is the urbanism editor at Gizmodo and her work has appeared regularly in Los Angeles Magazine, LA Weekly, Dwell, Fast Company, GOOD, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on the KCRW public radio show DnA: Design and Architecture. She has been named a USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow for her writing on design and urbanism, Journalist of the Year by Streetsblog Los Angeles, and in 2015 received the Design Advocate award from the LA chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Alissa lives in a 1912 Craftsman on the art alleys of LA’s Historic Filipinotown where she throws ice cream socials, tends to a drought-tolerant garden, and relishes life in LA without a car. Read more at her blog, A Walker in LA, and follow her at @awalkerinLA on Instagram and Twitter.

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