an online conversation
about design management

Design by numbers


Finally finished crunching the numbers for the latest dmzine survey and participants will have the findings in their inbox later today.

The results are really interesting, especially those around salaries, the use of freelancers and sourcing talent overseas. Of all, I think these will be the interesting figures to track.

The survey is much larger than previous but there is still one question we didn’t think to ask and that’s about gender.

It’s top of mind because of the email that we received from Jane Connory, Program Manager for Communication Design and Bill Blue College of Design in Melbourne.

Jane is conducting her own survey about the gender mix in studios. The survey is here and open until 11.45 pm this Friday April 10.  I urge you to respond because the more participants, the more valid the result.

Jane’s interest sprung from a conversation that she had with Stefan Sagmeister when he was recently in Melbourne.  When asked about Melbourne’s design scene, Jane replied that it was collaborative, but ‘it does seem like an old boys club sometimes’. Because that surprised Sagmeister, Jane decided to do a bit of research to find out whether her hunch was correct.

The results are both interesting and deflating (if you are female).

The figures revealed that in Melbourne:

• 72% of all enrolments in the three major communication design degree courses were female

• 63% of employees in design studios are female,

• 49% of females were senior employees in the studio, but

• 25% of speakers at the 3 major Australian design conferences in 2015 were female.

These figures suggest that while there is a vast majority of females studying and then finding employment within the design industry, the numbers drop when it comes to being a senior employee, and drop again in representation of the Melbourne design scene.

It’s obvious the women are there; they are just not being seen.

Many years ago, I was briefly involved in a group titled ‘Women in Design’. At that time, Swinburne University was sending third year students out into the Melbourne design scene to visit a studio and return to the classroom and discuss what they had seen.

The females returned to discuss the studio in terms of ‘whether they would like to work there’.

The males returned to discuss the studio in terms of ‘how it compared to the type of studio they are going to run’.

So at university, the majority of women were thinking in terms of being an employee, and men in terms of running their own studio.

A 2012 article in Desktop Magazine asked whether women are under represented in design.

Lynda Warner, a designer that has forged a career doing exquisite, commercial design in the tough (because of it’s size) market of Tasmania summed it up as:

Hmmm, underrepresented or just not acknowledged? There are some very impressive women designers currently working and contributing to Australian graphic design, but why aren’t they more visible? Maybe we just don’t blow our own trumpet loud enough or, like me, [we] identify ourselves foremost as a graphic designer who is not defined by gender. … Maybe it is like with most his[tory] – that we are rendered invisible… but we are out there, and producing some very fine work indeed.

Zoë Pollitt, Co-founder and director, eskimo put a similar article very well when interviewed for the same article:

Certainly not if I use eskimo as my benchmark. Generally however, I feel that key to it all is that women are just ‘as much. Men, generally at ‘chest beating’, but there are many women working in various capacities within the industry doing incredible things who may not be as recognised as their male counterparts. Freelancers, women running smaller shops to fit around family life, or part-timers coming back after maternity leave often lack the time for networking, industry involvement, mentoring and self-promotion. So yes, we are under represented in the public eye, but perhaps not in our client’s eyes.

The workshops Greg is currently running around Australia are evidence that great female designers running sustainable studios doing successful projects exist, but either they are not getting noticed or they are not chasing the limelight or both.

I urge everyone to participate in Jane’s survey so at least we can all be counted…


Carol Mackay