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Libby Sellers’ “Women Design” Improves upon Design History

May 15, 2018

Libby Sellers’ newest book, “Women Design,” takes a look at the 120-year history of women in the industry, from architecture to digital design.

“Women have always been, and remain, a significant part of the design profession—as practitioners, commentators, educators and commissioners. Yet, if asked to name the design world’s greats, most people would produce a list of predominantly male names.” - An Excerpt from "Women Design"

So begins design historian, curator, writer, and consultant Libby Sellers’ new book, “Women Design.” Looking at all facets of design, including architecture, textile, product, industrial, graphic, digital media, set design, and vehicle design, “Women Design” chronicles a 120-year history from Kazuyo Sejima and Ray Eames to Eva Zeisel and Patricia Urquiola.

interiors+sources sat down with Sellers to discuss "Women Design."

interiors+sources: How did the idea for the book come about?

Libby Sellers: As a design historian and having worked with contemporary designers for the last 20 years, it was hard not to notice the disparity within my industry. Women make up nearly three quarters of the design student population at colleges and universities yet this figure drops dramatically to less than one quarter when it comes to the actual industry. Whatever the rationale behind the gender bias, it has already eliminated or repressed an overwhelming majority of talent in the industry. To continue without championing a balance would only encourage an impoverished future for design as a result.

i+s: How does one research female designers? They tend to be absent from history books.

LS: Fortunately, since the 1980s, a wave of feminist historians began asking, ‘Where did all the women go?’ It is a tribute to their successes that so many names that were once forgotten, ignored, or undocumented have been restored to their rightful place. Obviously, 40 years later, a lot of groundwork has been made but most would agree that the job is far from complete.

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i+s: What was most surprising about this project?

LS: It has to be the sheer number of women who have made such a substantial difference and contribution to the world of design and therefore to people’s lives. There was not enough room in the space of one book to cover them all.

i+s: What do you hope Women Design will accomplish?

LS: Having a role model or models has had a statistically proven positive impact on women’s performance in all fields. By seeking out and celebrating the role models of design and architecture we might be able to create a discernible difference and encourage more women.

i+s: What advice would you give college students studying design?

LS: College is a wonderfully safe environment in which students can be self-reflective. However, it is important to also understand the larger context of the profession they are hoping to join. My advice is to be aware of the industry: be knowledgeable about the key companies, producers, and retailers; be versant in the main topics of conversation that are driving design innovation; and know what has come before so as to avoid falling into any kind of prejudice or cliché.

About the Author

Kadie Yale | Former Editor-in-Chief

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and a MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School. In her role as editor-in-chief from 2015-2018, she led the interiors+sources team in creating relevant content that touches on sustainability, universal design, science, and the role of design in society.

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