in Design

Who they are, how they got there and what they’ve learned along the way

Interviews by Anastasia Dyakovskaya / Cover image by Sasha Katz

According to InVision, women currently make up only 30% of the tech workforce, and in the UK, research from the Design Museum found that just one in five designers across the nation are women, making up a scant 22% of the overall workforce — an increase of just 4% since 2004.

“The fact that the percentage of women working in design has remained virtually unchanged since 2004 shows a real failure to draw on all the talents out there, and promote inclusiveness in our industry,” says Alice Black, the museum’s co-director.

“We must take this moment to commit to work together to improve gender diversity in all sectors.”

In this spirit, and to celebrate International Women’s Day, this year we reached out to some of the most talented, driven, and visionary women working in design today. They graciously agreed to share their creative philosophies, the women who inspired them to become who they are, and meaningful advice for other designers and creatives — young, female, or otherwise — at all stages of their professional and creative journeys.

From hard-working women making serious strides in their careers to those like Debbie Millman and Ellen Lupton who’ve reached some of the highest honors a life in design can award — read on to discover what fuels their creative energies, how they’ve managed to achieve all that they have, and why they say an open mind and inclusivity are so vital to any work environment.

Here’s a look at who they are:

Kate Bingaman-Burt

Illustrator and Educator

Cath Caldwell

Senior Lecturer at Central Saint Martins

Katja Cho

Art Director at Heart Digital Media

Aparna Dasgupta

Producer at Distillate

Karin Fong

Designer, Director & Founding Member of Imaginary Forces

Rachel Inman

UX Design Lead at Google

Alexis Lloyd

Head of Innovation at Automattic

Ellen Lupton

Curator of Contemporary Design at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

Mary Kate McDevitt

Illustrator and Hand-Letterer

Natalie Mertz

Creative Director at Math + Medium

Debbie Millman

Host of Design Matters

Rachel Orr

Art Director at The Lily

Keshia White

Web & Brand Designer

Caroline Wurtzel

Art Director at Bustle Digital Group

Kate Bingaman-Burt

Illustrator and Educator

Kate Bingaman-Burt is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Portland State University. “For me, teaching and making go hand in hand,” she says. “Without one, the other wouldn’t exist.” As a full-time educator, she also creates illustrations for all kinds of clients, like Chipotle, Hallmark, IDEO, VH1, Girl Scouts of America, Madewell and the Gap. Kate also owns and operates Outlet, a creative space that hosts events, workshops, and a risograph print studio, and is constantly working on personal projects.

Driven by a fascination with human behavior surrounding consumption and a deep commitment to community, Kate’s work deals with the things we purchase and desire, and the emotions we attach to our possessions. She’s written and illustrated three books on the subject, the first of which is titled, Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? She’s also been on the board of Design Portland since 2012.

“Make piles of work, share knowledge and show up.”

Design philosophy: I try to follow the rules outlined by Sister Corita Kent, with my favorite ones being 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 — but they are all so good!

Inspired by: So many badass women! There are ones that I engage with on the daily and then there are ones that helped give me a boost on the path that I am currently following. From teaching mentors like Jamie Mixon, who hired me when I was only 26 as an assistant professor at Mississippi State and taught me SO much about teaching and operating in an academic environment, to Lis Charmanwho hired me at Portland State in 2008 and taught me so much about compassion and empathy when working with groups and students to tenaciousness and focus when dealing with getting things done in a university setting. I bow to both of these women. I am currently the Associate Director to Lis (she is the Director of the School of Art + Design at Portland State) and love working with her everyday.

Tsilli Pines is the VP of Creative at Instrument and she took a chance on me and asked me to be the first speaker for Portland’s Creative Morning series over seven years ago, giving me a huge confidence boost. She’s also been the one I watch in terms of how she runs meetings, makes decisions and generally just gets it ALL done. I have worked with her on Design Portland since 2012 and it’s always a pleasure to be in her orbit.

And then there is my mom Sherry Bingaman and grandma Nan Pollard who are tremendous creative role models. My grandmother was a children’s book illustrator from the age of 19 until she lost her central vision at the age of 75. She illustrated over 1,000 titles during her 55-year career and supported a family of four kids and made all of the hard work look fun. My mom has had an amazing creative life as a weaver and an educator and modeled a life of always working on projects, always being engaged with the community and always being very devoted to teaching.

Advice: Make piles of work, share knowledge and show up. Volunteer. Be aware and look to see where your help might be needed. It’s important to focus on your work, but it’s also important to be engaged with your community. The combo of the two is incredibly rewarding.

Cath Caldwell

Senior Lecturer in Information and Systems Design at Central Saint Martins

Cath Caldwell teaches graphic design, information design, and digital publishing at CSM and lectures throughout Europe. She’s on a mission to make design accessible to all and focuses her research on equality and inclusion within the arts education sector. Formerly Design Director at ELLE UK, she has also worked for The Observer, The Guardian and Condé Nast in New York.

She is the author of Editorial Design: Digital and Print, Winning Portfolios, and the upcoming Graphic Design For Everyone: Create Your Own Blog, Website, and Much More. Cath is one of the founding members of the non-profit Editorial Designers Organisation, and she specializes in design for editorial, digital, and print formats.

A spread from Editorial Design: Digital and Print

“Talk about money. It’s not unfeminine to do so.”

Design philosophy: To use design for sharing, teaching and breaking down barriers. The world is complex and design gives us a way to sort through it, and to communicate across languages and cultures. All different voices are needed in solving problems and telling our stories including young and old, women and men. Design now needs to include everyone’s input to ensure the output is balanced.

Inspired by: At 23, I was inspired by the then 24-year-old Tina Brown, who took New York by storm in the late 80s. I even moved to New York thinking that if Tina could be an editor with a vision, then I could be an art director too! Next thing, I was working on Madison Avenue as a magazine designer at Condé Nast. Then there’s Ruth Sykes, who started Graphics UK Women, which is a brilliant stream of unknown heroines of design. It is a steady drip of unheard creative voices which would not have started without Ruth’s dogged determination, while she was running her studio at REG Design, doing her dissertation and teaching at Central Saint Martins too!

Morag Myerscough has always thought and worked in colour, ever since we studied together. Whenever my design days need a bit of perking up, I always look at what Morag is up to, from designing pavilions to wowing design audiences around the world speaking about her work. She inspires me because she is restless and stays ahead of what everybody else is doing and totally outsmarts her imitators. Karen Sims of Know & Love inspires me because she is an entrepreneur using all her design and visual skills to start a new business now that her kids have grown up. Many women are launching startups these days because digital tools make it possible. Karen oozes creative talent as a stylist and running her online shop, and does charity work, too. Her innate style and good heart help the cause.

Advice: I encourage young designers to negotiate for proper rates in design fees and salaries and not to apologize for themselves or for their work, ever. I advise women to be as confident as their male counterparts, and never doubt themselves. Employers have revealed to me that young women applicants underestimate their worth and suggest low salaries in interviews.

Sometimes male designers are hired for a bit more money, because they come across as more confident. So, to all you girls out there: talk about money. It is not unfeminine to do so. Do your research properly before a job interview, ask your male and female friends and be prepared to talk about what you really are worth.

Katja Cho

Art Director at Hearst Digital Media

Katja Cho is a multidisciplinary designer with a focus on illustration, creative web experiences, branding, and storytelling on digital platforms. She’s passionate about storytelling and user experience, and enjoys creating memorable interactions on the web. Katja holds a degree in Graphic Design from Parsons School of Design and has led design efforts at magazines like Elle, Marie Claire, Harpers Bazaar, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and Seventeen.

“I help to make the old new, reimagine branding, and elevate ideas,” she says. “I want the nominally titled ‘user experience’ to still be an experience — for content to exist in an art space and for that space to be retrospectively meaningful… I believe that there are design methods to still explore on the web — inside and outside of the grid.”

“You’ll have to fight hard to push your ideas through and make what you think you deserve to make.”

Design philosophy: Stay one step ahead of the audience while having empathy for their use of your design. Without it, engagement becomes a task and it becomes inaccessible to them. Design is now in theory a practical use application, so make sure that the choices you make reflect a human-centric, compatible experience for the end user while still making beautiful and informed design choices. It has to be a cyclical experience.

Inspired by: I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by boundary-pushing, brilliant female designers who have worked with me to create necessary open and meaningful safe spaces. These are women who: are always willing to try new things — take classes together, go to print workshops, experiment with what design means; are open and honest about working in male, white-dominant environments; try hard to not only elevate themselves career-wise and aesthetically, but try to elevate their peers as well. I find this gathering to be such an important part of design culture for women, for us to really embrace those mutual experiences.

Advice: Know your vision and your worth. You’ll be constantly tasked to reconsider your value and the basis of your visual identity. The industry asks us to realign with an ever-expanding knowledge pool of expertise areas, and you’ll find yourself not just needing to know design, but also code, video, motion, and so on. And then we’re asked to adapt to visual cues from competitors or from stakeholders, all while accepting decreasing budgets.

Women in particular are made to feel that they are worth less and deserve less and are harder to find in management roles. You’ll have to fight hard to push your ideas through and to make what you think you deserve to make.

Aparna Dasgupta

Producer at Distillate

After earning a degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Aparna Dasgupta worked for various brands and ran her own clothing line before making the leap to to tech, product, and user experience. She now runs design operations at Distillate, a Brooklyn-based experience design and strategy firm, where she also leads brand and product design consulting with clients in STEM, space, and social enterprise fields.

“Whether you work with pixels, people or projects, design is taking chaos, conflict and creative genius and shaping it into order.”

design philosophy: I came to tech by way of fashion, and my design philosophy remains the same: show users you care and understand them, and they will return. Fashion doesn’t only live in two dimensions, on a screen. How something walks, how it feels and fits, is always going to be equally important as how it looks. The most comfortable pair of shoes isn’t necessarily the prettiest pair in your closet (let’s face it, just how “usable” is that pair of strappy 6″ stilettos?) — but it is the one you reach for without thinking, use most regularly, the one that matches most of your wardrobe; and you’ll look to replace it with the same product or another from that brand when it finally wears out.

Translate that to technology: it’s the app that helps you accomplish your goal with the greatest ease, comfort, and delight — while driving repeat purchases in the most honest way possible. Fashion is no less commercial than technology, but usability underscores fashion product development no matter how the trends change each season. Since people put clothes on their body and receive sensory inputs that we understand, we’re able to say why something feels good or not. Clothing is a technology we’ve had for millennia, whereas software is nascent by comparison. But given how long we spend with our technology these days — that is, just as long as we spend in our clothes — I want to see the continued rise of human-centered design as a foundational pillar for all design, especially for usability and accessibility.

inspired by: Donna Lichaw introduced me to storymapping for UX, and her way of framing problems made me realize how meta human-centered design can and should be. HCD [human-centered design] is most visible in technology, but is critical to nearly any experience a person can have in a given day. Your interaction with coworkers on a project, the chair you sit in, or even how and if you are able to vote on election day, all present an experience — and not necessarily one that’s been engineered with the lived human experience in mind. Designing for some platonic ideal experience is not enough; that’s how we end up with products or processes that are inaccessible, confusing, or just make matters worse.

I attended one of Donna’s storymapping workshops years back and saw how this approach to user-centric design can increase empathy and reveal new approaches to how a problem is tackled. In my area of design operations management, I use this technique to map processes, workflows, identify areas of knowledge loss, spot inefficiencies, and understand how the key actors exert influence on processes and vice versa. It’s a narrative approach, not abstract, and that’s something we can all understand.

advice: There are many more careers in design than designer. No one really grows up thinking “I want to be a design operations manager for a creative services team,” but that role is just as much about creative problem-solving as the designer’s. Whether you work with pixels or people or projects, design is the act of taking chaos, conflict, and creative genius and shaping it into order. What order you put it in is in your hands. What kind of chaos you choose to tackle? That’s in your hands too.

Karin Fong

Designer, Director & Founding Member of Imaginary Forces

Karin Fong is a revered designer and founding member of Imaginary Forces, a Los Angeles-based agency specializing in brand strategy and visual storytelling, and the creative minds behind your favorite film and TV show’s opening credits. She’s earned seven Emmy nominations and two wins, and her work has been featured at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, The Pasadena Museum of California Art, the Walker Art Center, and elsewhere.

Karin is the artist behind the main titles of shows and movies like Boardwalk Empire and Charlotte’s Web, as well as commercials for brands like Target and Honda, and other creative endeavors. Dedicated to elevating film, entertainment, and television products through the power of graphic design, she’s also a 2018 AIGA Medalist.

“Work with people who inspire you… who scare you with their talent and drive.”

DESIGN PHILOSOPHY: Make something moving. Whether it’s surprise, shock, humor, or curiosity, I like to use design in the service of an emotional response. If my design involves metaphor or visual puns, all the better!

inspired by: I’ve been fortunate to have collaborated closely with other women designers and directors throughout my career, and they have had the most direct impact on me. Two that immediately come to mind are Jennifer Shainin and Michelle Dougherty. Jenny and I worked together when we were just starting out at R/GA Los Angeles, fresh to the world of combined film and cinema. Jenny was and is a master of designing with analog and physical sensibility — you can feel her hand and her craft in projects that were ultimately processed through computers. You could sense the textures. In school, I’d come to regard the computer as a “collage box,” a place to layer all kinds of elements, especially handmade ones. Seeing how Jenny did this so successfully, as we began professionally, was inspiring. I think she told me once that her college professor said if she was a piece of art, she’d be a [Joseph] Cornell Box. Even if I’m somehow making that up, it’s fitting. And being around a Cornell Box when designing is a good thing.

Michelle and I have worked together for two decades. Together, we’ve helmed many things, some of which have involved shooting Steve Buscemi in a three-piece wool suit on a beach in New Jersey on the hottest day in July, racing around Toronto highways with the Russian Arm [a remote-controlled, vehicle mounted, camera system], and traveling to Cape Town to visit pirate ships and stage a nightclub. When we weren’t directly collaborating, Michelle is that person I’d ask to get an opinion on anything from a DP [Director of Photography] recommendation to a font dilemma. It’s so nice to have that trust, where you find yourself not only finishing each other’s sentences, but also storyboards!

I get asked all the time what it feels like to be in an industry that is male-dominated. In some ways, I’ve felt insulated from that feeling because I’ve always been able to team up with strong creative women who are not only examples of stellar talent but have been supportive of me and others — men and women — as well.

advice: Work with people who inspire you, who are better than you are. Find people that scare you with their talent and drive. Also, I will pass along advice that I received as a student: your work builds on itself, and shapes a trajectory. So if you can help it — and I know everyone’s financial situation is different — hold out for work and people you are excited about. Finally, work on your writing. Using language to express your ideas cannot be underestimated. Check your spelling!

Rachel Inman

UX Design Lead at Google

Rachel Inman leads a variety of innovative projects at Google Maps, currently focusing on leveraging new technologies like AR and designing future Maps experiences. Earlier in her career, she designed interactive experiences for Google Earth as well as Nike, L’Oreal, Samsung, and others at R/GA, while also teaching design classes and giving presentations around in the world in cities like New York, Moscow, Mexico City, and Barcelona.

She’s received numerous awards, among them Webbys for Best User Experience and Data Visualization for Google Earth in 2018, and was named one of Creative Bloq’s “12 Trailblazing Women in Design.” Rachel holds a BFA in Industrial Design from Carnegie Mellon University, where she also served as a Design Research Fellow and Interaction Designer upon graduation.

“Approach every hard problem with a sense of humility and desire to learn.”

design philosophy:

1. Approach every hard problem with a sense of humility and desire to learn.

2. Do the most good.

3. A great idea can come from anyone.

4. Foster a culture of honesty and openness.

5. Have fun!

inspired by: Chloe Gottlieb. I first met Chloe when working at R/GA in 2012 when I was a junior designer and she was an EVP (we’ve now both winded our way to Google). I was initially struck by her caring demeanor, how she stopped to talk with nearly everyone in the room, taking the time to really see what was going on in their lives. She genuinely cares about everyone she works with as individuals, regardless of project or title. Her enthusiasm for making stellar product experiences for people is infectious and those around her can’t help but adopt a similar mentality. She manages to pay incredibly close attention to every detail of an experience she and her team are working on, while also having a long-term strategic vision of where she wants things to head.

People gravitate to Chloe because of all the above mentioned reasons, but I also think the people around her feel something deeper — this openness and humble nature she has. She fully embraces being both a teacher and a student. Her curious mindset and belief that a good idea can come from anyone, makes her a design leader I’ll always want to work with, even as she rises to greater and greater heights. Finally, Chloe inspires me in how she operates outside of work as well. She’s a loving mother who has clearly passed along her curious mindset to her children. She values a balance in her life, evident in how she prioritizes her community, wellness, and pursuit of knowledge outside of the design world. It’s my firm belief that we can only be helpful to the world if we have balance in our own lives. I know no one is perfect, but the way Chloe moves through this world inspires me on a daily basis.


1. Don’t wait for permission. Just do that thing you’ve been wanting to try, push for that idea you think is good, say that thing that’s been on your mind.

2. No one has it all figured out and if they can’t admit this, they’re probably not worth working for.

3. Ask questions!

4. Look for inspiration outside of the design world.

5. Drink plenty of water and go for walks outside.

Alexis Lloyd

Head of Design Innovation at Automattic

Alexis Lloyd is a future-forward leader in product design and innovation, with a passion and focus on experimentation within design and thoughtfully engaging people with information. Before joining the team at Automattic, she was Chief Design Officer and employee #2 at Axios, where she helped build up the design organization from scratch and launched a number of both internal and external products, including a content management system.

Prior to that, she served as Creative Director at the New York Times, leading efforts at the R&D Lab and examining emerging technologies, consumer behaviors, and prototyping potential future experiences based on those trends and ideas.

The Listening Table— an augmented piece of furniture that hears and understands the conversations happening around it.

“The best creative ideas come when you’re exposed to a diversity of information, perspectives, and ways of thinking.”

Design philosophy: Designers can enable new ways of seeing or relating, which is what makes design so powerful and compelling as a practice. My mission as a designer is to help people comprehend systems clearly or to understand information in new way. As a user experience product person, I always say that my first rule of UX is: people don’t do things. While you as a designer may care deeply about the product you’re working on, whoever’s potentially using it is likely busy, overwhelmed and not going to take the time to build a new behavior or engage with something new.

The design process is really about giving them a compelling reason to engage, and making it immediately clear not just why, but also how to use the product, which gets to my underlying passion about design: clarity and understanding.

Inspired by: Fiona Raby. I find the work that she and Anthony Dunne have created around speculative design really inspiring in terms of being able to use design not just for clarity and communication, but also for world-building and for imagining futures, and making that real and tangible for people.

Advice: One the most valuable practices — not just as a designer, but as a person — is learning to ask a lot of questions. I think especially earlier on in your career, there’s a temptation to try and prove what you know, but asking the right questions has the ability to open up a conversation, create trust, and give you new information.

It’s also hugely important to always seek out a variety of inputs. Be really curious about fields that are adjacent to or completely different from your own practice and find ways to gather information from them. We have a tendency to get deeply embedded in our own particular spaces, whether it’s the company we work for the industry we’re in, and I find that the best creative ideas come when you’re exposed to a diversity of information, perspectives, and ways of thinking. Stay open to the world and absorb what’s happening in the broader context around you.

Ellen Lupton

Curator of Contemporary Design at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

Ellen Lupton is a celebrated, multiple-award winning graphic designer, curator, educator, and writer. She’s been an active member of the art and design world for decades, previously working in curatorial at the legendary Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art — notably at the Herb Lubalin Study Center for Design and Typography.

She currently serves as Graduate Director at the Maryland Institute College of Art as well as Director of the school’s Graphic Design MFA and has worked with the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum for over 25 years. Ellen has also authored and co-written at least as many books. Her most recent titles include: The Senses: Design Beyond Vision (pictured below), Design Is Storytelling, How Posters Work, Beautiful Users, and Type on Screen.

“Create relationships with other women.”

design philosophy: The most engaging and powerful works of design tell stories. Design takes people on a path through space and time, and design invites people to create their own paths. A building, a book, an app, or an exhibition is the starting point for a journey. These journeys are emotional and sensorial as well as intellectual and concrete. As designers, if we begin from what stories we want to tell or enable, we can anchor the formal and visual components of the project to that fundamental story.

inspired by: I am active as a writer, curator, and educator. Many amazing women inform the work that I have done. I admire the tenacity of their careers as well as the intellectual contribution of their work. The top three on my list are Paola Antonelli, Curator of Design at MoMA; Beatriz Colomina, writer, professor, and historian at Princeton University School of Architecture; and Johanna Drucker, writer, theorist, and artist at UCLA. Each of these women has created astonishing exhibitions and books that have influenced contemporary design discourse in huge ways. These women have active, open, generous minds. They never stop moving.

advice: Create relationships with other women.

Mary Kate McDevitt

Illustrator and Hand-Letterer

Since 2010, Mary Kate McDevitt has been creating customized hand-lettering and illustration projects for clients like Target, Macy’s, Smuckers, and Chronicle Books. She’s a leading artist in the field and has also written and illustrated several books, including Illustration Workshop, Everyday is Epic, and Hand Lettering Ledger: A Practical Guide to Creating Serif, Script, Illustrated, Ornate, and Other Totally Hand-Drawn Styles.

With a lifelong passion for the arts and a BFA in Graphic and Interactive Design as well as Illustration from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, Mary Kate is also a gifted teacher. She’s taught classes at her alma mater and runs various workshops in person and online, with over 56,000 followers on Skillshare and over 61k attendees for her “Hand Lettering Essentials for Beginners” class.

“Listen to advice and ask questions, then write in your own words how that advice applies to you.”

design philosophy: In my line of work, I don’t get to include very much concept or even the direction of any given project. I’m brought on at the end of the ideation stage of the project. My goal is to bring their idea to life with lettering and illustration. I know that there was so much work done prior to bringing me on to the project, so I have a responsibility to finish it right. Once the baton is handed to me, I need to make sure that the finished project meets and exceeds their expectations. And to do that, I need to make sure that I am looking at the project from all angles and sketching until it feels right. I think it’s important not to lose sight of collaboration between you, the client and the project.

inspired by: When I was in school and thinking about the kind of work I wanted to make, Lisa Congdon was one of the first artists I looked up to. I would check her Flickr account everyday, and there was always a new illustration, collection, or image of her amazing apartment. She had such a unique style and was able to work on so many projects. I was really interested in making books and journals and her blog always had so much great advice. Even now, over 10 years later, she has kept a consistent body of work and I’m always looking up to how she manages her business.

advice: It’s important to practice trusting yourself and the decisions you make, in life and your career! There is so much pressure young creatives put on themselves and that feeling that they can’t possibly be doing it right. Of course there’s the classic “stay humble,” but there’s a difference between thinking you know everything and not trusting yourself. To offer some practical advice on learning to trust yourself: take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt; you’re only getting a glimpse and certainly not the whole picture.

Listen to advice and ask questions, then write in your own words how that advice applies to you. Advice is so hard to give out a general audience, so it can be easy to disregard things that you think don’t apply to you, or if you feel you’re not at that stage yet. I think it’s important to look at inspiration and what other designers are making, and it can be easy to either copy or feel discouraged. My suggestion is to search for inspiration separate from working on sketches or your final. That way, you have a vision of what you want to make but you have to fill the blanks in with the memory of inspiration and your own decisions.

Natalie Mertz

Creative Director at Math + Medium

With a BFA in Graphic Design from the School of Visual Arts, Natalie Mertz has spent over a decade leading art directorial for clients ranging from The New York Times and Hewlett-Packard to Blue Cross Blue Shield and Allstate. A gifted communicator, her work runs the gamut of design, from branding, web, packaging, and editorial to crafts like paper construction.

“Don’t let anyone dictate the value of your work.”

design philosophy: Life is too short for shitty design.

inspired by: The women designers I studied with at SVA, who I’m still close with today. We’re always sharing strategies, numbers and client follies. Supporting and learning from each other as we go. Watching each of them shape their unique design perspective and path is so exciting and inspiring. I like to think of us as a band of super-heroines, each person with their unique superpower and personality.

advice: Trust yourself. Sure, we must constantly learn and have humility, but don’t let anyone dictate the value of your work. Also, know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em! If you feel very strongly about a direction, stick with your gut. On the other hand, there’s tons of times where design will be compromised by client art direction or design by committee; it happens. Go with the flow. It’s not worth it to stress yourself to the point where you make yourself ill or get hives. Speaking from experience, of course.

Debbie Millman

Host of Design Matters

Debbie Millman is a living legend in the field, who for the past 14 years has hosted the incomparable Design Matters — one of the world’s first and longest-running podcasts, garnering over 5 million downloads per year. She also co-founded the world’s first graduate program in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

For 20 years, she served as President of Sterling Brands, and she’s also President Emeritus of AIGA — one of only five women in the organization’s 100-year history to hold the title. Debbie’s won numerous awards and authored six books, and her illustrations, art, and design work have appeared in countless publications, exhibitions, classrooms, and collections around the world.

“Courage is more important than confidence.”

design philosophy: Design is not just about design anymore. There’s no longer a “mass market” in which to target a product or a company; there is no one demographic picture of the planet. Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken states that while lifestyle typologies expanded to first 3, then 6, then 9 and then 12 typologies, there is now too much variation. We have reached categorical exhaustion. As a result, I have come to believe that the term “design” ultimately undermines the job we do as consultants, marketers, designers and strategists.

The balance includes cultural anthropology because what we do in our culture — whether it’s an obsession with social networks or politics or the cult of celebrity — these all have a major impact on the way we understand and interpret the world and our place in it. It includes psychology because if we don’t fundamentally understand the brain circuitry of our audience and really know what they’re thinking (and why they are thinking it!), we will not be able to solicit imagination. It includes commerce because understanding the marketplace and the messaging impacts and influences perception. And, of course, it includes creativity because if we don’t create an engaging identity, then consumers won’t even see it.

inspired by: While not in the field, per se, Gloria Steinem is certainly one of the biggest influences in all aspects of my life. She paved the way for so many with great intelligence, deep wit, huge empathy, a spectacular sense of humor and a profound resonance and resilience you rarely see in anyone, man or woman.

My first mentor was a woman named Karin Lippert. She had her own PR agency and hired me to do all the graphic design for her clients. She was the first strong woman who I was able to watch run a business and she was, and still is, very involved in the women’s movement. In fact, she is the person I wrote about in the visual essay “Cheese,” in my book Look Both Ways. She was and still is a strong mentor of mine.

There are a number of other women designers who I consider to be mentors. I think that their integrity, authenticity, and way of operating in the business is something to continually learn from. They are Emily Oberman, Paula Scher and Marian Bantjes — people who I think have blazed the trails for all of us in so many ways.

advice: One thing that I’ve learned that I wish I knew a long time ago, is something the great writer Dani Shapiro said to me after I interviewed her for an episode of Design Matters. We were talking about the role of confidence in success. She stated that she felt that confidence wasn’t as important as courage, and that the action to DO something was much more critical to success than the idea that you feel confident about doing it. The notion that courage is more important than confidence has stayed with me ever since.

As for advice for companies that want more women leaders, I will quote the bad-ass Cindy Gallop: “Anytime there is just one woman, one Hispanic, one African-American in a role where there hasn’t been a person like that before means that person becomes symbolic, and representative of the many. If the ratio is improved, then no one person is the female voice or the black voice or the Latina voice or the gay voice. Everyone can be free to agree or disagree and everyone has influence.”

Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Rachel Orr

Lead Art Director at The Lily

Rachel Orr leads art direction at The Lily, The Washington Post’s newly minted sister newspaper— first founded in 1894 by Amelia Bloomer as the first newspaper by and for women. Rachel helped launch the new iteration in June 2017, “to elevate stories critical to the lives of women.” She works on creating and commissioning editorial illustrations for the publication and its social channels while developing multi-platform strategies to maximize their reach. She also focuses on special projects like the paper’s travel series, comic presence, and their 2018 Gift Guide.

Before starting The Lily, Rachel spent four year at the Post, working at a print and digital designer for Express and the Emerging News Products team. She holds a degree in Informational Graphics and Publication Design with a specialization in Magazine Journalism from the school of Visual Communications at Ohio University.

Illustration by Helen Li

“I’m at my best when I regularly carve out time for myself to be creative.”

design philosophy: Most of my design philosophy is deeply rooted in storytelling. I want to tell stories in whatever way fits. This could be an Instagram post, a piece of art, or a comic. It could be a zine or a video installation. Visual design opens up infinite possibilities to tell a story. I’m lucky that I have a job where I can experiment with different methods of storytelling, like comics on Instagram or the one-year anniversary zine I created last year.

inspired by: A good friend of mine sent me a video of Tina Roth Eisenberg, who founded Swiss Miss and Creative Morningsspeaking at Do Lectures in Wales in December 2018, and it really stuck with me. I didn’t know a lot about her personally, I am just a fan of her work in the design field. I love that she says “everything she does is an extension of herself and her energy.”

advice: I’m at my best when I regularly carve out time for myself to be creative. Every week, I put time on the calendar to work on personal projects outside of my day job. It’s important to have a consistent time and place to work on these projects. Of course, this is easier said than done. My advice would be to never skip this night — even if you need to switch the day sometimes.

I’m constantly reminding myself that I need this time and space to experiment and play. Depending on my mood, I’ll make a zine, experiment with collage, or brainstorm future creative projects with my partner. I have to give props to Jacob Weinzettel and Christian Dutilh of Composite Co. for this advice.

Keshia White

Web & Brand Designer

Keshia White is a designer with a passion for lifting up women-led businesses. “I love helping female entrepreneurs,” she says, with “websites that accurately reflect the success they’ve built.” With a background in marketing and web design, and years spent consulting small businesses, Keshia uses her combined skills to tell new stories and transform her clients’ online presence. Here’s how she works:

“You’ll become a better designer as you keep working on projects that stretch your skills.”

design philosophy: My design philosophy is to design with both beauty and strategy. I love beautiful design for the web, but only when it’s functional and when it addresses a business’s specific goals and target audience. I dig deep with my clients to understand their business goals and the people they’re targeting to create design that will not only look great, but will also help them see business results.

inspired by: Krystle Rowry has had the most impact on me. I’ve admired her elegant, yet fun design style for a while now. And I recently joined her mentorship program for Web Designers. She’s been very insightful with providing business expertise to help me and many other designers make our businesses more profitable with improved marketing and better client processes.

Advice: Believe in yourself and just keep doing the work. Sometimes, it can be easy to doubt your skills or to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, but remember that you’ll become a better designer as you continue working on projects that stretch your skills. It always gets better when you just stick with it and keep learning both design and business knowledge along the way.

Caroline Wurtzel

Art Director at Bustle Digital Group

After minoring in Communication Design at Skidmore College, Caroline Wurtzel went on to earn a Master of Science in the field from Pratt Institute. Since then, she’s quickly risen through the ranks at Bustle Digital Group, where she started as a graphic designer just five years ago. Today, Caroline oversees design across all of the company’s digital properties, developing and upholding the distinct visual voices of Romper, Elite Daily, and Bustle — the biggest site for millennial women, with 45 million unique monthly visitors.

In her free time, Caroline’s personal design projects include Lemonade Type, in which she’s created a typographic illustration for every song on Beyonce’s Lemonade album, as well as Emo Kid Type, where she’s going through the alphabet via emo song lyrics.

“Lean in to female-focused design communities. They can be incredibly supportive and inspiring.”

design philosophy: I think that design can be informed and inspired from every single aspect of your life. Everything from art, to books, to music, to pop culture, to a subtle interaction you had in the coffee shop this morning can inspire and feed your creativity and design. I try to absorb and take in as much as I can every day, which is definitely easier said than done! It’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and lose wider perspective and inspiration, but remembering that even a small part of your day can add to your creative thinking can make that thought a lot less daunting and a bit more fun.

inspired by: I am lucky to have been surrounded by women in design throughout my entire design education and career thus far. Working alongside women, particularly for a women’s media company, is rewarding, and, honestly, just feels really natural. The women I have worked with are wildly creative and strong people who have taught me everything I know about creativity, design, and management. I’ve watched the women I’ve worked with take creative risks, innovate businesses, manage teams with deep empathy and strong leadership qualities, and continuously create, create, create. They inspire me every day.

Outside of the people I directly work with, I have always been a big fan of Debbie Millman, and particularly her podcast Design Matters. She has inspired me to always keep learning and continue to be curious not only about design, but about creativity in general. I admire her seemingly insatiable need to learn about someone’s creative process and mind.

Advice: While I have been fortunate enough to work on a predominantly female team, and am surrounded by many supportive women and men in my life and career, I know that is not the same for many other young women working today. However, there are many female-focused design communities that host meetups, creative nights, lectures and more. I’d strongly suggest leaning into these communities as they can be incredibly supportive and inspiring.

Also, social media! I’ve connected with several female designers on Instagram, and everyone has been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic about each other’s work. I’m a big fan of making small communities wherever you are, and we live in a time where that can happen in so many forms, whether it’s at an after work meetup, or in an Instagram DM — or better yet, both!

Get “Women in Design: Superheroes, Legends and Rising Stars” as a free PDF for instant inspiration and quick and easy reference — and share it with your favorite designer!

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