Happy International Women’s Day! Today we celebrate the inspiring and revolutionary graphic designers that have paved the way for a more inclusive and diverse industry. We honor the women who have broken through barriers to create timeless visuals, establish a meaningful presence in the creative world, and serve as role models for aspiring female creatives. From traditional handcrafted art to cutting edge digital design, these trailblazing women have made an impact with their innovative ideas and creativity.
Origins of International Women’s Day & Women’s History Month
International Women’s Day has been celebrated for well over a century. It originated in 1911 in Europe and was inaugurated by a march of thousands of women in New York City. Since then, it has become an annual event celebrated on March 8th worldwide. It is a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women everywhere.
The roots of Women’s History Month can be traced back to 1981, when Congress passed a law declaring the week between March 7th and 14th as Women’s History Week. This initial observance continued until a subsequent act of Congress officially recognized Women’s History Month, which now takes place in April.
History of Women in Design
Graphic design has been part of the creative landscape for centuries, but it’s only recently that women have been able to gain recognition and establish themselves as influential figures in the industry. . From its humble beginnings in the early 19th century to today, women have made significant contributions to graphic design. Today, women continue to shape the field, introducing new styles, techniques, and perspectives that have helped transform the way we use and interact with visual media in our everyday lives.
Before computers and digital tools became commonplace, women often found themselves limited to roles that were considered more “feminine” such as typography and calligraphy. But throughout the years, women have broken down barriers and pushed boundaries as they’ve taken on more prominent roles within the field of graphic design.
Ethel Reed is a name that often goes unnoticed in the history of graphic design, yet her contributions to the field are invaluable. Born in 1874, Ethel was an illustrator and artist who created some of the most memorable works of graphic art seen in magazines and newspapers during the late 19th century.
Reed used her talents to create remarkably evocative images that combined art and advertising. During the 1890s, her bold artwork caused a stir in both America and Europe—her posters were praised for their enthusiasm and modernity. Her signature style was a combination of elements from Art Nouveau and Japanese woodblock prints that showcased her unique ability to combine multiple styles into one cohesive work. Some have even referred to Ethel as the “mother of modern poster design.”
In 2016, many of her original pieces were on display at the Boston Public Library as part of an exhibition titled ‘Ethel Reed: An Unconventional Artist.’ The exhibition showcased examples of some of Reed’s best-known posters, offering insight into how she used contemporary techniques to make timeless art for the people.
Elizabeth Friedlander is a typeface designer and artist whose work has had a lasting influence on the typography industry. She was born to cultured and affluent parents in 1903, and studied under E.R. Weiss at the Berlin Academy.
Bauer Type Foundry commissioned Friedlander in 1927-1928, which was completed in 1938, making her one of the earliest female type designers.
Beyond her contributions to modern font design, by 1942 she was in charge of design at the Ministry of Information’s black propaganda unit, where she produced forged Wehrmacht, Nazi rubber stamps, and false ration books.
Friedlander’s designs for Penguin Books are some of her most recognized works, from their distinctive silhouettes and textured backgrounds to the vibrant colors she would often choose for each title. She famously adapted an old woodcut technique into her works that allowed for unique compositions with intense detail. With these remarkable methods she created a series of covers which still remain popular today.
Jane Davis Doggett
Jane Davis Doggett was not just a pioneer in graphic design and architecture, she was an innovator. Her concepts of wayfinding have changed the way we navigate airports and other public spaces. Today, as soon as you enter an airport, you’ll likely see her unmistakable influence everywhere. Her design sensibility is evident in everything from the unique alphabetical signage to overhead directional signs and three-dimensional canopies. Not only that, but she also codified separate terminals or zones by letter A, B, C, color, and symbol.
By doing this, travelers can easily find their way around the airport without feeling overwhelmed or confused about where they need to go next. Jane Davis Doggett’s legacy lives on through her ideas which still shape our travel experiences today. From airfields to shopping malls, it’s hard not to see her influence.
Susan Kare was born on February 5, 1954, and is an internationally renowned artist and graphic designer. She is best remembered for her contributions to the interface elements of the early Apple Macintosh products from 1983 to 1986.
In 1982, Kare was welding a life-sized razorback pig statue commissioned by the Arkansas museum when she received a call from high school friend Andy Hertzfeld. In exchange for an Apple II computer, he commissioned her to custom sketch icon sets and font elements to be featured in the upcoming Macintosh computer.
However, she had no experience in computer graphics and “did not know the first thing about designing a typeface” or pixel art so she drew heavily upon her fine art experience in mosaics, needlepoint, and pointillism. She purchased a $2.50 grid notebook of the smallest graph paper she could find at the university art store in Palo Alto and began to mock up several 32×32 icons.
She was responsible for designing many of the interface elements that are still used in many modern computers and digital devices. From icons to typefaces, her designs have made computing easier and more enjoyable for millions of people worldwide.
Kare began her career at Apple in 1982 as a bitmap artist where she created fonts, icons, and other user interface elements that defined the early Mac user experience. Her accomplishments include the design of the first Mac startup screen as well as the Chicago font family which has become one of the most widely used typefaces.
Dorothy Hayes’ story is one of empowerment, resilience and education. Born in Mobile, Alabama on December 1st 1935, Dorothy was no stranger to adversity as a black woman living in the segregated south. Despite this, she made her mark in the world of graphic design and education after graduating from Alabama State College. In 1958, she moved to New York where she graduated from Cooper Union School of Art with a degree in Graphic Design.
In 1970, Dorothy was one of the co-curators of the Black Artist in Graphic Communication exhibition, a groundbreaking event that celebrated the work of African American graphic designers and illustrators from around the world. The exhibition was a tremendous achievement, helping to bring recognition to many talented artists whose work had previously gone unrecognized. In addition to this significant contribution to art history, Dorothy also worked as a professor of art and advertising design at various institutions throughout her career, leaving an enduring legacy for future generations to learn from and build upon.
Carolyn Davidson is an icon in the world of design. In 1971, she was a graphic design student at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Her education here marked the beginning of a career that would forever change the way people thought about logos and branding. While studying for her degree, she designed the now-famous Swoosh logo for Nike. Despite starting out as a journalism major, Carolyn had a knack for art and found herself taking more classes in that field until finally committing to an entirely new career path.
At the time, Davidson had no idea that her design would become so iconic or that it would make such a significant impact on sports logos and fashion trends around the world. After designing the Swoosh logo for only $35 dollars and turning down royalties from Nike due to not understanding how successful it would be, Davidson continued working in graphic design until retirement.
Zuzana Licko is a Slovak-born American type designer and visual artist who has made a name for herself in the design world. She is best known for co-founding Emigre Fonts, an influential digital font foundry that has been praised by many major publications. Established in 1984 by Zuzana and her husband Rudy, Emigre quickly became famous for its experimental typefaces as well as its collaborations with top designers around the globe.
Prior to founding Emigre, Licko held several positions in graphic design and typeface creation, including stints at Apple Computer’s Advanced Typography Group where she helped develop the first Apple laser printer fonts. Her passion for typography is matched only by her drive to push boundaries and explore new ideas about how fonts could be used in design projects.
Cipe Pineles was an Austrian-born graphic designer and art director who made a name for herself in New York during the golden age of magazines. She was among the first female art directors to gain recognition in her field, beginning her career at Contempora in 1931 and going on to work at Seventeen, Charm, Glamour, Vogue, & Mademoiselle.
Pineles had a knack for layout design, working hard to make sure each page was visually engaging while still making the text accessible and easy to read. She set out to make sure that all women’s magazines featured sophisticated design without sacrificing content or quality. In doing so, she helped define what we now consider modern magazine design.
Louise E. Jefferson
Louise Jefferson was an artist of many talents. She began her impressive career by designing posters for the YWCA in New York City. Her unique vision and dedication to her art quickly made her a popular choice for freelance work among local organizations and businesses.
In addition to poster design, Louise created stunning illustrations that were featured in various publications throughout the city. Her eye-catching pieces depicted powerful images of women, conveying messages about strength and empowerment that resonated with audiences at the time. Through these works, she became known as an influential figure in early 20th century art circles.
Louise Jefferson’s impressive portfolio speaks volumes about her undeniable talent as an artist and designer. With each piece she created, she left behind a lasting impression on the world of art – one that will never be forgotten.
Margaret Calvert OBE RDI is one of the most important figures in modern British typography and graphic design. Working alongside colleague Jock Kinneir, she designed many of the signs used throughout UK roads, motorways, and transport systems.
The duo’s designs have been credited with revolutionizing wayfinding across the country,creating a unified system that can be easily understood by all visitors to Britain.
Calvert continues to work in graphic design today, having recently collaborated with Transport for London on the rebranding of their Underground maps and logos. She has been honored with numerous awards for her services to design over the years. She was elected an RSA Royal Designer for Industry in 2011, and was awarded an OBE in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
As a female graphic designer, I am proud to honor the trailblazing women in graphic design who have paved the way for generations of women. International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month are an opportunity to recognize and celebrate these talented designers. As we move forward, let’s take this opportunity to keep learning and growing together, and to inspire and uplift each other in our ongoing journey towards greater gender equality and inclusivity.