If the women I spoke with were candid about their experiences with sexism, they were equally intent on relaying their positive experiences in the type community — and on giving credit where credit is due.
I would like to give a shout-out to Gerry Leonidas; his help, guidance, and wisdom have been invaluable in bringing me where I am today. Gerard Unger, Fiona Ross, Tom Milo and Mirjam Somers have been exceptionally kind, inviting, and generous with their knowledge, not to mention their body of exemplary work.
The type community made me feel welcome, appreciated, accepted — from the start, when I was just a recent graduate.
I haven’t noticed any sexist behavior in any form of professional gathering I’ve taken part in. On the contrary, I’ve been pushed to grow artistically by the men I’ve collaborated with (and still collaborate with). I have been very lucky with the amazing people I’ve met throughout the years who have pushed me forward in all sorts of ways. I will list two sets of people from the beginning and the present of my life with Arabic type.
Argentina, 2005: The teachings of Rubén Fontana, Marcela Romero, and Pablo Cosgaya inspired me directly: to think of letters in terms of a relationship between their inner structure and their outline, and indirectly: to search for vocabulary on how to speak of Arabic letters without using Latin type terminology. In 2006, thanks to the findings of the latter, I was led to the path I am still on now, which is to understand the behavior of the skeletons within the Arabic script [that are highly disrespected in moveable and digital type] and to bring them back into type.
Amsterdam, 2015: Mirjam Somers and Thomas Milo keep teaching me the ins and outs of using their ACE layout engine for Arabic type; they have given me clients, knowledge, lunches, dinners, conferences, laughs, intense talks, care, World War Two history lessons, in-depth methods of Arabic script analysis, and have shared information that is so valuable to anyone interested in pursuing an Arabic type career regardless of the graphic direction — so valuable that I’m surprised I’m among the few people in the world who seek it from them.
Elizabeth Carey Smith
The type community can be warm and welcoming once you are granted entrance. But that did mean steady attendance at type events, which was much easier before having a child.
Nick Sherman invited me to the first pizza dinner when he started organizing those for visiting lecturers and speakers and I was always appreciative of that. I met Jessica Hische there and we hit it off right away. Tobias Frere-Jones made an exception for me to be included in a master class he was teaching years ago in Australia — I wasn’t at first supposed to be able to attend because I wasn’t an AGDA member, but he was familiar with all of the vernacular lettering exploration I’d been doing; we got along well and have ever since. He graciously introduced me at my talk I gave at the TDC in May, and I really value that gesture.
The women in my class at Cooper Type have remained close and supportive. I attribute a lot of my confidence to their support and cheerleading.
Stephen Coles is definitely a positive force for me. Petra Weitz as well. Always supportive and always nice.
To answer my questions during a workshop, one of my tutors came up with a personal story as an example. It was a story about his daughter, who passed away. In that moment, he made me go deep into his story and drew my empathy. People rarely talk about this sort of heartbreaking story. I heartily thanked him for sharing his story. Plus, I realized the power of sharing personal experiences as a tool to make a strong connection between people.
I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience in my career. I have worked at two design firms owned and run by women, with primarily female employees, and at a type foundry with an equal female:male ratio. I’ve felt very comfortable, physically and mentally, in these workplaces.
I’ve had an equal number of female and male teachers and employers, which I know is not the norm in the world today. The simple fact that those women have started businesses and held important positions, and that men have hired me to design type alongside them, has made me feel that there are very few barriers for me in the design world.
Overwhelmingly, women and men in the type world have been very friendly, have valued my opinion, and given me respect. I feel great. But I know that I don’t necessarily speak for other women, people of color, or other people considered to be minorities in the field.
My inspiration is definitely Fiona Ross. Her pioneering work in non-Latin type has impacted literally billions of people around the world. She researches, designs, and consults with great respect and sensitivity to other cultures, and goes to great lengths to instill those methods in her students. She has done amazing, world-changing work, while simultaneously teaching and consulting, raising a family, and remaining an incredibly humble and kind person. Definitely my idol.
In Spain, Pati Núñez, a female designer I was lucky enough to work with when I was twenty-five years old. And without any doubt: all my teachers at Type and Media.
In my undergrad at DIT in Dublin, I had a lecturer — Niamh-Ann Kelly — who taught us about the Frankfurt School and the Critical theorists and all kinds of amazingly intricate concepts, and I remember suddenly hearing the penny drop, and thinking this woman has brains, and she’s amazing, and she’s talking about things I’m interested in, and there’s a place for that in design, and there’s a place for women who research and write in the world! Then later, another lecturer who was my Typography teacher — Brenda Dermody — told us she was working on her master’s thesis, and it happened again, and when I left my undergrad, she put me forward for internships and encouraged me to see myself as capable. Later, Fiona Ross also made a lasting impact on my conception of what a female academic and designer can achieve, and meeting her in my year at University of Reading, and seeing how her gentle but incredibly bright and competent demeanor interacted with male academics, was inspiring.
Two people who have had the most lasting impact on my confidence and my conception of my abilities and their relationship to my male counterparts: Gerard Unger and Gerry Leonidas, who each in their own way challenged me to see the things I was good at and own them.
The type community has been very supportive to me in general. What has always left the biggest lasting impression on me is the willingness of folks in type to help out. In grad school, I never hesitated to email random important people asking how they did something, etc., And for the most part, people wrote back and were helpful. Or were willing to go to coffee with me. Or speak with me at a conference.
I attended my first Typecon in 2001 in Rochester, NY. I saw that Thomas Phinney was on the program and noticed that we worked for the same large company (in different offices) and we had gone to the same grad school. I reached out to him and he was great. He had been in the industry longer than I and he went out of his way to introduce me to people and encourage me in my career. It was likely him that introduced me to Si Daniels in Minneapolis. We had a lot in common because we lived in the same city and both worked in technology. We got to know each other over the course of several conferences and in 2007 he invited me to interview with his group at Microsoft and I ultimately was offered a job. Many others over the years have gone above and beyond to offer career advice and job references.
I joined the board in 2007 and spent three years deeply involved with on-site conference logistics. In 2010 I had my first child and knew it would be harder to put in the same amount of effort during the conference. My term on the board was up, but I was encouraged to stay on for another term and take over the role of treasurer. This allowed me to make a notable contribution from behind the scenes with late-night number crunching. I always felt I had the full support of my fellow board members.
I attend Typecon because it always energizes and inspires me.
I felt very supported by the women at the SOTA conference last year when I received the award. It did make a huge difference for me.
Although there are not as many high-profile women in the type industry as there are men, we have a few fantastic women to look up to, and I draw a lot of strength from the example they set: women like Fiona Ross, Mirjam Somers, Veronika Burian, Laura Meseguer, Indra Kupferschmid, Nicole Dotin… Women who produce fabulous work, who are clever, generous, and also happen to be incredibly nice people. The example they set is very important to me.
I have also had the chance over the years to collaborate with men who were keen on empowering women in the type industry and were aware of the benefits of a more balanced ratio between male and female designers. Robin Nicholas, who was my first boss at Monotype for instance, trusted in my abilities early on and his support as well as his willingness to give me responsibilities really helped me gain some confidence in my work. I already mentioned the role of my male colleagues in the two schools where I teach: colleagues such as Sébastien Morlighem and Thomas Huot-Marchand who are keen to reduce the gender gap, who understand the importance of having female teachers and role models among staff and guest lecturers, and who are also keen to have as many young talented female students as male.
People — also male allies — being vocal about getting more women active in our field generally make me grateful and happy. Guido van Rossum was one of my big heroes at Robothon (my favorite conference) when he addressed the conference in a video message, wearing a tee shirt in support of women who code. We need more of this. The tee shirts, and mostly also the women.
Laura Worthington, Sara Soskolne — and you, Dyana!
The lettering artists I work with and alongside at Hallmark have all been amazing. They are generous, patient, and incredibly talented. Though I am inspired by everyone I work with, I’m so proud of the typefaces I have made from the lettering of so many women. The women and people I have met through type@cooper (especially the class of 2012) have been such great friends and mentors. I’m so proud of each and every one of them and miss them constantly. It’s hard not seeing them all the time now that I live in Missouri.
Liron Lavi Turkenich
Every time I hear a female speaker who is confident and speaking about a professional topic, I feel inspired.
Emmy van Thiel
In general I’ve been taught more by men. I think this helped me realize that critique on designs is not immediately personal criticism. I think this set the tone for me as a designer and the way I express myself.
Honestly, I’ve felt more encouragement than discouragement from men and women in the profession. There are some wonderful, truly amazing, caring and kind men (and women, of course) out there who have really gone way out of their way to encourage me and other women to participate in this industry. I am so grateful and appreciative of their efforts. But again, what they all share in common is an acknowledgement of the issues at hand and a desire and willingness to do their part to help change the landscape of it all.
What they’ve done, specifically, is to go out of their way to include me in conversations, introduce me around and to other people they think may be good for me to know to answer questions they may not know the answers to themselves, ask questions about my work, offer advice and insight, be complimentary of what I do and encouraging of my work, and so on. I can tell, with certain people, that they are making a concerted effort here and that goes a long way in my book. And it’s not done in a condescending manner, it has always been very genuine and heartfelt.
They’re also the type who bring up the subject of sexism, bravely and with a kind and caring attitude and genuinely want to help and change that. As you can tell, these people’s efforts have touched me deeply and I’ve been fortunate to encounter more of this positivity than the negative stuff.
Joan Spiekermann was always very encouraging.
Outside my job, there is a male teacher who has left a lasting impression on me. Another woman and I were often the only female students in his classes. He never made us feel unwelcome, stupid, or inferior. So much of what I have learned from him helped me when I first started working as a type designer. I know the other woman in class felt the same way.
Sometimes I wonder where I would be in my career or if I had someone like him as a teacher, mentor, or boss when I was twenty. I will never forget what he said to me when I got my first type design job: “You are going to do great things.” When someone you respect says that to you, it makes you feel like you can achieve anything.
Women’s Voices in Type:
- Women’s Voices in Type, On- and Offstage
- Women’s Voices in Type, On- and Offstage, Part Two
- Type Women Talk: Experiences with Sexism
- Type Women Talk: Positive Forces
Dyana Weissman is a typeface designer at Font Bureau. She has been a presenter at ATypI, TypeCon, and Type Camp. When not making fonts, she is hiking somewhere in the world and sharing her adventures.