Nameplate set in Orwellian by Shiva Nallaperumal. Your typeface could be next. Learn more.
Ads via The Deck
Commentary

Where Are the Women in Type Design?

Verena Gerlach on February 22, 2011

Being one of the rare type designers who happen to be female, I occasionally get this question from other (mostly male) designers. It’s difficult to find other female designers with whom to exchange experiences and share knowledge.

The most common explanation is that type design is a “technical” profession. This is rubbish. Yes, font production does involve some programming, but, as a whole, doesn’t type design have much more to do with the patience required by classic female handcrafts, like needlework and knitting?

My guess is that the real answer is found in gender-specific socialization, both in general society and in the type design scene itself.

In Germany, women and men are still not treated equally. Young boys are rewarded much earlier in life, and for much less, than most young girls. Being born as a boy — and therefore a son and heir — is for many parents an achievement in itself. They project this sense of worth on their son. Everybody is already proud of him, by default.

As a daughter, you have to prove that you deserve being rewarded. Yet even a concerted effort may not lead to a positive reaction from adults. The girl also isn’t worthy of the same support because she won’t carry the family’s name.

Looking at type design as a working process, you must eventually decide when the typeface is finished. For most designers it’s difficult to find an end and be satisfied with the result. Then you add the expectations of others, amplified by the gender gap. Women constantly think they could do better. It’s never enough, they could get judged, they have to please, etc.

There are many of women who have great type designs tucked away in their drawers. They don’t dare to show them to the public.

The same is with women on the stages of type conferences. For most guys, public speaking is less of a problem. They are used to show off with every little bit they produced, knowing they will get rewarded — and if not, well, it’s no big deal.

I have the impression that this imbalance in our upbringing is stronger in Germany than elsewhere in the Western world. It could be one reason why some great female designers with German or Swiss roots had to get out and become successful abroad.

Another aspect is networking, which is still a male thing, and which women typically aren’t taught. They tend to be solitary fighters, which of course has a negative effect on their careers.

Later, if that career does progress, our social structure simply makes it very difficult for women to combine the time working on a typeface with having a family, given the mother’s traditional role as primary caregiver. You find a lot of over-qualified female designers doing production for type foundries, which gives them a financial security in their beloved profession.

One more sad truth: as a lesser known woman, the (male) type scene just doesn’t take you seriously. You are just a “student” who fancies the cool “boys”. You can sit down and listen to them, but you won’t be asked to give your opinion on “serious” type issues. This attitude may seem prehistoric, but honestly, I’ve heard it often.

The solution? Women should be aware of self-censorship, be less hard on themselves, and continue to maintain a high standard of quality without hiding in their chambers. (And some guys shouldn’t jump on stage at the drop of a hat. These changes alone would enhance the quality of some type events.)

I had to do this too. I pushed myself to give lectures and presentations and face the reaction of other type designers. And now, I like it a lot.

Verena Gerlach was born in Berlin and studied Visual Communication at Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee. Shortly after finishing art school in 1998, she founded her own studio (fraugerlach) for graphic design, type design and typography. Gerlach has lectured in type design and typography at designakademie berlin from 2003–2009 and gives lectures and workshops about type- and graphic design all over the globe.

71 Comments

  1. Angus Shamal says:

    I always considered the better women type designers, to be some of the top best in the business. Their work usually seems more focused and consistent within each design, and in most cases very functional. Male designers tend get their ego more often into the game and that shows.

    If you have a closer look, you see some of the classically and frequently used typefaces were designed by women. (Adobe Caslon, Myriad, Trajan, Lucida, etc..)

  2. Alexander Nedelev says:

    I also think that there are plenty of great examples of women type designers – Zuzanna Licko, Jessica Hische, Veronika Burian and these are just the first few which pops up in my mind.

  3. Laura Serra says:

    Frau Gerlach made a good point here. Women are still far from equal, but not only in type design. There is still a salary gender gap in Germany, which is pretty incredible for what is supposed to be a modern country. SpiegelOnline published an article about this topic last year in May.

  4. This article paints a very broad picture (and a simple black-and-white one at that … feels a bit dusty frankly).
    In any case though, it doesn’t seem to me that all this would actually go very far in explaining why women should be this much rarer in type design specifically than, say, graphic design. Perfectionism, doubts, a lack of networking (?!), shyness, a lack of confidence, wouldn’t these things also (have to) apply to other disciplines too (if perhaps in different measure or combination)?

    I have to suspect there is something a bit less simple, something (or more likely, an additional complex conglomerate of overlapping somethings) more specific to type design that tends to discourage women. I honestly wonder why you call the aspect of type design being more technical aspect “rubbish”. I think there might be truth maybe not in that simple statement, but up the alley where that came from. Nerddom? Gadgetry? Fiddling with stuff forever? I guess some women still knit and crochet; meanwhile, men are the ones with the intricate tiny model railways with lovingly crafted trees and shrubbery that they spend entire Sundays on. Think about it.

    BTW, personally I have yet to release my first font, but for the record, I have never (yet) felt the type scene doesn’t take me seriously.

  5. Ivo says:

    Verena, I’m sorry to say that I absolutely disagree with what you say about a different treatment of boys and girls in Germany. I am so proud of my little daughter and couldn’t be prouder if it was a boy. All my friends with daughters feel the same. There wasn’t even a difference 30 years ago, when I was a child. It didn’t matter if you was born as a boy or a girl. At least not where I grew up. Since about 1992 German women even can carry the family’s name and are doing that more and more self-evidently.

    I also don’t believe that people judge typefaces based on the sex of its designer. And to contribute something to the female type designers discussion: I second what Nina said ;)

  6. Sonja Keller says:

    I am tired of women being “victimized” by the male business world. Apparently, it is never their fault, but their upbringing’s. Also, they supposedly do much better work than men because women egos are humble.

    Women are grown-ups just like men and everybody gets traumatized during childhood in some way. We all still have to make career choices. The fact that many women choose not to take part in the self-employed, networking type-design world is not necessarily because society keeps them from it.

    Women tend to be less career-focused and take fewer risks. It seems to me like a bold assumption to attribute that to lack of self-esteem.

    I personally don’t have the wish to have a man-career. Honestly, working part-time for ok-money without being famous sounds like “more time to go out for coffee with friends” to me and not like “I might miss out on career-awesomeness”. I would be willing to believe that many men feel differently about that.

    In summary I would just like to point out that not all decisions women make are unconcious and overruled by what their parents believed in.

  7. Nicole Dotin says:

    I look forward to the day when the headline of stories like this read: OMG! Can you believe all the women type designers?

    Although I have no proof, it seems safe to say there have never been more women working as type designers today than at any point in history. Yet, the perception remains that our numbers are inconsequential.

    It is unfortunate. The language surrounding the discussion of women in type design is generally one of exclusion. For example, the premise of this article is that there aren’t enough women in type design. Although women’s activities are cast in the spotlight, that light is shining mostly on the fact that women are still considered fringe participators. The take-away being that there aren’t many of us working in the field. In my opinion, when you’ve got so many women practicing, exclusive language is counterproductive to the aims of increasing women’s role in type design. Shouldn’t the story be about the rising number of women practicing, or perhaps no story at all?

    There are many forces that shape our decisions and pave our path through life – some we can control, others we can’t. It’s easy to point the finger at a women’s individual decisions to explain why she hasn’t chosen type design as a career, isn’t visible, etc. but the reality is far, far more complex. As Verena touches on above, we also need to investigate how the majority has (or has not) contributed to a diverse type design culture.

    In the end, if you desire a type design profession that is diverse, ask yourself what you can do to create that environment. Then, start doing it.

  8. Tiffany Wardle de Sousa says:

    I’m all for girl power. But, I think it is unhealthy to focus on what isn’t or what was and find the positive in what is and what can be. I love that there are more and more lady type designers including those leaving Reading (est. 1999) and the KABK (est. 2002)—and soon Cooper Type (est. 2010). I love that you can’t really tell if a well-designed typeface was done by a man or a woman. I love that if one conference says no to your talk you can always self-publish your thoughts and get great feedback and then get invited to speak at another conference. I love that the Internet doesn’t keep anyone from releasing their typefaces whether or not they get acquired by a major foundry or not. I love that if you want to learn about type design there are schools available that don’t care about your chromosomes.

    I love history and if we must include it then yes, there still might be a bit of a boy’s network, but I don’t think it is because they have excluded the women. It came about because in the dusty past there weren’t that many women interested in what they were doing. The boys just got used to it. But, those women that were interested were not excluded. What about Gudrun Zapf von Hesse? I don’t think she was included only because she was married to someone already in the club. She had talent on her own.

    The men which ran the foundries that grew up on a healthy dose of “women in the kitchen” and “men in the boardroom” are no longer running the foundries. Women can no longer use that as an excuse. The type designing world was small in the past. It was difficult to network. You had to be able to travel and meet with people. You had to be connected to a foundry because you needed all the tools they had to get your typeface made. This is no longer the case. The tools can be licensed by anyone. You can be a one-person type design foundry.

    Networking is most definitely not a man’s thing. Not anymore. It is very easy to get well-designed type noticed and licensed. The marketing tools are there to be used whether Twitter, Facebook, one’s own site or any combination thereof.

    If there is exclusion it is for sub-par type design. If one is good at what one does people notice. Whether one is rewarded with public acknowledgment or licenses sold. Man or woman alike.

    Perhaps we need a women’s type design conference? But would this be wrong? Should one combat exclusion with more exclusion?

    One last thought. I think fear is real for men and women. I think it keeps a lot of people from daring to do something that could be great. But I don’t think fear is something only women feel. If anything, I hope more people can see how the new—if we must think of old and new—type world is very inclusionary and people want to help each other succeed.

  9. Tiffany Wardle de Sousa says:

    Also, in regards to salary. In the type world everyone has the opportunity to make as much as they want. I don’t think there is a cap dependent upon sex. The cap comes about because of desirability of one’s work.

  10. Leena says:

    This article is very culture specific and I might say personal experience centric. It really does not answer the broader question. It would have been nice to actually see some numbers. The gap we are discussing in this article right now is based solely on perception than actual facts.

  11. The answer to “where are the women in type design” is “working in type design.” Four of H&FJ’s seven type designers are women (Sara Soskolne, Ksenya Samarskaya, Erin McLaughlin, and Aoife Mooney), and this statistic tracks generally with our company’s staff (9/17ths female.) The majority of the outside developers we work with are women as well.

  12. Chris Lewis says:

    Leena’s request for numbers inspired me to crunch a few from the MyFonts database.

    Over the 11 years that we’ve been selling fonts, the number of female designers and female-designed font families has stayed strikingly consistent at around 10% of the total. It varies from year to year (from below 6% to over 15%) but there is no general trend one way or the other.

    I was surprised to see this, as we have heard anecdotally that the representation of women in type design programs is really quite good these days. And since MyFonts is a popular distributor for beginning type designers, I would have expected those in-school ratios to start manifesting themselves in the new signups here. But it hasn’t happened yet.

  13. Jonathan said:

    Four of H&FJ’s seven type designers are women

    As Verena mentioned, these are production jobs at a foundry owned and run by men. Don’t get me wrong, it is good news, a sign — along with the numbers of women in post-graduate type design programs — that things could change within the next few years. But the current situation, as Chris suggests, is that the number of women with their own designs published is strikingly low.

    I think the reasons for this are worth exploring, and there are probably some truths in Verena’s piece and many of these comments. Sonja makes a good point that “women tend to be less career-focused and take fewer risks.” If this is true, it could be influenced by society (as Verena claims) as much as genetics.

    I also still wonder why the very low female to male ratio we see in type design is not found in graphic design or other related fields.

  14. “Over the 11 years that we’ve been selling fonts, the number of female designers and female-designed font families has stayed strikingly consistent at around 10% of the total.”

    Chris, what are the numbers like if you limit it to just fonts of the digital era (I’ll arbitrarily define that as post-1984) instead of including all the revivals of type created by men in the metal and phototype eras?

  15. Carolyn King says:

    As a woman working in the (mostly) male dominated field of interface/web design, I am surprised that the ratio of women in type design is an issue. When I went to design school (in Australia, in the 1980s) the ratio of females to males studying graphic design was about 5:1. I don’t know if any of my female compatriots went into type design careers, but it was certainly something we all learnt about and were interested in.

    Regarding networking, in recent experience I have found that women are generally better than men at networking, with no shortage of events and local groups springing up, often organised by entrepreneurial or altruistic women wanting to learn from each other.

    If there is a disparity now in the number of male versus female type designers, this probably reflects historical influence (the designers of classic fonts from last century were mostly male, so there are fewer female role models) and men’s greater need to promote themselves and be remembered in the annals of history!

  16. what are the numbers like if you limit it to just fonts of the digital era?

    A good question, though I’d make sure to tally designers, not fonts. A large portion of the digital typefaces credited to women come from a handful of prolific designers: Carol Twombly, Zuzana Licko, Kris Holmes, Freda Sack, Gundrun Zapf von Hesse, Jill Bell, Rebecca Alaccari, and Veronika Burian.

  17. Chris Lewis says:

    Our release-year data is spotty, but presumably more complete for recent fonts than old ones. Going with fonts for which we have a year set, the percentage is slightly higher for post-1984, but not by much. Following Stewf’s suggestion of counting people and not fonts, it hangs around 13-14%. Interestingly, fonts that debuted at MyFonts in 2000 and 2001 had over 20% female designers, but since then it’s been below 15%.

    You can’t really read trends into numbers this small, but I noticed that the percentage of female designers releasing fonts with us has been slowly but steadily increasing for the last 4-5 years.

    Of course, this is all subject to the quality of the information we receive from the foundries/designers when they submit their fonts.

  18. erik spiekermann says:

    I am not sure what the ratio in our office is between male and female; the truth is: I don’t care. Our designers and project managers get hired on how well they do their jobs.

    One thing, however, remains: here in Germany, women have babies. Which means that now and again they stay home for 10 months (on full pay, I might add, unlike in some other ”civilised” countries) and then get their jobs back if they want to. Most do, but they still have children and, more often than not, there are things children need that mothers want to supply. Some of our female designers have partners with flexible work hours, some do not. So they may want to reduce their work week to 30 hours or need to be home exactly on time every day. None of that makes them bad designers, but it tends to preclude them from certain responsibilities like running complex projects where they are at the mercy of clients and schedules. The decision to raise a family does impact on your career, whether it’s type design or freelance welding (which, incidentally, also suffers from a lack of female participation). I do hear occasionally from people who run other design studios that they are surprised that we still employ young women because they will leave at some point, making a dent in their career and in their boss’ productivity plans. We would never dream of discriminating against women that way, because — as I said above — we hire talent, not gender. But it does become difficult at times to plan around those demands.

    And don’t tell me that all this will go away once we have country-wide full-time care for children. Why would I have a child and then hand him or her off to strangers during their wake hours?

    If a woman decides to pursue her career instead of having a family, then I frankly do not see what would stop her except her own inhibitions. Blaming everything on society is too easy a way out. And, like Ivo, I don’t agree that sons are preferred to daughters here. Not even in my generation (*1947) and certainly not today. We do have day care and our education is still free, all the way to university.

  19. Pooja says:

    Another article on the same subject, which might interest the readers and commentators here, published by AIGA in 2006.

  20. verena says:

    Great to read all this feedback.

    There is only one definition I would like to point out a little further: “networking”. I don’t mean to just know a lot of people, or organize groups to gather with. I mean the focused support of colleages and teamwork. To support other people, who will become maybe even “better” than yourself and, to later benefit from their new positions. To agree on competition, but also use it. To publish your stuff. At the end, to bring the “community” forward. This still is a very male thinking, I think.

    Being the minority also means to be special. This can be comfortable. And this is where I blame some women who apparently prefer this position, instead of just joining the “network”.

  21. whether it’s type design or freelance welding (which, incidentally, also suffers from a lack of female participation)

    Allow me to ask: but does it “suffer”?

    I’d say a crucial question is: Would more women want to design type but don’t – don’t get the chance to do it, don’t dare do it, &c.? Then that may indeed be a problem, and it would be interesting (and important) to find out what the obstacles are, and how they can be removed. (I’d personally be less interested in placing blanket blame on society, more in finding constructive remedies.)

    If on the other hand, it’s simply that fewer women than men are interested or attracted to (a career in) type design – then wouldn’t that really be OK? Equal opportunities are important to fight for; but women don’t have to (and can’t, and shouldn’t) be exactly like men in everything they do, and in deciding what they care about.

  22. Nick Sherman says:

    This situation is quite interesting to me, especially knowing the high number of females that are graduating from typeface design programs. Another topic which baffles me even more, however, is the near total absence of black typeface designers — male, female, in school, published, or otherwise.

  23. Florian says:

    A few more numbers – culture specific, as Leena put it, namely ratios of male and female speakers at recent and upcoming type events in Germany:

    15:0 – Webfontday (Munich, 11/2010)

    8:0 (or 7:1?) – 20 plus X (Munich, 4/2011)

    10:2 – Welt aus Schrift Lectures (Berlin, 9/2010–1/2011)

    38:8 – TYPO (Berlin, 5/2011, as confirmed to date)

    6:7 – Typotage (Leipzig, 5/2011)

    Only true optimists see a trend there. For others, Leipzig is the exception that (still) proves the rule.

  24. erik spiekermann says:

    Do I always have to announce ironic remarks with quotes or Italics?
    I agree with you: there is nothing stopping women from a career in type design but the fact that obviously not more women want a career in type design. I have no idea who is behind a lot of new – and good – fonts out there, and neither do I care. For all I know, half of them could be women hiding behind male pseudonyms. But that will never prevent me from judging work as it is presented. What you see is what you get.

  25. Julia Kahl says:

    I didn’t follow the whole discussion in details but just want to say something about my experiences as we released a magazine about Women in (Type-)Design last November.

    When we start researching for the magazine’s content in general, it’s completely equal whether a project is made by a woman or a man or something inbetween. These classifications are nonsense anyway (in my opinion). But it is obvious that less women are visible in the visual field (typography and other design fields) than men. It’s astonishing I think because there are a lot of female students.

    It seems to me that more women are getting more visible to a bigger audience than it was 20 years ago – but I don’t know how fast this is going on.

    Fact is, that we didn’t have any problems to find an incredible amount of high quality projects by women. Fact is also, that we never released an issue before that didn’t deal directly with a typographic topic (like serif fonts, grid fonts etc.).

    But we also recognized that there were only few women featured in the magazines before – without us thinking of the gender when chosing the projects … So we made this women issue.

    The response was differing from extremely “Thank you” and that it was necessary, to no response (which is of course not unnaturally). But interesting was that also blogs and media wrote about the magazine that have a) nothing to do with design (but with “feminine” topics) b) never wrote about us before.

    I talked to many female designers about this topic and there are a lot of different ideas why the situation is like it is. I personally think that the fact that we are talking about it shows that we are interested in it and that there is a change – propably slow but there is something.

    Julia

    PS: You can have a look at the issue here (with a list of all contributors): http://www.slanted.de/eintrag/slanted-12-women-typography-graphic-design

  26. Chris Lozos says:

    I have been in the type field for about 7 years now. I have been lucky enough to meet hundreds of people in the business and many more online. I don’t ever remember anyone male or female ever saying a disparaging word about any women or their work. Actually, most men I have met have been quite encouraging to women entering the profession. The schools welcome them as well. I can’t say what might have occurred before the digital era when type was more about manufacturing equipment, perhaps there was some resistance then, but today, thank goodness, any women who wants to become a type designer has nothing stopping her.

  27. verena says:

    Please note, that a lot of you are quoting female students and graduates as the high amount of females in this business. But where are they really to be found after graduation? This is what I tried to point out in the third paragraph from the bottom.

    To ignore someone and his/her work can be a method of underrating someone too. Women do get ignored as potential speakers on conferences. Thanks to Florian’s event statistics.

  28. dorrie says:

    It’s heartening to read that awareness of socialization is still in people’s minds. Socialization put in the context of traditions and cultural history, there’s no denying that much more critical expectations are put upon girls than boys. Being sister to a brother who is 4 years younger than I, this I know to be true.

  29. As a woman in type I can honestly say that you have to be a tough cookie. It still very much a male dominated industry – but there’s absolutely no reason why women shouldn’t be in it; it’s a great place to be!

    Both sexes have valuable skills to give and should be treated equally. Some of those skills don’t come as easily to some as to others – but that’s not sex driven, we’re all individuals.

    I don’t want to take a role on the forefront, I don’t want to speak about it public – it doesn’t make me any less qualified or any less passionate about my profession. I’m quite happy, as are a lot of my male and female counterparts “hiding in their chambers”.

  30. armeen says:

    If you think Germany has gender bias please visit India. :) Keep up the good work and hoping to buy your fonts!

  31. Nicole Dotin says:

    One quick follow-up comment. I’d heartily agree that women have excellent opportunities to excel in the field of type design. But, I also know that discrimination (in type design and the world at large) exists. We should celebrate our gains but be careful not to paint a perfectly equal picture of opportunity. Studies confirm this – whether we’re talking about salary discrepancies, the number of women CEOs, varying expectations based on gender, etc. We have a way to go but I still believe it is time to change the narrative surrounding the subject of women in type design.

    And, I second what Nick said!

  32. Stephen, characterizing the work of our typeface designers as “production jobs” is an uninformed and outrageously offensive thing to say. Even the most recent designer to join our company spends more time designing typefaces than I do; if I qualify as a typeface designer, surely she does as well. Just what is your definition of a “typeface designer,” anyway? It seems to be some special mix of art and entrepreneurship that is specifically concocted in order to support your point. My perspective is that the best jobs in type design are not held by anyone who actually runs a business.

    A criticism of companies “owned and run by men” is an altogether different conversation, but since the world’s largest type foundries are in any case owned by shareholders and run by boards of directors, I don’t know what even remains to be said.

  33. Jonathan – No need to be offended. It’s no criticism that H&FJ is run by men, I admire the diversity of your operation, and I’m sorry that “production jobs” is such a loaded term. I was simply saying that the number of women who are credited with designing a typeface is low. Perhaps that number is not as important as the number of working women in type design, but it does say something about how many women initiate their own work and are responsible for its development and publication.

  34. My perspective is that the best jobs in type design are not held by anyone who actually runs a business.

    Good point.

  35. Straying off topic—I’m always surprised when “production” is characterised as less important than “design” or “drawing”. The two go hand-in-hand. A beautiful typeface that doesn’t work is as useless as an ugly typeface that works flawlessly.

  36. Tiffany Wardle de Sousa says:

    Nicole, I’m guilty of painting a rosy picture I think. I didn’t mean to, I simply wanted to applaud all that has been happening.

  37. I should clarify my comment, too. I didn’t mean to imply that the designers working at H&FJ — or any foundry for that matter — aren’t practicing type design. One doesn’t need their name officially attached to a typeface to be a legitimate type designer. I’m sorry that wasn’t clear, and apologize if anyone was offended.

    I was just clumsily suggesting that there are differences between team-produced work and self-produced work. Neither has more inherent value.

  38. verena says:

    Maybe this is just a misunderstanding: By dividing font design into “design” and “production”, I didn’t want to make any valuation. I just see a difference in taking the risk of putting your name under your own design and getting judged for it, and doing the production for something and getting payed for, someone else already is taking the risk for. I highly admire the work of the production people.
    Maybe it is like “designing” an application and “using” someone else’s application. Both need a lot of knowledge and effort of course. But for this issue, I would like to concentrate on the “designers”.

  39. First, let me say that I have only read the initial post, and not the many replies.

    I am offended at being told that I was born with an advantage because I happen to be male. I have worked quite hard at type design in order to be able to do it professionally.

    Type design is one of the few crafts where the sex/race/age/nationality of the craftsperson is irrelevant to the end-user of the type: the reader. Type design is a meritocracy, where good work bubbles to the surface, and the designer of that work is rewarded monetarily and otherwise. (Invitations to lecture, judge, etc, should these be considered rewards.) Some graphic designers may show deference/preference for types based upon factors such as the sex/race/age/nationality of the type designer, but for the most part typefaces — and by extension, their designers — succeed or fail based on their merit or lack thereof.

  40. Nicole Dotin says:

    I really shouldn’t touch this, but why not.

    Chester, I’m surprised you don’t recognize that certain human attributes are prized over others. Men have been running the show for a long time – that’s not opinion but fact. And, you see no possibility that over the many years men have held the reins that certain male qualities, whatever those are, become valued and this give men an advantage?

    Sorry, but we are not all given equal opportunities and it it is totally naive of you to think otherwise.

  41. Lila Symons says:

    You want to get more women into type design? Make them take more type classes when they are studying at the undergraduate level.

    It horrifies me to look at the curriculum at many design schools and see they are not offering classes in type history, calligraphy, and type design. How do they expect students to become decent typographers, or even get interested in type design if they are not being exposed to it?

  42. Really, Nicole? We’ve never met, and you don’t know anything about me, so I really don’t appreciate you telling me that I am naive, and that I have benefited from centuries of patriarchy.

    No, we are not all given equal opportunities. Which is why it is up to each of us to make our own luck and create our own opportunities.

    After posting yesterday I enjoyed reading most of the comments; there has been a lot of insight and experience on display. There has also been a lot of bandying of irrelevant data and a modicum of whingeing.

  43. verena says:

    Lila: This is definitely a great idea. But in general. For all sexes. We don’t want to exclude anybody, do we?
    Nick: You are so right. So maybe the question should indeed be, like Nicole earlier suggested, not about the exclusion, but the actual picture, we get. Maybe: Why is typedesign such a white, male, heterosexual profession? I guess this would lead us a bit to far in this thread, but it could be the theme for a whole conference ;-)

  44. I think you could drop heterosexual — at least in the States. My own informal sampling puts numbers close to par with general population averages.

  45. verena says:

    Finally ;-)

  46. Nicole Dotin says:

    Chester, nowhere in my comments did I say you didn’t earn your spot in this world or that you’re not talented. But, your comment came off as though you were denying discrimination existed (because you denied the opposite – that you received an advantage not based on merit). But, now you say that’s not true, so misunderstanding resolved!

    Let’s all go design some type now.

  47. Lila Symons says:

    Verena, I’m in complete agreement. If my comment was misconstrued, I apologize. What I meant to say is that the lack of access to being educated in this field is very apparent, and that needs to change.

  48. Would it not be better to strive to be one of the best type designers in the world, rather than one of the best women type designers? Or one of the best German type designers, or one of the best gay type designers, or one of the best black type designers, or one of the best vegan type designers, or one of the best type designers under 30, or or or?

    (And no, I do not consider myself to be one of the best type designers in the world. Remember, I’m not naive.)

  49. verena says:

    Lila: I was just teasing you ;-)

  50. This article is a great starting point for a discussion on the number of female designers in the field and more than that.

    As Verena described in many of her points, the number of today’s female type designers is obviously quite low. This is quite visible when looking at designer’s name lists on foundry Web sites, conducted interviews, publications, speakers at conferences. It hard to speak of an exact relation, but it is visibly lower. And I agree that there might be quite a few of “hidden” female type designers not publishing their personal projects, but rather working for a company.

    As was pointed out in some of the comments (for example Jonathan Hoefler) there might be a tendency for more and more woman working in the field, although I cannot imagine that this will shift the relation in favor for women in the near future. But it is indeed a positive development. Concerning changes in educational programs there is to add that Type and Media’s 2009-2010 course had for first time in the course’s history more girls than boys.

    A great way of supporting female type designers is definitely to buy their type and with this action vote for them. I know about a teacher (female of course) at Concordia University Montreal who only acquires type made by female type designers in order to support them.

  51. xrayspec says:

    Are most type designers still white men? Yes. Is it fair to ask why that’s so? Yes. But the approach to the question is flawed.

    In defense of her thesis that the type industry is infected with old-fashioned sexism, Ms. Gerlach offers — more old-fashioned sexism. Men are better at networking? Women don’t release their work because they “constantly think they can do better”? Replacing one set of gender-based expectations with another is hardly a step forward.

    Past that, the essential complaint feels somewhat obsolete. To have systemic gender discrimination in a profession, there needs to be a system. Thanks to the internet, the age of the 5-10 person independent type foundry is giving way to the age of the 1-3 person microfoundry. You want to be a published type designer? Step 1: design type. Step 2: publish it. When there’s no gatekeeper, it’s hard to say that anyone is being excluded.

    “But what about German type-design conferences?” Most type designers don’t get invited to those conferences. If your ambition is to be a conference speaker, that’s fine. But it’s a separate issue.

  52. verena says:

    Sorry Brigitte, but I’m not quite sure, if the support of female designers, by buying only women made fonts, would be the right way (even I’m glad that someone is doing something at least). It would again mean to exclude someone. And because this issue seems to always become very personal, I’m afraid, that this would scare off certain people completely.

    I prefer the genorous way: Make the problem visible and stop negating it. And hope for the best.

    Travelling and teaching in the Middle East right now, brought me a bit closer to one thought: I’m getting frustrated by the fact, that in most western countries, equality is a right by law. This is such a privilege! But even than, the statistics and numbers are proving the dirty fact, that we are still far away from it.

    If you want numbers: Susanne Dechant gave an excellent presentation about these facts on the AtypI conference in St. Petersburg, 2008. Maybe anyone took notes of it and can provide these numbers?

  53. The other day when I have read the article, I wasn’t convinced by its articulation, contents. BUT the resulted comments made are quite good and the debate created very welcome.

    I agree with many here and I always found dangerous to compare people based on their genre, sexual preference, color skin, religion, etc. rather by their competences.

    Chester explain it better than me:
    “Type design is one of the few crafts where the sex/race/age/nationality of the craftsperson is irrelevant to the end-user of the type: the reader. Type design is a meritocracy”

    Still, it can be interesting to have an historical analyse the position of women in type industry. Perhaps students in one on the today MA already covered this subject?

  54. verena says:

    Jean François:
    Why students? Why even more studies and analysis? There are already a lot of studies and graduation projects about this topic in relation to history. Why can’t we just live equally within the professional scene? Right now, in the present.

  55. Perhaps I am naive, but I don’t see rampant gender inequality in the type design world. It’s true I would love to see more women type designers, but I would love to see more women in every field and particularly in the top tiers of them. However, as xrayspec wrote earlier, in the age of the internet self-publishing and ‘micro foundries’, where the once massive back end of type design has been collapsed to its most essential steps: ‘Step 1: design type. Step 2: publish it’, type design generally feels wide open, particularly if you have the chops.

    I am a graphic designer who is married to a type designer and I look at type designers with envy. It’s so empowering to have the ability to make and sell your own work; to be client and designer in one. For a graphic designer to strike out on her own, she must have clients and the skills of acquiring and managing them are a rare art all their own.

    In my last position as a design director in a NYC branding group I was aware every day how many skills I needed to have that had very little to do with making and directing design work — the most important of which seemed to be to find my ground and hold it while working in an immensely talented, lively and fun, but also wildly laddish and competitive group of men. Before I left (at 34 to have my daughter…) I was told by the female group manager that they were grateful I wasn’t on the ‘mommy track’ because they couldn’t find (or perhaps more important: keep) women of my age and skills, and when 12 to 15 hour days are the norm, unfortunately this is no surprise. Another afternoon one of the group’s three creative directors stopped by my office one day to jokingly apologize for not talking to me that much. He said he’d stop by a lot more if I had ‘big boobs’ like the former female design director…. When I watch ‘Mad Men’ I think back to this job so often — in many larger design offices/agencies/studios with more traditional or ‘old school’ hierarchies some things haven’t changed tremendously. And I wonder how different the future work world will be for my own daughter….

    Since I entered the field in 1997 I’ve consistently seen so many women designers shining inspiringly brightly when they’re working independently in their own practices. I see so much opportunity and room for growth in type design and am awed every year by the new designers who emerge.

    Here’s to possibility of achievement and excellence for all.

  56. Christine Gertsch says:

    I am absolutely sure that women are still discriminated in design, at work, in everyday life. I hear and see that all the time. It doesn’t surprise me that most of the men do not perceive this. Of course, women have the choice to go into type design, and their work is appreciated well – as long as they are “below” men. As it was mentioned before, the high positions like creative or typedirectors, managers, teachers (I think at KABK they have 1 female teacher at the moment (?)) as well as speakers at big conferences are given to men.

    I even thought about releasing (type) design under a male pseudonym but I didn’t so far.

    Anyway, I suggest an experiment: male type designers will publish their next font under a female pseudonym and women will use a male name. Will one recognize whether a typeface was actually drawn by a man’s or women’s hand? Will the fonts be sold as well as under one’s real name (and gender)? I’d be curious to hear about any observations. Who is courageous enough?

  57. Christine – While I do think there are societal factors that dissuade some women from taking on a public career in type design, I don’t think there is much discrimination (conscious or unconscious) in the marketplace. Fonts by women probably sell just as well as those by men. In fact, typefaces published by women often get a little extra press and attention given their rarity.

  58. Girlapproved says:

    I think this will add some clarity. We have to look not at who is making this or that, but the belief/standards/practices that control how we evaluate and execute our ideas.

  59. I am surprised I didn’t see Marian Bantjes’ name over here as I think she is an icon for the design industry. There are plenty of Women in Type Design and there will be more ever since the interest in type has raised.

  60. This topic is about type design. Bantjes is a great illustrator, graphic designer, and lettering artist, but despite having co-created a typeface, I think she would confirm that she’s not really a type designer.

  61. Coming late to this discussion and having read all posts, my thoughts ever since circle around points made. Having about one-and-a-half leg in the States, and one-half still in Europe, I have experienced both work cultures for women on either continent. Partly, I left Switzerland for its not-so-friendly air towards women. There, the female population could not vote until 1971, does that say enough? Do old habits die hard, yes, I think so. I had job promotion interviews in Zurich in the 90s when I was asked about my family plans, the question was not posed to my male colleagues.

    Well, not all women have a choice between wanting to work, and having to work. Some just have to, especially in countries with less social orientation or support. Does a woman have to choose between work or family? Between being precluded from certain higher responsibilities in the job environment? I think it is possible to be in leadership positions and tending to a family, but it demands an extremely well orchestrated organization of her day, and some financial means. I make these points about family, because it is one of the main reasons why women give up working, no matter in what kind of career. There have been new studies in the (hard) sciences which show that women exit their academic positions during their child bearing years. It’s tricky to keep them. Why? Because life with kids becomes exponentially more complex (and rewarding), even if there is a support system. I believe it’s not the technology’s fault that women don’t become type designers in masses. In principle women don’t shy away from technology more than men do.

    I believe the doors are open for women. Having a family or not, we have to be willing to go for realizing our dreams, to working hard and making a place for ourselves in a highly competitive environment. We have to be proactive, persistent, patient, and passionate about what we do. Don’t give a damn about setbacks, and move on with the goal of being part of it all. But we can’t administer this, this has to come naturally, so to speak.

  62. Why I think there is not a “big” problem for women in typeface design, is due to the fact that type design generally came from individual, small groups.

    It is very true that in more larger industries, such design agencies that I know well, more people getting old and taking higher position, less women are present. It demonstrate that the “problem” is more related to the structure of the society in general (sadly). Not Type by itself.

  63. verena says:

    One more thought about the absense of women in our profession:
    Following some (German) type blogs in the past, I got more and more the impression, that there is a very rude kind of communication between the genders. There is a lot going on between the lines and within the language. When you now take this negative atmosphere and the fact that the guys still have to bring in the money (thanks to our conservative society structures), they just have to keep working in this business, while the women can “escape” into family live witout acting irresponsible. This would mean, that here, the men would have to suffer from inequality.

  64. David Lemon says:

    Becoming a well-known expert at nearly anything usually requires a near-fanatical drive and relentless focus over a long period. Men are often more willing to sacrifice nearly everything on the altar of career, while women are often more sane.

    Despite her famous designs, Carol Twombly was only in her early 40s when she decided she’d rather hike & ski than sit in an office, and work in more tactile media instead of using a computer. I miss her, but I admire her perspective.

  65. Verena, I have to show you my earlier knitting works!

  66. Matthew Butterick says:

    I found it curious that on FontShop’s best-of-2011 list, the headline describing Nina Stössinger’s font FF Ernestine was “pH Balanced for a Woman”. This line was taken from a long-running (and mildly retrograde) American ad campaign for women’s deodorant. 

  67. Hector Muñoz says:

    It’s a matter of gender interests. Men and Women are equal but not the same.

    Of course women are capable of excellent type design and of course they tend to have many useful qualities for the task, it’s just that they are seldomly interested in it: may it be because it is an occupation with almost no social interaction involved or whatever reason.

  68. Hector Muñoz says:

    Also, men are more capable of super focusing on a single tasks for a very long time while woman tend to be able to attend to various things at the same time and a more holistic perspectives but with less focus.

  69. Astrida Valigorsky says:

    Clay Shirky (once somewhat inflammatorily) argued that women in culture do not self-promote nearly as much as men do and that’s why their names are not in the forefront as much those of men.

    (His solution was to get women to self-promote as much as men– unfortunately this solution overlooked the biological reason men self promote more: testosterone).

    As a woman– I would actually argue that the message than men and women are equal is probably not helping… because it makes men expect to get the same results from women as men.

    The truth is, regarding each gender as being different is of more VALUE.

    For example– it was unfathomable to a teacher that I could track several sets of changes through a typeface at the same time (he relied on doing changes in sequence, because doing it any other way made his brain melt.)

    Multi-tasking sets of changes for me, was a natural ability and something I’d done through my whole career.

    Some circles would say that ability is part of nature’s gift to women. Others might say its an individual gift. Either way, does it matter where the gift comes from? Not really.

    But, if you’re not open to difference… you’ll never learn the difference.

  70. Kerstin says:

    I totally disagree with what Gerlach says about boys and girls in Germany. It’s just not true. (I am a female German btw.)

Post a Comment

Comments at Typographica are moderated and copyedited, just like a “Letter to the Editor” in a newspaper. Abusive or off-topic comments will not be published. Compliments are appreciated, but will not be published unless they add to the conversation. Thank you!

Recently Commented
Colophon

Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

Set in Bureau Grot by Font Bureau, Nocturno Display by Nikola Djurek, Fern (unreleased) by David Jonathan Ross, and JAF Bernini Sans by Tim Ahrens.

Brought to you by this month’s nameplate sponsor, FontShop, MyFonts, FontFont, Wordpress, Fused, and the letter B. Read our editorial policy.

Elsewhere