‘Women In Design’ – the alternative design history

Women have made an immense contribution to design history. And it isn’t a huge surprise that historically it hasn’t always been an easy ride for female creatives battling in a male-dominated world. This is, of course, true of most professional fields, be it the arts or science. Many icons of design, typically attributed to leading male figures at the time, were, in fact, the work of women.

Margaret Calvert ‘children crossing’ signage 1936 © Crown

This is the premise behind ‘Women in Design’ – a fascinating new book published this month by Laurence King focusing on the female voice in the history of design. Published in alphabetic order are 100 creatives in various fields – from architecture to product and industrial design, graphics, fashion and textiles – even cars.

Nana Ditzel, Egg chair 1959 © Alessandro Paderni Courtesy of Doshi Levien
Nana Ditzel, Egg chair 1959 © Alessandro Paderni Courtesy of Doshi Levien

Featured are the famous names – Aino Aalto, Anni Albers, Charlotte Perriand, Ray Eames, Eileen Gray, Elsa Schiaparelli, Zaha Hadid, Patricia Urquiola. We also learn of less publicised female voices – the ‘Damsels of Design’ all-female team at General Motors in the 1950s, Margaret Calvert who sketched some of the world’s most enduring road signs including ‘children crossing’ in the 60s, and April Greiman, one of the first to realise the potential of the computer as a creative tool in the 80s. These are spirited creatives collectively introducing a lively dialogue to the history of design.

Learn more about the book and the role of female vehicle designers and graphic designers.

Futura: The Typeface placed type in the context of design history

The Nazis hated Futura. They deemed the typeface as too radical – subversive even. Members of Bauhaus embraced it for its radicalism, and it came to be associated with the movement from 1919 through to 1933, when the school was forced to close and its members dispersed around the world. Futura: the Typeface examines the fascinating story of this popular type. Published this month by Laurence King, the book taps into a new movement in exploring type as an art form, re-discovering histories that tell of a time and a place, and of its intricate craft. The stylish hardback features 500 illustrations and includes essays by design writers Steven Heller, Erik Spiekermann and Christopher Burke. Crucially, Future places type in the wider context of design history.

Futura was authored by Paul Renner, a German designer who wasn’t officially part of Bauhaus yet shared the movement’s ideology. He crafted the typeface in 1927 based on geometric sans-serif forms, and it was released in the same year by the Bauer Type Foundry. Experimenting with sans-serif types was part of a larger movement at the time, yet Futura became one of the more prominent typefaces of the period. Bauhaus leader Lazlo Maholy-Nagy was a fan as was the American Paul Rand who liked its functionality noting that it was devoid of ‘doodahs and ringlets’. Later Stanley Kubrick made use of a derivative Futura Bold in his films. Most recently for their 2017 menswear label Jijibaba, designers Jasper Morrison and Jaime Hayon featured Futura in their logo. It also found its place in history books by being the first typeface to land on the moon in 1969.

‘In this fast-moving digital world, this copycat world we live in, the importance of typography is even more felt,’ says Adam Thomas, the creative director and partner at London creative agency Spinach. ‘This includes the origins of type, the small thing that make good typography so right, elements that can so easily be overlooked. While the modern day graphic designers spin themselves off their axis trying to keep up with the latest design trends and fashions, the more traditionally-focused, admirers of strong, classical design, proportion, elegance, refinement, balance, it is those who I feel stand to gain the most.’

Nargess Banks

Futura: The Typeface is written by Petra Eisele, Annette Ludwig and Isabel Naegele and published by Laurence King. It is available to purchase this month.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
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Archibet, from Aalto to Zaha Hadid

A charming little book arrived here this week. Archibet is the work of the Italian architect and graphic designer Federico Babina who has set about creating an alphabet book inspired by some of the world’s most talented architects.

Designed as postcards, each of the 26 pages is dedicated to an alphabet and a corresponding creative from Alvar Aalto to Zaha Hadid. Admittedly, even though the British architect is often referred to by her first name, we did feel putting Hadid in Z is a little bit of a cheat.

Nonetheless, Babina has created a wonderful illustrative book that pays tribute to the distinct architectural style of each of the featured practitioner – all in his unique fashion.

Babina sees a close relationship between architecture, graphic design and illustration. The architect needs to express his or her vision through drawings, and the more provocative they are, the more expressive, it helps give shape and life to a project.

He explains, ‘sometimes I am an architect with a passion for illustration and others I’m an illustrator in love with architecture.’

Archibet is published by Laurence King.

For more reviews on books on design and art visit the Design Talks Book Club.

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Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©