Make Your Mark - How Can Women Get Ahead in the Design Industry?

Make Your Mark: How Can Women Get Ahead in the Design Industry?

As we celebrate Women's History Month, Dexigner asked women working as senior creatives within the design industry what advice they would give to other women looking to succeed.

According to the American Institute for Graphic Arts between 4-11% of US senior leadership roles in design are held by women, so here are some tips from women who have made it to the top about how you can be a winner in the design industry.

Leigh Chandler

Partner and Creative Director, Vault49
Look for opportunities in even the briefs that at first seem boring - one of my most successful projects was for a car care company - sometimes the most unglamorous projects are the ones that really shine, because you made an opportunity to be creative from nothing.

Don't be afraid to fail. Believe in what you've done and explain why you think it's right. If you've missed the mark, let it go. Not all clients are going to share your vision, but whatever happens, never show them work that is boring, or expected.

Always show integrity. Get noticed for great work and bold ideas. Bring people along with you, and share your knowledge along the way. Strive to be the best, without being arrogant. Prove yourself through your creativity and bravery.

Johanna Drewe

Associate Creative Director - Studio Output
Our industry is constantly evolving. Designers need to navigate and negotiate its changes by allowing themselves to adapt. Having a clear idea of where you want to be in 10 years' time, but being prepared for your path to change or a detour to be taken, can be a massive help.

Being open to working with people that have different skills also plays a key role. The most effective designers aren't those that try and do everything themselves. Instead, they call on a bank of people to help realize the full potential of a project. That means collaborating whenever and wherever possible - whether that's within your own design teams or with clients.

It also helps to have kick-ass heroes in the industry. Stalk them, buy them coffee, learn how they work, what motivates them and how they've succeeded. Then, one day, return the favor to a young designer.

Above all, be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. Pushing yourself into roles and projects that scare you, within reason, is the greatest way to develop and hone your craft. The best way to learn is to do, so say yes and work out how you'll make it happen later.

Robin Marshall

Brand Strategist, CASE
First, set a career goal. It's hard to succeed if you don't have a clear idea of what success looks like. Even if you're not sure, sketch out something to work toward-you can always change course! Envision yourself in 3, 5 or 10 years and think about what's important to you: Where will you be living? What will you be doing? With whom will you be working? How will you feel about the work you do?

Second, figure out what you need to do to get there. If you're not quite sure, try this: search for job descriptions that align with your career vision and get a sense of the experience and skills required. Then, make a plan to build out your hard and soft skills toolbox and gain the experience needed.

Third, create a great pit crew and put your foot on the gas. Seek role models from whom you can learn, and mentors who will support and champion you. Work hard and look for every opportunity to contribute, learn and grow. And most important, have fun along the way.

Erin Kilkenny

Associate Creative Director, Trollb├Ąck+Company
I freelanced on-site at a variety of design studios for 14 years. There are all kinds of dynamics and vibes out there - and some offices can be really bro-y, even without ill intent. This often makes it harder to fit in socially as a woman, or to assert yourself and gain respect from your colleagues. I have been repeatedly talked over in more than a few meetings over the years... sigh.

That's why one of the most important things you can do is find your people. Build up a large network of other women and male allies in your field. You can learn from their experiences, talk through your struggles, and find out what companies they have loved working for and why. It's important to find a studio (or studios) to work at with the opposite of a competitive toxic bro-vibe: diverse, curious, thoughtful people of whichever gender, who respect and support each other's work.

It's also important to find female role models and mentors. It's easier to succeed when you can see what success looks like.

Photo: Robin Marshall, Brand Strategist, CASE