notamuse

I grew up to be tough and independent, but I was never expected to be ›great‹.

Michelle Philipps

About

»notamuse« focuses on the lack of visibility of female graphic designers in the design public. The meaning of the name is clear: not a muse. Unlike the muse, who inspires male, creative spirits through her inspiring but passive role, we are concerned with female designers who themselves are creative and actively participate in designing the creative landscape. »notamuse« places them in the center of attention on this page.

We wish for more female role models in graphic design and a more diverse design scene, beyond male graphic design heros. Therefore, in the spring of 2017 we interviewed 22 women and talked about subjects like the new working world and women in »male professions«, the differences between male and female designers and sexism in everyday working life. We discussed artistic approaches, work processes and personal experiences in the design world. This website offers the opportunity to compare the designers’ answers sorted by topic and thereby give valuable insight into design concepts, ideals and personal confrontations with gender equality, both in professional and private life. Statements of sociologists and design theoreticians complement this critical analysis.
In addition to this website we developed the book »notamuse – A New Perspective on Graphic Design«, which exclusively showcases the work of contemporary female designers. It is understood as a deliberate gesture that aims to compensate the male dominated discourse in design. The book will be published in 2018.

The team of notamuse: Silva Baum, Claudia Scheer und Lea Sievertsen (left to right)

Imprint


notamuse
Silva Baum, Claudia Scheer, Lea Sievertsen
Mainzer Str. 12
10247 Berlin

Kontakt:
hi@notamuse.de

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Code by Jens Schnitzler, Tim Rausch and Jana Reddemann

Isabel Seiffert

Isabel Seiffert studied at Merz Akademie in Stuttgart and at ZHdK before founding Zurich-based Offshore Studio together with Christoph Miler after only a short period of agency work. Their projects have a strong focus on editorial design, typography and storytelling. Next to commissions and collaborations mostly within the cultural field, Offshore Studio investigates critical issues of design, globalisation and media in self-initiated projects. Since 2016 they are also art directors of »Migrant Journal«. In the interview, Isabel talks to us about her approach towards design, the importance of female role-models and equality in the design industry.

How do you typically work on your projects?

IS: At the beginning of a project, we normally we work together, because we appreciate the exchange and it is easier to put things straight. Whenever we receive an order, we first talk about it and collect ideas. Afterwards, everyone implements different ideas, which we then also discuss. In that way the process continues until we have all ideas aligned. From this point onwards, we separate the tasks, nevertheless, we follow the principle of dual control: before a design gets presented to the client, we always double-check it. Although simultaneous work is very time-consuming, we are convinced that time the projects are of higher quality. That is one reason we work together.

What does your design process look like?

IS: We are both very self-critical and have a strong attitude towards aesthetics and certain design forms. However, we do not want to develop a dogma, like some studios where everything looks the same. But we do not want to be a studio in which every project is different and that has no unique selling point—we are still somewhere in between.
For example, we have certain quality standards and a preference for typography, but we customize it for each project and try to reinvent something at first. In the initial phase, we often try out new designs that may even look terrible at first. Through reduction and systematics, the design becomes more compelling and the concept becomes clearer. The cleaner the design, the easier it is to argue. Our time-to-work for design is, of course, quite intensive and lengthy through this phase of experimentation.

Are there any styles or movements which influence you in particular?

IS: When my interest in editorial and typography started, I had role models like Mirko Borsche or Hort. At the core, my taste probably has not changed: graphic, precise, not too playful work. I was very interested in Swiss graphics at an early stage, which led me to do my Master's degree in Zurich. What triggered my interest more than a certain style was the high quality claim. I find that the craftsmanship is far more precise and more elaborate than in Germany. What is often missing though, is the love for detail in typography, but also in print.

Can design contribute to society?

IS: We often hear this question: »Can design change the world?« I have no clear answer. I do not believe that design alone can change anything, but it can affect the way that topics are viewed, just like language. Depending on the way that it is formulated, it can be repugnant or open up new worlds, either grant or deny access.
The potential of design is definitely not exhausted. In addition to being used for advertising and pop culture, it could also be applied to scientific areas. I hope that the area of knowledge transfer becomes even more present, because design has the ability to change something—it can help people to understand facts better.

What defines good design?

IS: That depends on the project. With regard to socially important issues, I find that the design should follow a logic that is not misleading. At the same time it must not be boring, the subject should still be accessible. However, if you create a flyer for a jazz band, the context is different. The design for the flyer can be good without meeting this requirement. It depends on the context.

What does success mean to you personally?

IS: This is an ongoing process. My attitude towards success always changes. Success has always been very important to me, perhaps because I often have self-doubt and success is something that simulates assurance and confirmation. For instance, this signifies that you get recognition in your own ranks or receiving exciting orders. I have always been very anxious, because I often felt that is harder to be successful as a woman. I did not know any successful female designers, so I wanted to try harder. Success for me is to be invited to be part of a jury and to realize that this is something new for many. This seems to be rare, so I find it very important and see it as a kind of duty to participate in it.

Do you like giving lectures or workshops?

IS: Although it is exhausting, I get excited every time I get invited to do so. From the beginning I always felt that it was my duty to give lectures and I really enjoy doing so. I cannot remember one single lecture by a female graphic artist in the first half of my studies. That is the reason why I usually accept the invitation. I have the feeling that, especially in lectures, there is only this one perspective, namely middle-aged men and their particular way of presenting their work. This could lead to the impression that only their way is successful. But you can be just as reserved and still be good at what you do!

Did you ever experience any uncomfortable situation at work due to your sex?

IS: I have made bad experiences in a rather indirect way, for example, in situations where I felt that I was given less difficult tasks because I am a woman. Particularly in the case of presentations for the customer I am under the impression that the statements are taken less seriously. You are less likely to be seen as a genius, but rather questioned. The younger you are, the harder it is to appear experienced. It gets even harder if you are not this charismatic type, which has this appearance and presents everything as if there was only one right way. For a long time, I also was scared of failing. Whenever I applied for an internship during my studies, I deliberately did not apply at some studios. Some had not had any female trainees so far, so I did not dare to apply there and also did not want to work with them in many ways. In retrospect, I sometimes regretted not having done it anyway, but I was still too insecure at the time.

How equally do we work today?

IS: I think we rarely work equally. In many studios, which consist of a man and a woman, the man is more in the foreground. I do not know whether it is because some women feel uncomfortable about being in the spotlight, or whether it is due to the fact that being self-confident is not considered as a positive feature for women. I feel that women often want to be particularly strong because it is a success factor for men. Also, personally, I think about how I must be and I do not want to appear too girlish. This does not mean that I play a role, but it influences the way I behave in order to be taken seriously, or how I appear at conferences. Sometimes, however, I still find that I, too, judge women and men differently for the same behavior.
With us it is a special situation. Christoph is very much in favor of changing old structures and has suggested, for example, to write my name first, so that the woman is for once not second. My generation is actually the first one to deal with it differently, but I think it could go faster. In Zurich there are actually many good designers, but they are partly invisible, because they do not go on lectures or are not active in the community, especially in the older generation of designers. In many younger studios, such as Kasper Florio, it is no longer the case that only the male part is visible and is in the foreground.

Are there too little female role models?

IS: Except for Larissa by Kasper Florio, Ines Cox and perhaps Veronica Ditting, I can not think of many other female designers. Vinca Kruk of Metahaven, for example, is a very strong personality. While studying, I had a workshop with her and that she performed so strongly, seemed unusual. It was the first time that I had a workshop with a woman, the subject of which was neither drawing nor illustration. I also talked to Andreas Uebele about this, who found that the gender equality in design was no longer an issue. After having told him that I had no female models during my studies, the only female designer that he could think of was Paula Scher.
I do not know if this is so because women do not fully exploit their potential and do not go far enough in their work or because they are not mentioned so often. They are not mentioned at all by historiography. Sarah Owens, the director of visual communication at ZHdK, gave a lecture on women in art and design at AGI a year and a half ago. She has dealt with the subject historically, and discovered that women, among the otherwise so advanced Bauhaus, were placed in the textile and pottery classes and were not allowed to study architecture.

How strictly do you separate work and private life?

IS: This is the theme of my year. Designing is very important in my life, if not the most important thing. In recent years, I have worked extremely hard, spent little holidays and spent a lot of time and money to get where I wanted to go. By the end of last year, my health had hit my head—from one day to the next, my right arm was so inflamed that I could not hold a pen. For four months it was not clear whether it would heal again. This was a great life crisis for me—we had just founded Offshore and I could not work at all. At some point I realized that I have to rethink and have to deal with other things besides work. I still work on many weekends, but I try to have one free day per week. And I now have a dog with whom I have to go out at noon. In the early design phases of a project, I am also mostly mentally stressed, so I often work the rest of the evening, or at do research until late at night and think about the project further. I cannot and would not want to switch off or do anything else. This is also a bit difficult for my environment. But I believe that in these professions, where one has a certain vision of what one wants to do, a certain amount of time and effort is required. That is why self-employment is so important to me and, at least until now, is the only option to work in design.

What would be the ultimate project?

IS: Perhaps to work for a large exhibition, such as the Documenta or Venice Biennale. I would also like to make publications for research projects at MIT. I am interested in areas of social relevance, which also exist outside of the arts and cultural industry. I cannot name a specific project, but I would find something scientific that is aesthetically challenging very exciting and relevant.

Which advice can you give to young female designers?

IS: Do not be intimidated. Do not be afraid like me to apply for a job at someone who acts as if he does not take female designers seriously, but do it anyway. The more women prove themselves in the field, the sooner they become normality. Even if you are an introvert person, you should try to get out of yourself, to talk about your work and to be visible, because that is the only way to create a collective consciousness.

notamuse