notamuse

If people get together to do something they like, they usually look for people just like them.

Femke Snelting

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

Nina Paim

Nina Paim is a Brazilian, Switzerland-based graphic designer, curator, teacher and researcher. Currently she works on a long-term research project and organizes conferences, critically addressing the role of design in times of global transformation. In the interview she tells us about how she ended up working at the crossroads of design and research, how a woman’s role changes in society as soon as she becomes a mother and how angry she is about blatant gender inequality in the design public.

How do you typically work on your projects?

NP: I usually start with research in a traditional way: formulating a question, going to a library, reading texts. Only once I feel sufficiently informed, I come up with a concept or approach for the project. If the project is a commission, I usually first try to find my own personal position in order to then develop a concept. It’s hard to say how much time it usually takes, since it varies a lot. For the exhibition »Taking a line for a walk« I almost instantly came up with the idea of focusing on assignments as verbal artifacts of design education, and working with students in the making of the show. Maybe that was because I had already done the »Escola Aberta«, which made me dive into different ideas about design pedagogy. In contrast, the concept and approach of my current project, researching the history of the publishing house Arthur Niggli, took me much longer. First, I was interested in design manuals as a whole, then I narrowed it down to one case study. Afterwards, I eventually became fascinated with that publisher and ended up expanding my scope to look into their entire publishing program! I really enjoy the whole process: starting from a first impulse or drive, getting a bit lost, ending up in a totally different place, and finally coming up with a plan for how the project can truly become public.

Can you describe how your interest in research evolved as a design student?

NP: That happened very naturally. In my second year of design school at Esdi, in Brazil, I already started organizing lectures. I was designing the posters for the lectures, but in fact I was more interested in curating and programming the actual events, thinking about the topics and the guests. I wanted to design discussions, thinking about how to create an environment that encourages people to share ideas. Additionally, I also designed and edited a publication that featured student projects and contained an historical overview of Esdi. That was my first experience digging an archive and trying to figure out how to deal with history.

Do you deal with your process of designing for example by consciously working in an experimental or a conceptual way?

NP: Depends on what you consider »experimental«! As a researcher, my work is all about reasoning. So if experimental is the opposite of »reasoned« or »rational«, then I’m »consciously conceptual«. But if experimental means looking for unusual angles, seeking oddities, complexities, brushing things »against the grain«, then I'm »consciously experimental«. So maybe I'm both?

How did your work develop during the last couple of years?

NP: I had a really good start after graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in 2012. My Bachelor’s project, the »Escola Aberta«, was a temporary, free of charge design school that took place in Brazil. The project attracted a lot of attention—I was for example selected to be part of the »Best Dutch Graduates« exhibition that year. Shortly after that, I moved to Berlin and started working part-time as an assistant for the graphic designer Julia Born. I still had a lot of free time to develop my own projects, mostly organizing events, workshops and lectures. Then in 2013, I was asked to curate a big exhibition for the International Graphic Design Biennial of Brno, Czech Republic. I had no prior experience in curating, so it was very overwhelming. After that project I knew that I didn't want to be a designer in the strict sense ... The exhibition was also very positively received and I ended up receiving a Swiss Design Award for it, which was a big step for me.
In 2015 I had a baby. If you are woman, once you have a kid, society sees you as a different person—especially in a rather conservative country like Switzerland. So I had to step back from my own practice, which was difficult for me, since I really take a lot of pleasure in it. I eventually went back to school and completed an M.A. in design research at the HKB Bern, and now things are slowly taking some steam again.

Do you have any role models?

NP: I have many! First and foremost my grandmother, who was very open-minded, always fought for her independence, and who really saw me for who I am. Then, at the Rietveld, Linda van Deursen. Linda is an amazing person. She is incredibly critical and sharp, but also very open-minded and generous. She has this incredible ability of bringing out the best in you. When I had this idea about my graduation project taking place in Brazil, most teachers were sceptical, but Linda was supportive. Then, Julia Born, another teacher at the Rietveld. Julia is extremely thoughtful and bright, she can really listen, which is a rare quality, and she has this ability of giving critical feedback in a very empowering way. Working for her after graduation was great; I could not only could see how she designs, but also how she manages the wholesome of her life—at that time she was the mother of a young child. Then more recently, Catherine Ince, a design curator working at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I had a chance to have her as a mentor during my M.A. Catherine is also incredibly thoughtful and generous—that seems to be a pattern for my role models! Then finally, from a distance, Beatriz Colomina, the director of the graduate studies program in architecture at Princeton University. Colomina is a brilliant researcher—maybe she’s more of an an idol than a role model! Hopefully I'll get to meet her some day. I guess all my role models are female!

Do you see an artistic mission in your work or is design rather a service?

NP: In general, I find this debate about design as a form of art or a service a bit pointless. I don’t know what there is to gain from it. What is the substantial difference between the two? I also find it difficult to describe what it is that I do in one word. At dinner parties, I still tend to introduce myself as a designer, but usually that's just to keep things short! My work is mostly self-initiated, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a social function. On the contrary, I would like to think it does! I have always been more interested in promoting discussions and conversations rather than in making things. For me, design can help create environments, where discussions and conversations can happen. And that potentially can lead to changing social structures!

What defines good design?

NP: I would rather not even try to answer this question! I think this line of thought inevitably leads to a kind of prescriptive idea about what design should be. Design can be so many different things for so many people! My version of it is, whatever makes sense for my own practice, but that is not necessarily right for others.

What does success mean to you personally?

NP: Being able to make a living from work that I enjoy doing. Living a comfortable life, being able to travel often, and not letting money be the ultimate decision-maker for what is possible!

How important is public attention to you?

NP: Not much, and I'm not really keen on self-promotion. For instance, I haven't updated my single-page website since I graduated from the Rietveld in 2012. When you work with research, everything is much more about the subject matter than yourself. I enjoy making projects that involve others, and I see myself as someone who can bring people together. That inevitably means that I often assume the role of the »director«, which usually attracts some attention, but public attention doesn't really motivate me.

Don’t you think that most of your projects need a lot of public attention to even work?

NP: I think my work is meant to be shared with others, but again I'm suspicious of this notion of »public attention«. We live in an age in which personalities have become brands, and everyone is constantly using platforms, such as Instagram, to enhance their human capital. I’m not very comfortable with this idea of »using myself« and »selling my work«, I actually find this rather disturbing.

Do you like giving lectures or workshops?

NP: Yes, both. I’m often invited to give workshops and I really enjoy teaching. I prefer lecturing about subjects and ideas over talking about my own work, but I’m usually expected to do the latter. So, I generally tend to use the opportunity as a means to advance my research, or to reflect on my own practice. Right now, I’m preparing a talk for a conference on Brazilian design, which will take place in New York City. This has been such a pain! It brought me into a kind of existential crisis, making me question »in what sense is my work Brazilian?«. So I’ll try to use this lecture to understand my position of being a foreigner in Switzerland. I will talk about the work of a Brazilian artist and designer who lived in Switzerland for most of her life, Mary Vieira. In a way, the idea is to hijack the lecture, so that it becomes less about me, and more about someone else.

Do you think there are special challenges for women in the design field?

NP: Yes. I never felt that I was unable to do something, just because I am a woman, until I had a baby. Having a baby was a turning point because it made me realize how society expects different things from women. Being a freelancer in a rather precarious discipline like design makes managing these two worlds—being a mother and pursuing an own practice—especially hard. Also the academia is still very patriarchal, with mostly men holding positions of power. So I think yes, there are still many challenges ahead!

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

NP: Yes, the classic example is not knowing if someone is truly interested in my work or if he (yes, he's usually a he), is only interested »in me«—that is always very disturbing! Also, just generally not being taken seriously, or being talked down to. Recently, I had the experience of working with a male publisher who was behaving in the most unprofessional way, for example by sending me five emails in a row, and even opening my design files. He then proceeded to explain me how an offset printer works over the phone! Can you imagine? I had to interrupt him to call his bullshit, and say that he was being extremely patronizing. I think I even used the word »mansplaining«—he had a bit of an attack! He couldn't see his own behavior! I eventually pulled out from the job, which made me really sad, since it was a book project about a couple of artists that I really love.

How equally do we work today?

NP: Not equal, but I think changing for the better. When Emilia Bergmark and I edited the book »Taking a line for a walk«, which focuses on assignments in design education, we didn’t base our selection primarily on gender. Actually at first, we hid all authors’ names from the assignments and selected them based on their content. Once the selection was finished, we analyzed the result: in the end, we had around 60% men and 40% women—so not exactly equal. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that most submissions were by male designers to begin with—although I’m not sure this accurately reflects the teaching landscape out there. Perhaps men are simply more keen on submitting their work to open calls. The book starts with an assignment about »form« and develops into »content«, »context«, and finally ends with »meta« or self-referential assignments. However, we discovered an interesting pattern: the beginning, which is more technical and vocational, is more male, while the end, which is more reflective and critical, is more female. Isn't that nice? I don’t know if we picked up something, but maybe that’s an important observation!
It’s not like there is less design made by women, it just doesn’t get as much attention as design made by men. Recently, I saw a picture of the winners of this year's Swiss Design Award. There were 20 people in the picture—15 men, five women. This image was posted online, but there were no reactions about this blatant gender inequality! I personally reached a point in my life where I have zero patience for this bullshit, it really makes me angry! I think it's our job to call the bullshit every time we face it! Last year, I attended a design conference, and during an all male panel, a guy talked about team diversity, showing a picture of four guys. I got really enraged and wanted to interrupt his lecture to call the bullshit, but then my friend Corinne convinced me to wait. We both calmed down and confronted him after the lecture in an articulated way. I think it is also very important to not fulfill the stereotype of the »angry woman«. We sure can be angry, but in general we win more if we react in a more strategic way.

How do you manage family and professional life?

NP: It has been a hard process. When we decided to have a child, I was 28 years old and my husband 26. Until to this point, I had always been really busy with my own work, but when our son was born, I ended up having to take care of him full time, because my husband was doing civil service, which is mandatory in Switzerland. He had to work full time while I had to be the main parent during our child's first year of life. I hardly had any time for myself, and on top of that, we were living in a small, very provincial town, where women are still generally expected to be full-time moms. So for many people I was simply »doing my job«. I had to fight for my own space, which was one reason why I decided on doing a master—to reclaim my own space. Through this hardship, I became aware of how my position in society changed, but also how it changed within my family, and in my own relationship. The moment when you have a financial imbalance as a couple, all the domestic obligations tend to fall onto the person that earns less, and that just reinforces this gendered division of domestic labour. This happens so seamlessly, so much by default, because of the way we were raised and socialized. So all of a sudden you look at your life and don't recognize yourself! This can be especially disturbing if you consider yourself a liberal and progressive person with a liberal and progressive partner!
Things are getting better now because the financial imbalance has lessened. That makes it possible to have more productive conversations about how to split domestic labour. But I think there is still a gap between the way I see things and how my partner looks at them.
We all have ideas about what our roles should be, and it just takes a lot of time and effort time to break free from them.

Which professional or personal goals do you want to achieve?

NP: To be badass! I have more mid-term goals, like ideas for projects I'm growing in the back of my mind, for example making an exhibition about the work and ideas of Mary Vieira, the Brazilian designer I was telling you about. Maybe also living in New York for a while? Or in Buenos Aires? In a way, I think that the biggest challenge in life is to find out what you are passionate about, what drives you. I think I have discovered that, so that makes me very fortunate. I realized that I don’t have to decide on being one thing, a graphic designer or a researcher or a curator, or whatever—it is completely fine to be somehow in-between, or to be all of those!

Which advice can you give to young female designers?

NP: This may sound like a cliché, but I think whenever you do things with passion, they turn out well, and that in turn, will generate other projects. I think that's the only advice that I can give. Otherwise, I think you, the young female designers, are the ones that should be giving me advice!

notamuse