notamuse

I did not know any successful female designers, so I wanted to try harder.

Isabel Seiffert

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

Simone Koller & Corina Neuen­schwander

After their diploma at ZHdK, and their master’s degree at Werkplaats Typografie in Arnheim, Simone Koller and Corina Neuenschwander gained some work experience both in agencies and as freelancers. They met again afterwards in Zurich to found Studio Noi in 2015. Their work ranges from art direction and editorial design to visual identities and digital applications in the fields of art, culture and commerce. In the interview they explain their approach towards design and why it is beneficial to work self-employed as a mother.

How do you typically work on your projects?

SK: This depends on the size of the project. For the most part, we first discuss what it is all about, the most important questions, and exchange ideas. Then, each one does research and brainstorming and implements initial approaches. We give ourselves a clear time frame so that designing becomes something playful. Then we discuss our ideas and decide which directions might be interesting. In the case of smaller to medium-sized orders, one of us then implements and communicates, while the other provides advice. For large projects or long-term projects, we divide or work together. It is important that we represent each other at any time.

How do you balance the conflict between economic efficiency and your own demands on the quality of design?

SK: It's important to be able to stand behind what is being published. Therefore, we always take the time to examine even details that the customer probably does not notice, but which are important to us. For orders with a detailed cost estimate, we check whether our effort is still within the scope. But there are also projects, for example publications, where we work with flat rates and do not pay attention to the hours. For this, we mostly have a greater creative freedom.
CN: As time goes by, you eventually get better with judging your own efforts and make realistic offers. For this reason, we began to measure our working hours and are able to draw conclusions after each project. By doing so, we see whether we have underestimated certain work steps or have neglected them in our calculations

Do you actively go on acquisition?

CN: We had rare success with active acquisition. We find it much more effective to keep in touch with people and to communicate with others. Not only because we hope for jobs, but because we are interested in what is happening around us and what concerns others. In addition, we also occasionally work on self-initiated projects and organize workshops. With these projects, we are creating a network that creates new orders from areas that we find exciting.
SK: We are rather active and by that, visible. This also helps us to expand our competencies and to play a more active role in contracting. We like to collaborate with people in whom the customer-service relationship is not so important, and with whom we can communicate openly.

What does your design process look like?

SK: That is extremely different. We work more conceptually and content-based. We are not necessarily the right graphic artist when it comes to making a »cool poster«—we can not do that very well. We need an interesting topic, we like to work with existing image material and, for example, go into archives or develop an image concept with photographers. Editing has high priority.
CN: For »Swiss Films«, we have suggested, for example, that instead of working with film images to use language. A strong concept, which can be further developed, interests us more than a beautiful surface on which one can build nothing.
SK: That does not mean we do not appreciate the beautiful surfaces—on the contrary. But for us, the discussion of a concrete subject always comes first, after which form comes into play. Intuition also plays a role. In the case of publications, for example, we often ask ourselves what feelings we want to convey. What character would the book have if it were a person? Is it accessible, it is rather complicated, is it stubborn, is it playful? We also pay attention not to be constantly sitting in front of the screen, but to sketch first ideas by hand, to print something and to hang on the wall, with scissors and paper ... This change between analog and digital helps us not to get lost in something unimportant.
CN: Basically, I rather do a lot of drafts, while Simone is pretty fast on an idea and continues to follow it. This is how we complement each other: the one tries out more, the other is more detailed. As a result, we usually find a common vision.

Do you try to involve new approaches into your work or rather rely on what you already know?

SK: Of course, we try to make any work look different or works in a different way. At the same time, we have a certain approach to design, since it is difficult to completely reinvent each project. The time at Werkplaats Typografie was very good, because we have learned to separate ourselves from safe solutions. One should dare more, experiment and not only design things that trigger a feeling of well-being and repeat what is already familiar. Concerning this, we could certainly be much more radical. At the same time, it is important to us that design makes sense, is readable, so that the form does not function over the function. Often, it is a struggle between radicality, consistency and readability.
CN: We are always trying to express new things about materiality and experiment a lot in this area. Our sources are our archives, which we put together when we found the office. We look at many things: their texture, how something is bound, different printing techniques.

What inspires you?

CN: We're not the ones who know all the graphic design blogs. I get my inspiration from my environment, from art, architecture or traveling. And also from the everyday life. Sometimes, at first glance, there seems to be something insignificant to me that can suddenly lead to a project.
SK: The inspiration certainly does not arise in front of the computer. That is why we try to keep our working days as short as possible and to have enough time for leisure activities. Visiting exhibitions, going to the theater ... A lot of ideas come from reading, something I find exciting and that inspires me. When we brainstorm, we also go to the mountains.

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

CN: We do not see ourselves as pure service providers. It is important to us that we are not only an executive force, but also develop a solution together with the customer. We question ourselves a lot and are very involved. For example, we often work with different material than what was provided to us at the beginning of a project. It also happened that we found a publication unnecessary and suggested something else.
SK: There are graphic artists whose work resembles art. For artists' publications, for example, the graphic artist's contribution is sometimes so large that he becomes a co-author. Many artists question conventions, animate to re-read what is known, or challenge our perception. What we do is not that different. Nevertheless, I would not describe myself as an artist.

What does success mean to you personally?

CN: For us success means that we can work independently and pay a regular salary from which we can make social security taxes. And that many of our customers want to cooperate with us again and again, so that through the work accomplished, we are always generating new orders.
SK: In our profession success cannot be equated with financial success. We will never achieve financial success in standards as usual in Switzerland, no matter how successful we are as graphic artists—unless we were employed as art directors in an agency. What is more important is that we can work on exciting projects, are our own bosses, can allocate our time ourselves and take a day off whenever we want to. At the same time, of course, we are also fully responsible for the work getting done, the business running and we are able to pay the bills at the end of the month.

How important is public attention to you?

SK: We do not have time to actively work on our public appearance. At the beginning of our collaboration, we were fortunate enough to receive a lot of commissions that reached a wide public, such as the catalog of the most beautiful Swiss books. At the same time, we were able to draw attention to our new studio.
CN: We do not post something new every day on our Instagram account. I personally, I am not a great fan of self-marketing. Our active achievement is to deliver a lecture from time to time. At this point, we enjoy talking about our work. We find it important to be a role model.

Are you represented in any professional networks?

CN: We are in contact with a lot of friends, but we are not in any association.
SK: The word »network« for me is rather negatively connoted. As if you only wanted to make contact with people from whom you hoped to gain an advantage. But in fact, such initiatives are great to get to know each other and exchange—especially if you are not in the privileged position to have many contacts.

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

CN: I do not think this issue plays a particularly important role in the area in which we work. Often we are also asked because we are a women's office.
SK: It is true, that we hardly experienced any negative situations. On the one hand, until now we’ve had the privilege to work with people who had a feminist attitude or were at least sensitized to issues of gender equality. On the other hand, a certain behavior surely helps. When we founded Studio Noi, we already had some years of experience. It helped to behave more confident and calm towards clients. At the same time, I find it naive to think that every women is responsible for experiencing negative situations or not. Studies, for example, show that people in positions of power primarily promote those who resemble themselves. White men promote white men. I even noticed this kind of dynamic in my personal environment. Men supply each other with jobs and create invisible alliances to strengthen each other. At the national level, however, we are much less advanced in Switzerland as we should be: women still earn less for the same work. The topic paternity leave does not have a chance in parliament. Not even, if ridiculous two or three weeks are being demanded, instead of the one to two days prescribed by law. I recently read that 60% of women work part-time, but only 13% of men. As a mother, I am also regularly asked how I handle my work. Whereas my boyfriend never gets asked that question. That such stark differences between the sexes still exist, annoys me.

Do men and women differ in the way they work and are they different to work with?

SK: I do not think you can say that in general. When you look at works, you cannot really tell whether they were made by a man or a woman. It is possible that women are more conscientious and are more likely to stick to agreed terms—but that can not be generalized, it is rather type-dependent.

Does family planning affect your self-employment?

CN: We've noticed that many graphic designers who are hired receive less responsibility as soon as they become a mother and no longer work full-time. If you are self-employed as an individual, it is harder to intercept failures. Family planning was therefore one of the reasons why we joined together: we can support each other and continue to work on interesting assignments, even if one of us is in maternity leave.
SK: Over the last couple of months, we both have been getting a child one after the other. Together with an employee, the first one, then the other of us, threw the shop. Now we both work again, but not quite full-time, but would like to achieve as much as before. That is why we have a staff member who supports us. One reason for our success is also that we both have partners working part-time and who are equally involved in childcare and the household.

Do you want to grow with the office?

SK: We want to stay small. The bigger our studio, the more we would only care for employees, and we would have to worry about getting enough orders. We do not want that. It is important to us that we can design a lot—but of course it can also change.
CN: We do not want many employees. We do not want to bear such a great financial responsibility, but rather remain creative and free.

Which advice can you give to young female designers?

SK: Do not understand yourself as competitors. Exchange, support yourselves, and join together.
CN: Follow your interests and goals—a lot is possible if you really want it.

notamuse