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To celebrate Women’s history month and especially International Women’s Day on the 8th March, we sat down together to take a look back at some of the most iconic female designers that have inspired our team. And it wasn’t easy! We could have made this blog 10 times longer. As we talked and Googled away, we remembered many iconic female designers that we wanted to include.
The list we arrived at is a mix of designers that showcase the incredible power of design and the way it can change how we work, rest, and play. Great design can make the world a safer, more enjoyable, and richer place.
It was a pleasure to read the achievements of the incredible women in this list, who made a positive impact on this world. They inspired us. And we hope they inspire you too.
By Stephanie Di Losa, Head of SME Design, Sonia Crozier, Senior Project Designer, and Natalie Cox, Furniture Consultant.
Florence Knoll is world-renowned for revolutionising the workplace. After studying under some of the world’s leading architects – including Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – Florence Knoll went on to meet and marry Hans Knoll. The couple then founded the Knoll Furniture company, which is still going strong today.
Knoll’s legacy goes on as she’s fondly remembered for ‘total design’ – marrying furniture and architecture, the Knoll Planning Unit, open office designs, beautifully organised modernist furniture, and fighting gender stereotypes. Looking around any office interior today, you can still see the influence of her work.
‘The single most powerful figure in the field of modern design.’ – The New York Times, 1964
In the 1980s, Susan Kare received a phone call from a high school friend who was a member of the design team at a computer company. The company? Apple. Kare went on to join the company in 1982 and became the Creative Director in Apple Creative Services. Kare made a bold impact as she revolutionised computer interfaces for good.
Designing digital fonts, Apple’s first computer icons, and making interfaces more relatable with intuitive pictogram images and humanised actions such as dragging items into a bin – she changed the way we use computers. After leaving Apple, Kare went on to work with more blue-chip companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Ray Eames was an American artist, filmmaker and designer who achieved wild success with her spouse, Charles Eames. The couple gained notoriety after they started experimenting with plywood. Their breakthrough innovation, a leg split, became a mass-produced product that received 150,000 orders from the US Navy after the Second World War.
Plywood design was just one of Eames’ feats. She left a legacy in graphic design, with 27 cover designs for the journal Arts & Architecture; plus, two of her textile patterns won awards in a textile competition organized by MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art). Ray and Charles were a team in a time filled with degrading stereotypes about gender but it never stopped them from creating revolutionary work.
‘Anything I can do, Ray can do better.’ – Charles Eames
Désirée Lucienne Lisbeth Dulcie Day OBE RDI FCSD, commonly known as Lucienne Day, enjoyed an incredible 60-year career in design. Mixing natural shapes together, Day created geometrical patterns that millions welcomed into their living rooms.
Day started making her name in post-war Britain, with her breakthrough moment arriving when she was asked to take part in the 1951 Festival of Britain. This is where the famous Calyx textile design made its debut as part of the Homes and Gardens Pavilion. Day went on to enjoy a successful career as she worked for giant retailers such as John Lewis, Liberty and Heal’s Fabrics.
Zaha Hadid was an incredibly successful architect, world-renowned for her striking designs. Futuristic, bold, and using typically harsh materials to create a soft look that demands attention – she had a unique style of her own. The Guardian described her as ‘queen of the curve’ due to her frequent use of curving façades. Hadid’s talent took her all over the world to work on many remarkable projects including fire stations, museums, ski jumps, train stations, and opera houses – to name a few.
Hadid was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 and her practice won the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011 – only the second practice ever to win the prize in consecutive years. Hadid was made a Dame by Elizabeth II for services to architecture in 2012. She also became the first and only woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects.
If you’re living in the UK, you see Margaret Calvert’s work everywhere you go. Calvert, after teaming up with typographer and graphic designer Jock Kinneir, designed many of the UK’s road signs. And they’re still in use today. Simple, clean, ingenious – her work changed Britain’s roads while making them a safer place to be.
Calvert also designed programmes for British Rail and Motorways while working as a part-time teacher at the Royal College of Art. In 2016, Calvert was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to typography and road safety.
Kazuyo Sejima has designed everything from watches to museums. Her style regularly features squares, cubes, and modernistic elements with a clean-looking shine. Sejima is best known for the New Museum in New York City, and the Glass Pavilion in Toledo, Ohio.
‘I have a dream that architecture can bring something to contemporary society. Architecture is how people meet in space.’ – Kazuyo Sejima
Sejima is one half of the architecture group, SANAA, and is the director of the architecture sector for the Venice Biennale – the first woman to ever hold this position. One of Sejima’s biggest feats is receiving the Pritzker Prize, which was awarded jointly with Ryue Nishizawa in 2010.