The Inspired Four: Women in design to know

By Monica Tournoux

The second annual IDSA Women in Design conference left me feeling thrilled, excited, empowered, brave and stronger than ever to take on not only my work as an industrial designer but also to take on the world at large.

WID celebrated the unique talents, initiatives and challenges women in the industrial design industry face. It reminded us that now more than ever, our ability to innovate is influenced by the personal connections we make—and that everyone is strengthened by elevating voices from divergent backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

CEOs, entrepreneurs, trailblazers and more participated in this amazing event. Here are four inspired women worth knowing:

Nancy Perkins, FIDSA and Principal of Perkins Design Ltd., spoke passionately about her experiences, eager to inspire our room full of badass female designers to be change makers in design and the world. Nancy joined IDSA in 1974 and co-founded what is now called Women in Design in 1992.  Back then, the Industrial Designers Society of America had over 400 members, but fewer than 1% were women. Only recently has IDSA’s female membership risen to over one third—thanks in large part to Nancy’s relentless efforts. We know there is more work to be done, and Nancy energized us to keep doing it.

Victoria Slaker, CEO of Ammunition, a design studio out of San Francisco, offered great advice. 1.) If you ever go to Dr. Dre’s mansion, put on the gold, embroidered, white plush slippers at the front door. 2.) The best way to build a great client relationship is with trust and engagement. Bringing someone along the journey and helping them understand the why builds trust and encourages mutual respect. 3.) When hiring, screening for egos is as important as screening portfolios. 4.) The risk should be exciting. Victoria took a leap when branching outside her design position to start something new. Although it was risky, she was excited by the risk and knew she would stop at nothing to make it successful.

Marcelle van Beusekom, design director at IDEO, made a point to help us seek to understand. She took the whole crowd through an activity to evoke meaningful conversations. She had everyone choose sides when faced with stimulating questions like these: Will the future of a designer’s role be more curation or creation? Was your journey to design by chance or intention? Do you prefer coffee or tea? The intent was to encourage people to listen to different perspectives on various topics. (Want more? IDEO partnered with Sundance Institute Production to create the super cool video called “Conversations that Move,” which you can enjoy here https://creativetensions.com/)

Shujan Bertrand is an industrial designer and founder of Aplat, which sells creative, zero-waste totes. Shujan is the child of immigrants who spent time in their shop making small goods from alteration leftovers. She ended up designing soft goods commercially. But upon seeing the waste created, she was inspired to design a zero-waste product and process. It was inspiring to hear not only what she said, but the way she told her story of learning, failing and constantly trying new things to improve the overall design and manufacturing process. Her designs incorporate origami techniques that create unique folds and added pockets while reducing scrap. She’s doing this because it’s the right thing to do and hopes to set a new standard for soft goods manufacturing.

On the flight home from the conference, invigorated by the powerful women in the design world, I watched a double feature based on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, RBG and It’s about the Sexes. Ruth is a fighter for all women with her intellect, persistence and grace.

Because of Ruth, Nancy, Victoria, Marcelle, Shujan and many others, we’ve come a long way. But there’s still more to do.

Here’s to doing it right.

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