A design for (male) life

Design team Two Girls talk about why they are challenging the perimeters of design.

A design for (male) life

Nothing underlines the cost of designing the world through a male lens as much as the crash test dummy. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from whiplash when a vehicle is hit from behind – a statistic that cannot be divorced from the fact that the typical crash test dummy used for testing by the majority of automotive manufacturers was based on the physique of an average male. 

The predominately male perspective of the design industry is underlined by the lack of gender parity working across the industry. According to the Design Economy 2018 report from the Design Council, 78% of the UK workforce in this sector is male – that's much higher than the proportion of men in the wider UK workforce at 53%.

Vicki Leach (pictured above, right) and Lucy Weston, a wife-and-wife design team known as Two Girls, are seeking to challenge this by creating products to both highlight the importance of creativity and champion diversity across the industry. It's a pursuit that they successfully combine with their day jobs.

Weston is a senior art director at Great State, where she specialises in digital media, illustration, animation and video production. Leach is design director at Deadgood, where she designs furniture, lighting and accessories for commercial interiors worldwide.

What started as a passion project in 2017 with the launch of a "Designers rule" pin has now become a thriving online business that celebrates the creative industries, promotes diversity in design and highlights the importance of undervalued creative subjects in schools.

This year, to raise awareness of under-represented women in design, Two Girls launched a new pin, "Girls who design", to ignite a conversation about bringing more diversity to creativity. Some of the profits from sales of the pin were donated to The Girls' Network, a charity that helps inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with role models.

Changing the narrative

Explaining what the "Girls who design" pin means to her, Weston emphasises the importance of changing the narrative for women in the design industry: "Only 11% of creative directors are women. This pin is simple. We want to empower women in the design industry to wear this pin and feel proud of what they do. Not only this, but this pin is a perfect conversation starter to bring more diversity to creativity. Let’s help raise that number up to 50%."

Both Weston and Leach believe that the importance of inclusive design is rising up the business agenda. Leach explains that while the furniture industry is an incredibly male-dominated space, a shift is afoot. "Workplace design style used to be very corporate, hard and clean," she says. "Things like comfort weren’t considered – but a cultural shift is happening when it comes to the design of communal spaces, which are inclusive of everyone."

Meanwhile, Weston points to women who are getting together to support each other’s work. She adds: "We are both passionate about equality in the industry. For us, our design thinking doesn’t suddenly switch off in our heads at 5pm. With Two Girls, we don’t have to get our ideas signed off by a client and we can create tangible products fast." For them, complete creative control is liberating.

It is not just a passion project; Two Girls is also an income stream for two design brains who recognise the power of the cross-pollination of ideas.

Embracing the empathy economy

For Weston, understanding the importance of the female lens is a trend impacting all aspects of business. "Millennials and Generation Z are more caring and consiered about the brands they choose to purchase from," she says. "From banking to the high street, brands are having to become more transparent and ethical about how they operate."

Leach adds that we are in the midst of a cultural shift when it comes to activism and inclusivity: "Whatever sector you work in, there is a need to look for more sustainable and environmentally sound solutions."

For the industry, this means putting in the ground work to recruit more diverse talent and ensure that talent has the space and support to thrive has never been more business critical. Weston points to the success of organisations such as SheSays and Badass.gal in creating platforms to support and promote female designers: "There are plenty of talented female designers; it is going to take time [to reach gender parity], but over the next few years I expect to see more balanced teams."

Hopefully, this new wave of inclusive creativity will consign the one-size-fits-all crash test dummy to design history.