Why is type design still so male?

There is now a growing movement of women type designers grouped under the moniker of ‘femme’ typographers – but why is such a definition necessary in 2020? Emily Gosling investigates

It’s hardly news that the creative industries have a gender problem: 2017 UK government statistics revealed that white men still dominate, with women filling less than 40% of jobs. While that gap is narrowing, the narrative of more women taking graphic design degrees but few reaching top roles in agencies and studios continues. In 2016, women reportedly made up only 11% of creative directors worldwide; and in 2018 women graphic designers earned £4,000 (6%) less than men each year, Design Week reported.

Such inequalities feel particularly evident in type design, an industry that often still seems yoked to the idea of being a ‘trade’ – a word loaded with certain ideas around masculinity (in similar ways to carpentry or plastering) and stereotypes of meticulous white middle-aged men that can feel exclusionary. It’s a depressing definition, too often underpinned by the idea that women are generally too daft for complex, technical tasks.

ENDURING HISTORICAL STEREOTYPES

That ‘boys club’ stereotype is rooted in typographic history. A 2005 essay by Sibylle Hagmann discussed the 19th century approach to higher education training that encouraged women to focus on ‘decorative’ occupations like weaving, textile painting, pottery and illustration; rather than ‘male’ disciplines such as designing lead type.

While clearly outdated, aspects of the notion that women aren’t cut out for technical, hands-on roles endure. Amber Weaver, author of the book Femme Type, says the few women-founded foundries she could find were mostly from women who’d just graduated. “I understand that pre-computers, type design was viewed as a ‘male-oriented’ craft. But today, we need to be pushing and inspiring women to pursue careers in type and show that you don’t just have to produce a text font like Helvetica, or design posters — there are so many things you can do now, like animating lettering.”

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes