Sensing the difficulties that women in this young profession of industrial design have, I founded the group called the Association of Women Industrial Designers along with a number of graduate students in the industrial design department at Pratt Institute. The purpose was to have a mechanism for women to network and to form a community of women designers. We began in 1991.
AWID has become, a professional organization of designers. The founding graduate students have gone on to work in the field. Plus we attract design professionals.
It has been an exciting process to see what it takes to start a group, to set it in motion and to keep it moving.
At first we had our meetings on the Pratt campus and subsequently in Manhattan. We would discuss where we wanted the group to go as well as issues such as portfolios, job opportunities, where to find certain materials. Meeting and talking became an extremely valuable process for us, the start of a community. We designed a logo for ourselves and printed stationery. As soon as we started collecting dues and receiving funding we incorporated as a non profit organization.
One event that helped to establish us in the design community was our exhibition entitled "Goddess in the Details". This title is a play on the Mies van der Rhoe quote, "God is in the details".
AWID, along with Pratt's exhibition department, put together a show of product design by women which opened at the Puck Building in lower Manhattan and continued at the Schlafler Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. What was so thrilling about this whole process was that according to our research there had been only one other exhibition of industrial design by women and that was in Europe. We were aware of exhibitions of interior design, or architecture, or graphics, or textiles along with product design but nothing of exclusively product design by women. Our requirements were that the products be mass produced, no one of a kind pieces and no prototypes unless the work was in the process of being manufactured. We selected twenty designers making an effort to include as wide an array of products as possible.
Our purpose was to show that women are a vital part of the industrial design field, that women are on the cutting edge designing diverse things.
This was an excellent opportunity for us to acquaint ourselves with some of the worlds great designers and to personally contact them. Each member of AWID was in charge of getting in touch with a particular designer, of making sure the necessary products were available and sent. Some of these relationships continue which is another aspect of our designers community.
Our exhibition was an enormous success. We found out things we didn't know. Florence Knoll, a cofounder of Knoll furniture is still living. We borrowed a number of pieces of her furniture from the Metropolitan Museum. Two women have designed speedboats, Cini Boeri from Italy and Nancy Perkins. Perkins also designed an automotive battery. A woman named Judy Ringel Close designed Shaquille O'Neal's shoes. We found women who designed medical equipment, airport seating, furniture, lighting, computer systems, scanners, ceramics. The list goes on. Each AWID member working on the show wrote information about each designer. The exhibition was filled with photos, drawings and text. It was written about in the New York Times.
We wanted to document the exhibition so we did some fundraising. With generous contributions from Timex and Knoll, we produced a 60 page catalogue of the exhibition which includes over 50 photos plus text on each of the designers. Some of the text was taken from questionnaires the participating designers were asked to complete. There are very few documents about women industrial designers, consequently our catalogue has been ordered by designers and design libraries all over the world. It's a product that we have produced and it is providing us with revenue.
The way that we are structured is that we have a small executive committee which is like minded and cohesive. We can make things happen very quickly as a result of this. We have members who pay dues and receive our mailings. Men have joined AWID as well. We are not exclusively an organization of women. We appreciate men who are interested in what we are doing and want to support our efforts.
Usually, we hold meetings once a month. Sometimes these are networking gatherings. Other times we have speakers. We have had a patent lawyer speak, a head hunter, and a number of well known designers. Most recently we hosted a symposium on green design with speakers and samples of green materials. We packed the house.
What makes AWID such a great resource is the fact that any paid member can come to our meetings and immediately become part of a network. An AWID member can suggest a designer that she would like to have come and speak at a meeting and under the auspices of the group we can make an effort to arrange it. It is also exciting to see that our membership which started out as a student group has increased and now includes many professionals some of whom are quite well known. Our membership is also spread across the U.S. and into Canada.
Recently, we have been working on our web site. We get a lot of e-mail from all over the world. Again, since there is very little information about women industrial designers a lot of women who feel they are alone out there are pleased to discover our organization.
We publish newsletters which have news of our events and news of what some of our members are up to.
It is a delight to see the founding graduate student members of AWID who have gone on to start their own design businesses or get jobs in distinguished firms. These women in turn have become mentors for the following generation of younger women who have become involved with AWID. This mentoring process is one of the objectives of our group.
On a philosophical level, while we feel that good design is sexless, we do believe that women bring a sensibility to the field of design that is different from men. Women are excellent at juggling work and family which by necessity they have had to do. Women are also superb practical problem solvers. Women want to be making design decisions as well instead of men making the decisions for all of us.
AWID is concerned with making it easier for women to function in the industrial design field, with increasing the acceptability of the value of what women do and with exposing what women have already done. We«re doing this by creating a networking and mentoring system among our members, by being visible through our publications and on the Internet, and by being a vital part of the design world.
We'd also like to see the field rounded out so that more products that women use are designed by women or are more sensitive to women. Every time I get a mammogram I wish that the machines would be designed with more sensitivity. It is happening. There are more and more women in the field. AWID is working to help that balance.