Photo by Pablo Contreras.

On June 11th, 2011, we were asked to speak at Weapons of Mass Creation Fest in Cleveland, OH. Although most of us had some sort of previous speaking engagements, we were really excited and honored to take the stage all together. Being that WMCFest is a grass-roots DIY-type conference, with admission for the weekend being in the $30-range, we decided this would be a good opportunity to speak about engagement with the community, giving back and other ways we’ve learned to best engage with our local community and the design community at large.

Each of us tackled the subject from a slightly different angle. Jana spoke about engaging with your fellow creatives on a face-to-face, with no pretense. Then Katherine talked about how she’s managed to make her design career a little more meaningful by taking on pro bono work under Quite Strong. Victoria talked about how teaming up with other designers, rather than creating unhealthy competition, has helped her become a full-time freelance designer (and has help a lot of her Twitterverse find jobs too.) Jennifer spoke about how being the only developer in Quite Strong has helped bridge the language barrier between designers and robots, and encouraged everyone to engage in communities that they aren’t already involved in to do the most growing.

I was tasked to talk about our stance on women in design. I spent a lot of time convincing the audience that we aren’t militant Amazonian women, and that all we want to do is encourage and empower female creatives. I touched on the fact that most design speakers at conferences are male, and that most creative directors at big agencies are male, etc. I explained that that’s part of why we have the Lust List: in order to have a place for women to be inspired by and encouraged by other women who are doing awesome things. And to have a database of female creatives in case you’re looking to hire a talented individual.

As the weekend went on, I quickly realized that there was a huge difference between our talk (and the talk of the only other all-female speaker Jessi Arrington) and most of the other male speakers. The way in which we talked, the subject matter, and the way we presented the content became really obvious. While our talk was all about loving the people around you and supporting other designers, and Jessi’s talk was about the support she receives from her family, friends, and officemates, most of the other talks were a lot more, well, male.

Part of Jessi Arrington's talk included a birthday rainbow parade for WMC Fest creator, Jeff Finley. Photo by Pablo Contreras.

I mean that in the best way possible. Most of the other speakers came on confident, assertive, full of stories about the triumph of self-initiated projects. They cursed, they “told it like it is”, they encouraged everyone to be like them: Make some shit. Believe in yourself. Watch the riches unfold. Mig Reyes said, “Fuck the Police. Make Wachuu Want.” Aaron “OKPants” Sechrist boasted that money is the best thing ever, ’cause it gives you more time to do what you want. This went on for at least 15 of the 20 speakers, ending with the grand daddy of “Fuck You”, Aaron Draplin. If you’ve never heard this man talk, I encourage you to. Not only is it entertaining, motivational, and inspiring, its also a clusterfuck of profanity, bold statements about what sucks and what doesn’t, rock and roll, and good old American testosterone.

In other words, most of the male speakers exuded male qualities: aggression, confidence, and assertiveness. All the female speakers exuded female qualities: compassion, emotional journeys, love, and stories about being good to one another. There was one clear exception to this observation, which was a very emotional talk given by Joseph Hughes of Northcoast Zeitgeist about his journey from being a journalism major to finding the confidence to pursue a career in design while overcoming his own self doubt. There was also a super cute couple on stage, Jenn & Ken Visocky O’Grady of Enspace, both college professors, who had some very entertaining and well-rehearsed banter between them that I would say was pretty gender-neutral or gender-equal. (Since, GOOD has even written a piece about the homogeneous speaker line up.)

Jenn & Ken Visocky O'Grady. Photo by Pablo Contreras.

To be perfectly clear, I loved every moment of the time I spent in that auditorium. I left inspired and motivated. And to be honest, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much if there was 20 emotionally-driven stories about friends, love and finding yourself. Its pretty great to get a little creative-Tony-Robbins action to encourage and inspire. Even as a woman, I realized I enjoyed a little more testosterone on stage. Which, on the long drive home, brought up some really interesting questions in my mind:

Should we be encouraging women to develop more qualities like males in order to get more female speakers on stages? Or should we, as a society, aim to grow more in tune with our more personal sides and to value more female-centric qualities in speakers? Or, perhaps, a little of both?


  1. “Should we be encouraging women to develop more qualities like males in order to get more female speakers on stages?”

    As long as any of us as individuals attempt to be anything that what we are in an effort to change another it will be nothing more than manipulation. A character can draw attention, but real change will only come as a result of unfeigned authenticity.

    The only trouble with authentic living/speaking is that it is a much quieter voice… heard by few.. and requires real honesty.

    and to allow yourself to speak the kind of truth that brings patient but lasting change requires real courage.

    The unfortunate lack of which most of us men try to cover up with loud voices, machismo and narcissism….

  2. I’m sorry I missed your talk. Out of the ones I did see, Joseph’s was the most personally meaningful, Jessi’s was the most positive, and Draplin’s kicked the most ass; for what it’s worth.

  3. GOOOOOOOD points. I personally would love it if women could talk about being designers without talking about being women. (And I AM a woman.) I just get a little squeamish every time other women say we need to be “empowered” in the workplace. If we could put the focus back on the work, I don’t think it really matters what your gender is. Ultimately, good work is good work. If you know your stuff is good and can present it with the confidence and authority that it IS good, that won’t make you “more like a man,” – it’ll just make you a better speaker, who can hit points with everyone.

    I just want to go where the work is good. Don’t care what gender is there, as long as there’s awesome stuff when I arrive.

  4. I read quotes like the one from Michelle, and it’s depressing. Unfortunately gender does matter.

    A List Apart just released their industry survey for design. Bias perceived by women went down 4% and so did our pay.

    We can talk about how it’s about the work and we should ignore other details, but that’s an ideal and not a reality. I don’t think it’s an act of clear and conscious malice; nobody in design is sitting around thinking of how they’re going to screw women over.

    The reality of it is that women are treated and valued differently, conscious or not.

  5. Sad but true… I reckon there is a lot to be done and to fight for when it comes to gender and equality not only in design world, but all over the place. This is one rich topic we could spend hours unfolding with coffee and Cheez-its in hand. Every time I pull the dumb example of sports, my head ends up on a stick.

    But seriously, what you guys have started I find it to be really really inspiring, and I’m really grateful and honoured you’ve decided to include these pictures on this post.