Sitting with the mess is a research project by Nina M Gibbes for the fulfilment of the Master of Communication Design degree at RMIT University in Melbourne. The project investigates how designers are making space to address the inherent gender and cultural biases present in the canon of graphic design and in the wider industry. This research project comprises a series of interviews with design educators and designers, as well as the development of a practical workshop for designers and students to engage with messy design history through the construction of crossword puzzles.

While this website houses the completed project for my master’s degree, I must acknowledge that this is an ongoing project and a constant work in progress. It is a space that will shift and change over time as I learn, discover and talk to more people. If you would like to speak with me or be involved with this ongoing project please get in touch, I would love to talk and make work with you.



This exegesis was written as the accompanying dissertation for this master’s research project. It explains in detail the steps I took during this project and the challenges and successes that came with it. Like all work in this space, it is not perfect, nor is it finished. There is always more work to be done. This project will grow and evolve over time as I continue to chip away and make space for this messy work.


This exegesis presents a practice-based approach to research into the subject of designers and design work that exists outside of the western notion of the design canon. It will propose and present an argument that the western design canon—predominantly taught and accepted as mainstream design history—possesses a gender and cultural bias that must be addressed to create space for marginalised voices and promote equity in the wider industry. This is due to the canon being framed from patriarchal and colonial power structures that have influenced design historiography. Alternative approaches to teaching design from the perspective of an intersectional counter narrative for graphic design history will be discussed.

Additionally, the exegesis advocates for the strengths of self initiated spaces such as design collectives and workshops that foster communities to explore and sit with messy design history, in an effort to dismantle legacy systems that uphold design icons, sustaining the invisibility of women and other marginalised voices in design. The research was conducted through three distinct phases, and the methodology for these research phases included a series of interviews conducted with seven graphic designers and educators from various countries, and two trial workshops for designers to engage with messy design history. The outcome of this practice-based research project is to shine a light on the important work being done to make space for these lesser known design stories in university contexts as well as outside the institution through self initiated practices.

Literarture Review

This literature review covers key points in the discourse surrounding feminist design history and practice, however I must acknowledge that this discourse is densely detailed, with many relevant publications that inform the literature. This literature review will examine the relevant literature surrounding the complexities of representation in the graphic design canon. My aim is to illuminate the need for a reexamining of how design theory and practice could be researched and taught, through intersectional counter narratives for graphic design history, in an effort to dismantle patriarchal and colonial power structures present in the canon, which is linked to inequity in the wider industry.

In 2009, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED talk about the dangers of what she refers to as ‘the single story’ (TED Global, 2009) . What Adichie means by this is the danger of depending on narratives that present narrow, one-dimensional views of people, places and history, as she states:

“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power...Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali (an Igbo word that loosely translates to “greater than another”): how they are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power has the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person” (TED Global, 2009).

In graphic design history, a narrow yet still highly popular story tells the history of design through the eyes of a cisgendered, male, white, western and able-bodied individual. This narrative is problematic because it has foundations in patriarchy—a form of societal power—that leave the contributions of women and other marginalised voices in the profession invisible and undervalued.

While slow progress has been made, gender inequity in the graphic design profession remains present. This is evident through the gender imbalance at design conferences, recipients of design awards, participants at festivals and exhibitions of graphic design practice, and written accounts of historical figures in the design canon – the majority being male. In January 2020, AIGA reported on the gender representation at 30 design conferences that took place in 2019. The published results revealed that men continue to hold the majority of speaker positions at conferences with the average being: ‘42.3% women and 0.5% nonbinary folk spoke at design conferences; 66.6 of design conferences had more men on their lineup than any other gender.’ (AIGA 2020, para. 3) Perhaps the most concerning issue raised by the AIGA editors is that:

‘design conferences are often positioned as utopian gatherings where the industry tries to imagine new possibilities and foster new thinking. That men continue to receive the majority of time on stage at conferences is concerning—when a conference gives a designer the opportunity to speak on stage, it’s a statement that their perspective is valuable to the design community. If the majority of those given the stage are men, the implicit suggestion is that the most valuable perspective is that of a man’s.’ (AIGA 2020, para. 2)

To reinforce the dangers of the single story pointed out by Adichie, design history has a gender and cultural bias that over decades has devalued the contributions of women and other minorities which has sustained a narrative that is one-dimensional. As a result, the heavy drive of this narrow narrative perpetuates inequality in the wider graphic design industry, and sustains the invisibility of women and other minorities and their relevant yet complex stories.

In 1986, design historian Cheryl Buckley wrote about the possible reasons for the omission of women from the visible history of design. Buckley hypothesises that this is the work of patriarchy and its inextricable relationship with capitalism influencing design historiography, and is a driving force behind women’s limited access to particular design professions and senior positions. Buckley analyses this in detail in her seminal text Made in Patriarchy: Toward a Feminist Analysis of Women and Design, but is quoted here specifically:

“The designs produced by women in a domestic environment (embroidery, knitting, and appliqué) are used by the family in the home rather than exchanged for profit within the capitalist marketplace. At this point capitalism and patriarchy interact to devalue this type of design; essentially, it has been made in the wrong place – the home, and for the wrong market – the family. So, one result of the interaction of patriarchy and design is the establishment of a heirarchy of value and skill based on sex.” Buckley (1986, p. 5)

Design historiography as a result, is impacted by patriarchal structures and design historians have played a crucial role in sustaining assumptions about the capabilities of women designers, as Buckley reiterates: “As a result, women’s design is ignored and unrepresented in the history books. Clearly, then, one of the main issues for historians to tackle, if they are to account adequately for the role of women designers, is patriarchy and its value systems.” Buckley (1986, p. 6) In January 2020, Cheryl Buckley made a return to the questions posed more than three decades ago in her original 1986 essay Made in Patriarchy to measure their validity and currency today and whether our values have changed. In Made in Patriarchy II: Researching (or Re-Searching) Women and Design, Buckley examines the influence of third wave feminism, the rapidly growing importance and acknowledgement of intersectionality and the complexities of identity politics that consider numerous perspectives such as class, sexuality, gender binaries, race and geography. Over the last three decades, the issue of visibility for minority groups in design remains constant and relevant but has become increasingly complex due to the growing importance of intersectional feminism (Buckley 2020).

Buckley’s comprehensive analysis of women’s relationship to design covers the vast number of design disciplines. To be more specific, an examination of how patriarchy has impacted women’s work in graphic design is presented by Martha Scotford in her seminal essay Messy History vs. Neat History: Toward an Expanded View of Women in Graphic Design. Written in 1994 in response to Buckley’s writing from 1986, Scotford notes the difficulty graphic design history has had with its dealings with women. She proposes a comparison between two perspectives: messy history vs. neat history. Neat history, as the term suggests, is an organised story of the designer, a model that ‘involved a white, male, middle-class designer working for a design studio or advertising agency with a client... this simplistic history has served the establishment (white, male, business, design and academic worlds) well.’ Scotford (1994, p. 371) The problematic issue is that ‘neat history’ Scotford (1994, p. 371) fails to acknowledge the various ways women designers work and the numerous activities they are involved with. Scotford highlights this:

“Contrast this with messy history: designers who do not work alone but in changing collaborations; design works which are not produced in great numbers; design practices organised around family life and personal issues; design that turns its back on mainstream design... [messy history] describes alternative conditions, many of which are more true of women’s practice and conditions than men’s” Scotford (1994, p. 371)

How do we begin to remedy some of the problematic structures that have framed the design canon? In Aggie Toppins’ Four Counter Narratives for Graphic Design History (2020), she proposes that an intersectional counter narrative for graphic design history presents the argument that history is pluralistic and partial and that an intersectional narrative of design history requires dismantling old legacy systems that have perpetuated the generating of design icons. Insead, “an intersectional history includes several perspectives on a single subject, poses questions rather than answers, and encourages the exchange of ideas rather than the “objective transmission of information.” Toppins (2020, para 16) This objective transmission of information is linked to patriarchal historiographical methods of recording graphic design history that we see so often in mainstream history books.

Not only is ‘Messy History’ Scotford (1994, p. 371) a term used to describe women’s relationships with design practice, it also extends to those of other marginalised groups including Black designers, and designers from queer communities. In 1987, design historian Cheryl D. Miller published what has become an influential text for graphic design’s intersectional counter narrative literature, Black Designers: Missing in Action, originally published in Print Magazine. The article presents a comprehensive explanation for the many complex hurdles Black designers face with gaining employment, and receiving recognition in the industry for their contributions to the field:

“The graphic design industry, which includes clients as well as practitioners, is highly selective in choosing its participants and, as a result, very few blacks succeed as influential, or even visible, graphic designers...How can those in the design industry continue to feel confident that they have selected the best when they allow their judgements to be compromised by issues such as cultural bias?” Miller (1987, p.58)

Closer to home, Australian design academic Dr Jane Connory’s research for her PhD thesis explores these complex issues with how history has been framed through a patriarchal lens, and the necessity for bringing in new perspectives:

“The redistribution of power, through all genders in historical narratives and archives, is imperative because its influence has been one sided for so long. Historical rhetoric is objective and written from a patriarchal perspective that favours the visibility of men. This one-sided view shifts power away from women and diminishes the visibility of their significant contributions and influence throughout history.” (Connory, 2017)

These complex systems of oppression against women, queer groups, and people of nonwhite backgrounds permeate all aspects of modern society and the systems with which these marginalised groups have to negotiate. Thus, the canon of graphic design history has not come out unscathed, and it is through the examination of design practice through the lens of an intersectional counter narrative for design history that we can open up spaces for other voices to be recognised.


In this section of the exegesis I will explain the reasons for the approaches I took in this research project and the benefits of a practice-based approach to researching and engaging with messy history, and how designers can approach and make space for this work. In order to sit with messy design history and to look at other stories of design practice—with the focus being primarily those of womxn in this specific research project—the approach to researching this complex topic was executed in three distinct phases.

Phase I involved a series of interviews with designers and academics in various parts of the world. The designers I interviewed about these biases in the visible design canon included Loraine Furter, graphic designer and educator at ERG Graphic Research School in Brussels, Nina Paim and Corin Gisel who work under the design research practice Of Common Interest, based in Switzerland, Dr Jane Connory, lecturer in Communication Design at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Catherine Griffiths, Aotearoa-based graphic designer whose feminist practice has highlighted gender imbalances in the graphic design profession in New Zealand, Ramon Tejada, graphic designer and Assistant Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and Melbourne-based graphic designer Zenobia Ahmed. The interviews provided an opportunity to engage in discussions about the various approaches designers are taking to address some of these larger structural issues with how the design canon has been framed, and how design historiography has contributed to cultural and gender biases over decades. Taking note of Toppins’ argument for including a plurality of voices in an intersectional counter narrative, these interviews allowed me to engage with and include multiple perspectives on this complex subject.

The various conversations I had with these designers and educators yielded many insights into the various projects and work being done to uncover and bring forward the contributions of womxn designers, and other marginalised voices. What was consistent amongst all of these conversations were two key factors: mainstream design history possesses a gender and cultural bias that must be urgently addressed, and in order to address this, conversations in informal spaces as well as in university contexts need to continue in greater numbers to foster a more diverse community. It is especially important for universities to address some of these issues through the structure of their curriculums, by offering new electives that include gender and diversity studies. Outside of the university context, the informal spaces established through collectives and workshops contribute to the effort to dismantle some of the legacy systems that uphold these biases.

Phase II saw me examine how design collectives can provide space to do this messy work. Using a practice-based approach to research, I formed a space to explore this mess by facilitating a workshop with Melbourne-based designers Zenobia Ahmed, Katie Fridman and Dennis Grauel. The workshop involved discussion and knowledge exchange of various texts collected, followed by a creative exercise in building crossword puzzles in response to the research we had done on various stories of women in design. This practice-based approach to my research into how we can make space for these stories of women and other marginalised voices in design, was a direct result of the learnings from the interviews from Phase I.

After learning and using the experience that was had in Phase II, Phase III saw me enter a parallel workshop with a number of other designers around the globe researching similar topics. Led by the feminist research organisation Futuress, the workshop, titled The Troublemakers Class, provided an additional platform for me to engage with and learn from others by sharing research and discussion. Additionally, I used Phase III of this project to refine the structure, materials and learnings from my first messy design history workshop in Phase II, resulting in rich creative responses and collaborative work. Using the crossword puzzle as a design tool to explore stories of women in design, the workshop as a model for research and collaboration provided an opportunity to devote the time, and attention to stories that may have been left out of mainstream design history books. Taking a feminist approach we can put spotlights on stories to bring them forward and highlight their relevance in an effort to dismantle hierarchies that have historically excluded marginalised voices. In this sense, the workshop as a space for research, became a pedagogical tool for shining a light on such practices, giving attention to their relevant yet complex stories.

In addition to the workshop functioning as a pedagogical tool, the crossword was an experimental approach to researching these numerous stories of womxn in design. The process of developing answers, clues, written contexts for the puzzles meant that the crossword maker had to engage with these details in order to build this puzzle. This process is a creative exercise that involves learning multiple stories. Furthermore, the visual process of building and designing these puzzles helped us memorise these histories. As designers are visual thinkers, creating a visual artefact that houses these stories is central to this process of researching and learning, and an output of my practice-based research. These artefacts also serve to confront individuals about their knowledge of design history and its potentially narrow perspective, and the importance of bringing these stories forward.

Chapter I

Discussion as a Tool for Uncovering Messy Histories

The first phase of this research project involved a series of in depth interviews with designers and collectives whose practice is informed by intersectional feminism to bring forward these lesser known stories of design. These discussions were an opportunity to research how designers are doing the work of addressing these complex issues presented in the literature review. Each of these experienced designers and educators have approached the issue of gender and cultural biases in graphic design history and industry inequity in a variety of ways. Such approaches include data visualisations, events, workshops, lectures, festivals, publications and performance. While these various methodologies were important revelations about including a plurality of practices and voices, another important discovery that was made during this phase of the research project was the importance of discussion itself as a tool for sitting with messy history.

My conversation with RISD faculty member Ramon Tejada revealed that discussion actually becomes a tool to make space for the collective voice rather than a singular voice that we see so often in graphic design historiography. To quote Tejada from our discussion: “The idea of the singular voice is over. I think that the collective voice is important, so we need to create work that allows a lot of people’s perspectives to come in, you engage with it, and then you make your own conclusions or mark your own interests; at least for the work around design history, design theory, and design practitioners.” (R Tejada 2020, pers. conv., 5 September, Appendix 1). Bringing in multiple perspectives and a plurality of voices is true of the approach that intersectional counter narratives of graphic design history assert, as Aggie Toppins mentions in her Four Counter Narratives. In this sense, discussion in groups—whether that takes place in a university context or in a self organised space—is key to dismantling some of the hierarchies that have framed the design canon.

The importance of discussion is further reiterated from my interview with Nina Paim and Corin Gisel (Of Common Interest), and then my subsequent involvement in their parallel workshop The Troublemakers Class. Entering this parallel space and presenting some of my research to other designers had a significant impact on the direction of this research project. Specifically, my previous title for this project was New Heroes: Creating Space in Graphic Design to Address Issues of Gender and Diversity. The discussion and the criticism that was received in the Troublemakers space was that the implicit suggestion of this title is that we needed to create new heroes for design. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, the inherent danger of creating new heroes perpetuates old legacy systems that keep other voices from being seen. If I had not entered this discussion space, I may not have changed the title and the rationale for my project to Sitting with the mess. While this discovery sits outside the first phase of my interviews, it is important to highlight due to my own revelations about the research into sitting with messy design history. From engaging with other perspectives, my insight into this research process was greatly influenced, pointing to the criticality of discussion as research.

Other revelations from my interview with Of Common Interest revealed that while discussions around intersectional topics are important, especially in universities, they note that the importance of these taking place in a safe space. Therefore, a desired approach for institutions is to include electives students can choose to study to access an intersectional learning experience. Corinne Gisel highlights the contradiction of enforcing intersectional feminist design pedagogies as mandatory subjects for discussion:

“I think there’s also the case that in general, queer, intersectional topics should be everywhere, they should not be a separate course. But, the political work of creating a safe space for the students who are interested in those topics or are from a marginalised identity, if you open it up by making it mandatory, it can create a space that is not safe. It can create really difficult emotional labour for some of the students who suddenly have to explain queer experiences to non queer kids and that is really hard, especially when it is this collaborative collective process.” (C Gisel 2020, pers. conv., 21 August)

Paim and Gisel explained that by offering these subjects as an elective, institutions can create a safe environment where the students are driven to that course through a genuine interest. They relate this to the work of Nina Simon’s metaphorical use of the “neon sign” in her book The Participatory Museum, as a signifier for spaces that are open to some and closed to others. By establishing a shared neon sign, students who join an elective class are unified by their common interest in the subject, and therefore have a safer and positive learning environment to discuss these subjects; many of which are sensitive and challenging to navigate.

Another important issue that surfaced through these interviews was that discussion can be used as an intersectional tool teachers can use in their classrooms. By introducing themselves as a designer and educator whose practice and identity is layered and complex, this establishes the precedent with students that sharing and discussing stories with one another is an important part of the design process. I discussed this at length with designer and educator Loraine Furter, who is quoted here from our interview:

“Quite often I introduce a topic by starting off by talking about why I am doing this and what my position is, so that the students can understand why I make certain decisions, what my perspective is. I want them to understand this path, and I am encouraging them to raise questions. But it is really up to the students to bring their own perspectives into the discussion as well.” (L Furter 2020, pers. conv., 14 August)

Complex identities meeting other complex identities engaging in a shared exchange of ideas and knowledge is essential to this way of teaching. This is also evident in the writing of bel hooks through her book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. hooks points to the importance of pedagogical styles needing to shift in order to create an inclusive environment, where gender, race, class and accessibility are acknowledged. Teaching through intersectional feminism highlights the need to encourage equality and to establish a safe space where students are aware that their peers have different perspectives, experiences and cultures, and engaging in discussion that involves various perspectives yields richer learning. These frameworks that intersectional feminism provides, are a valuable step towards teaching future design practitioners that not one gender or racial group should be valued over another. hooks underscores this by making it clear that education is desired by all:

“I enter the classroom with the assumption that we must build “community” in order to create a climate of openness and intellectual rigor… What we all ideally share is the desire to learn—to receive actively, knowledge that enhances our intellectual development and our capacity to live more fully in the world.” (hooks, 1994 p. 40)

To conclude, the process of engaging in discussion is a central approach to including a plurality of voices in design classrooms, as well as making space for multiple design narratives to deconstruct the biases that frame the canon of graphic design history. It is a tool that I have used throughout this entire research project, which has led to richer knowledge, and work.

Chapter II

Workshops and Design Collectives: Spaces Beyond the University to Explore Messy History

As mentioned in Chapter I, the importance of discussion became the lifeblood of this research project. Phase II of Sitting with the mess explored the space that workshops and design collectives offer for designers to sit with messy design history. By taking the practice-based approach of facilitating a workshop, I continued to utilise discussion as a tool to learn from other designers and the knowledge they brought with them. To use an age old expression, strength in numbers leads to richer research. Supporting the strengths of design collectives as a space for activism, Laurene Vaughan and Laetitia Shand highlight this in their book The Design Collective: An Approach to Practice (2012):

“Sharing politics and intent is integral to collectivism, working in collaboration and as a community enables these entities to realise shared outcomes and ambitions that are not limited to personal finances or commercial possibility, but they do embrace the creative potential of diversity… The catalyst and intention of groups of individuals coming together to design together varies from a desire for community, economic necessity and/or political intent.” Vaughan & Shand (2012, p.15)

In this space, designers can sit with messy history by forming collectives for knowledge exchange and bring in a plurality of voices. In the case of designers forming collectives to address some of these larger structural issues within the western design canon, a shared political intent is at the core of their reasons for mobilisation. The workshop as a space for collective discussion involved myself and three young emerging graphic designers Katie Fridman, Zenobia Ahmed and Dennis Grauel. Each designer was invited to share texts and research they had collected on various design histories, which were shared on the publicly available collection platform Are.na.

The second half of the workshop saw us extracting details from various histories we had discussed, developing clues to form the basis of a crossword puzzle on messy design history. The clues were written contexts for each history which were detailed and complex. For example, one clue was in reference to the work of feminist designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, which read “A pendant necklace designed to represent "strength without a fist."” with the answer in the crossword puzzle being “eyebolt”, in reference to the iconic female gender symbol the designer became known for using in her work. This exercise was further stimulating our discussion and exploration of these histories, as the formation of clues required thorough readings of the texts. From here we began inserting words into crossword grids, resulting in some very simple puzzles using names of women designers. This first attempt of the workshop yielded positive outcomes, however history is complex and requires time to sit with it.

The second refined version of this workshop took place over three days, which involved Dennis Grauel and Zenobia Ahmed. Allowing a significantly longer time for discussion as well as independent reading, the second attempt at a messy design history workshop yielded a richer outcome. Each designer had autonomy over creating their own visual responses to the material we had collected. Zenobia Ahmed discussed her experience researching in the Liberation in Print collective, a previous workshop organised by Futuress, and her interest in researching Kali for Women, India’s first feminist press. The conversations had in this space led her to continue to look at other practices of women in design, leading to a crossword puzzle on various stories of women in the printing, design and typography trades. Simultaneously, Dennis Grauel brought with him knowledge about typefaces used on posters for various labour union protests in Melbourne and how this has been an inspiration for some of his own typeface designs. As Dennis’ practice is primarily typeface design, his focus in this workshop was to research various women type designers, which resulted in a puzzle on women in typography.

My own contributions to this workshop included many different texts I had read, such as stories on the work of Sian Cook and Teal Triggs, the Matrix feminist design cooperative, Shiela Levrant de Bretteville, Cheryl D. Miller, Dorothy Hayes and Martha Scotford, to name a few. As I had read and spoken about many different stories, I produced a crossword that incorporated many practices, titled Some Messy Design History (Fig. 3.). While talking about the various problems with creating icons within a design canon, our discussion in the workshop shifted to the problems we see in industry at design conferences and awards platforms. Traditionally seen as utopian gatherings for new ideas on design practice, it remains a known problem in the design industry that the majority of these platforms are devoted to men. As such, this stimulating conversation led me to do a data analysis on the members of Alliance Graphique Internationale, which includes approximately 90 women in a membership of 545 (approximately 16% of the membership). Rather than create a crossword, I have chosen to design a poster highlighting these women’s names and the statistics surrounding this highly regarded membership to bring forward some of the inequities present in a group that is held in high esteem in the design industry.

It is through these many conversations, and the creation of a space to discuss different stories that a variety of responses and complex work was created. The experience of creating a collective and workshop space to explore messy design history further solidifies the importance of engaging in discussion and sharing with others to understand the complexities of graphic design’s pluralistic history. Furthermore, collectively researching and creating together not only allows for exploration of multiple narratives, but the technical design process provided inspiration for each of us. Each of our responses are visually different, but remain unified through their purple colour palette—a reference to feminism—and have provided me with valuable learning on the technical side of design practice; an equally important process.

Chapter III

Shapeshifting: Research Outputs Beyond Printed Books

In this chapter, I will explain the reasons for incorporating a puzzle workshop into the research on engaging with various messy design histories, and how exploring designerly outputs for research is beneficial to a design research practice.

Another significant point in the conversation I had with Of Common Interest was their numerous examples of how they materialise their research on various topics surrounding gender, diversity and identities within graphic design practice. For example, the collective created data visualisations of the gender statistics at the Swiss Design Awards in the form of baked pizzas. In Pizzas of Inequality: Gender Disbalance as Edible Statistics, Plain cheese represented male designers acknowledged at these awards, tomato base pizzas represented women and non binary designers, and pesto pizza represented design studios: “Bottom line is, it was a very cheesy pizza!” Nina Paim explained.

This hybrid between design object and performance is an example of how these design collectives are using design tools and visual approaches to research other than writing and publishing books or delivering formal lectures. Creating objects for discussion and interaction such as these allow Of Common Interest the freedom to address and bring forward serious topics in non threatening ways. Corinne Gisel elaborates on the reasons the collective works as shapeshifters: “When projects are initiated by us, the mediums and forms that we work in come from the content itself, but also the intention with who we want to reach and how we want to present certain findings and certain content.” (C Gisel 2020, pers. conv., 21 August)

To add to this, Paim explains that transformation within their design practice creates space for new discussions: “with an event, or with anything there’s so much room for new thinking and the ways that we talk about things. For example with a lecture – what is a lecture? So sometimes by rethinking these formats, you create space for other kinds of conversations.” (N Paim 2020, pers. conv., 21 August)

While books are an essential tool in this research process, they are not the only method, and not always accessible to all audiences due to financial, literacy, language and supply issues. Furthermore, to publish research on the topics of intersectional feminism in design practice, usually done through independent publishing, the publishing model can in some circumstances not be intersectional or fair as it requires a substantial capital backing and can become exploitative through the use of unpaid labour, overtime, and significant production costs, to mention some examples. Therefore, exploring research through other avenues such as websites, digital artefacts, performances, events, and exhibitions are all relevant approaches to the subject of research undertaken in these kinds of design collectives.

Additionally, Of Common Interest refers to themselves as shapeshifters, in that they explore these topics in multiple ways, usually informed by the content itself. This is also conducive to design practice that does not necessarily fit into the neat history idea of a designer who responds to a brief in an agency setting. As Scotford points out in her paper Messy History vs. Neat History. Strengthening this methodology, Ramon Tejada explained that books are sometimes seen as having a linear structure, that once printed, cannot provide space for transformation:

“Books—as much as I love them—might be too linear. I’m interested in how you start to make things that are not so linear. Even binding a book is almost like locking it in. In my teaching, I really love the idea of using workshops in classes, I really think of classes in themselves as workshops, so that it doesn’t function linearly and they have many layers and you can traffic through those layers.” (R Tejada 2020, pers. conv., 5 September).

It is these kinds of practices that are more reflective of messy histories, creating design work for non commercial purposes, and work in changing circumstances for changing audiences, and a fluidity of outputs for research to evolve from.

To explain the choice to include a crossword puzzle in my initiated workshop, the decision was to provide an opportunity to explore history through an artefact that can be recreated many times, rather than opt for a publication or written text. Graphic designers are visual thinkers, and a puzzle provided an opportunity to incorporate typography, visual forms and research into these histories that makers and solvers can interact with. Additionally, the process of building these puzzles provided space for Dennis, Zenobia and myself to examine the histories in greater detail, through the labour of forming informed clues for the puzzle. This entire research project, and all of its relevant and informative phases, has been housed in a digital space, which was another revelation about the importance of responding to research discoveries and the work that is produced from the content itself. This website, as a design object, allows for a plurality of stories and conversations and has the flexibility to continuously grow, evolve and make space for this work.


To conclude and reflect on this complex research project, my practice as a designer was undoubtedly influenced by this work. It is a topic in design practice that is in need of constant and continuous work, and the methods for neutralising some of these inequalities requires the fostering of a diverse design community. Communities—not just in design—include multiple people, voices and perspectives. If we want a democratic and diverse design landscape, we must make space for more than one perspective. As a graphic designer, my practice now depends on speaking with others to inform my processes, and I will continue to make space for these conversations to learn about the richness that this industry offers and the histories that have come before me.



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