5 Women Graphic Designers

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is one of my favourite museums in Washington, D.C. Although it is a relatively small gallery, they do a fantastic job of showcasing female artists throughout history, and I highly recommend making a visit. I loved their recent social media campaign which asked the question, "Can you name five women artists?", to highlight the gender bias that is so prevalent in the art world - both in the United States and internationally. 

The campaign inspired me to reflect on how women are shockingly overlooked in the world of graphic design as well. Can you name five women graphic designers? I strongly suspect that the average person would struggle to list more than one name, and as a female graphic designer I find that very disheartening.

In this blog post I will be answering the question myself and, to be honest, I found it quite a challenge as well. When I think back to my studies while earning my degree in graphic design, I'm almost certain that we never learned about any female graphic designers, even though the majority of students in my class were women. Sadly, this might not be that unusual: at the internationally acclaimed London art school Central Saint Martins, 70% of their graphic design students are women (compared with 50% in the late 1990s), however only 30% of the graphic designers covered in the curriculum are female (I found this statistic here).   

So, without much further ado, here are my five women graphic designers:

1. Lora Lamm

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Lora Lamm was a Swiss graphic designer born in 1928 who studied at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts before immigrating to Italy in 1953. She was a major contributor to the Milanese design style of the 50s and 60s, creating work for La Rinascente (a major Milanese department store), Pirelli, Elizabeth Arden (cosmetics), Olivetti and other Italian companies. She was the head of the creative department at La Rinascente from 1958-1962 and went on to partner at Frank C. Thiessing, BSR., handling exhibition and packaging design and freelancing. 

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2. Cipe Pineles

Cipe Pineles was born in Austria in 1903. She graduated from Pratt Institute in 1929 and became assistant to M.F. Agha, then art director of Condé Nast publications in 1932. Working with Agha on the design of Vogue and Vanity Fair, Pineles learned how to be an editorial designer. She went on to become the first female art director of Glamor magazine in 1942 and during WWII she art directed and put her distinctive mark on Seventeen magazine as well. Pineles left Seventeen to go to Charm magazine, then became an art director for Mademoiselle, and in 1961, she became an independent consultant designer and teacher of design. Pineles taught editorial design at Parsons School of Design up until the mid 1980s. She was the first woman in the New York Art Directors club and the first woman to be inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1975.

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3. Paula Scher

Photo © John Madere

Photo © John Madere

Paula Scher is probably one of the most famous women graphic designers I can think of. For good reason, as she was the first female Principal at Pentagram. I really recommend this interview with her if you want to find out more about her.

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4. Betty Willis

A handout picture provided by the Las Vegas News Bureau (LVNB) dated May 13, 1998, shows Betty Willis, designer of the iconic 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign. Darin Bush / LVNB / EPA

A handout picture provided by the Las Vegas News Bureau (LVNB) dated May 13, 1998, shows Betty Willis, designer of the iconic 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign. Darin Bush / LVNB / EPA

Betty Willis is best known as the designer of the famous 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign. She was one of the city's first commercial artists and started her career in the 1940's designing newspaper ads for Vegas shows. In the early 1950's she began designing neon signs, two of which were the Blue Angel motel sign and the Moulin Rouge casino sign. I really recommend this very amusing New York Times interview which she gave when she was 81-years old, it shows you what a firecracker she must have been! 

Image via, you can actually see this sign at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas in their 'neon boneyard'!

Image via, you can actually see this sign at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas in their 'neon boneyard'!

5. Jacqueline Casey

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Jacqueline Casey was hired in 1955 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to design their summer sessions materials. She quickly became an important figure in MIT's pioneering Office of Design Services which was among the first in the nation to hire a designer to represent it graphically. Casey was director of the Office of Design Services from 1972 to 1989 before retiring and becoming a visiting design scholar at the MIT Media Laboratory. She was a woman in a man’s world, not only in the publications office, but also in the MIT community that served as her clientele.

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