Rethinking Women Talk Back The View at 2018
This Master’s thesis is in two parts: The main body of the thesis was completed in 1998 and the second part – a new Introduction and Epilogue – was completed 20 years later in 2018. My original research question was to explore the role of women’s educational experiences in schools of industrial design as a factor in explaining the low numbers of women practising industrial design. To explore this hypothesis, I embarked on a mixed-methods research project that involved qualitative interviews with women in three Canadian schools of Industrial Design: Carleton University in Ottawa, ON; Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC; and the University of Calgary in Calgary, AB. The result of the 1998 empirical investigation provided evidence that many women in these three schools of industrial design encountered a chilly climate in their studies that suggested that this was a contributing factor in their decision not to pursue active careers as practitioners in the field of industrial design. In the intervening twenty years, the percentage of women students in schools of industrial design has dramatically increased to represent 50% of the student body or higher, and yet the paucity of women practitioners remains much as it was in 1998. Recent statistics put the number of practising female industrial designers in North America still at between 5% and 25%. In 2016, I was re-admitted to the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary to revisit and update my original thesis from the 1990s. In a new Epilogue, I assessed both what has and has not changed in the relationship between industrial design education and industrial design professional practice in the last twenty years. In the profession itself, much has changed in terms of the application of new technologies and processes. As well, the profession has entered a period of introspection as to its purpose, practice and future and many have proposed a more socially responsible approach to design. Turning to schools of industrial design, while the curriculum has become more multi-disciplinary and technologically-focussed, feminist pedagogy and critique has made virtually no in-roads. In 2018, I must sadly report that the chilly climate for women in schools of industrial design remains much as it was in 1998. My general conclusion: Feminist scholars need to “rebuild” a body of feminist critique of industrial design as they did in the 1980s and 1990s – to undertake new empirical research of women’s experiences in industrial design education, to once again let women’s voices be heard.