Celebrating Women: 8 Leading Designers Discuss Overcoming Challenges In Their Careers

By Diana Bolboaca for Creatopy.com

Every year on March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day—a day dedicated to celebrating women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge, encouraging people to call out the inequality and gender bias they see.

It’s no secret that women, and especially women of color, are underrepresented in many leadership positions, and the design industry is no exception to the rule, according to research by The American Institute of Graphic Arts. No less than 53.5% of designers in the U.S. are women, yet only 11% are put in leadership positions. 

We believe that we are all in charge of creating an inclusive world, and for yet another year, Creatopy invites you to celebrate women every day. In this article, we’re celebrating the women we admire in design and honoring their accomplishments, applaud their success, and most importantly, acknowledge the challenges they faced in their journeys.

We reached out to leading graphic designers and visual storytellers from all across the world, and here’s what they told us about the challenges they face in their careers today:

Shanti Sparrow – Illustrator, Designer, and Educator

“One of the biggest challenges I face as my career progresses is addressing the lack of gender equality in positions of leadership. As a design educator, I have watched many new generations of designers graduate – the majority of each class is female, yet this is not reflected in positions of leadership within the design industry.

My challenge is to find ways to empower women when opportunities arise. Simple actions like referring work to women-founded studios, encouraging peers to charge higher rates or publicly recognizing the achievements of women help to encourage balance. Aspirations need inspiration, where possible, I try to be visible in my leadership roles – representation is incredibly important in addressing this issue.”

Shanti Sparrow

Shanti Sparrow is an award-winning Australian illustrator, designer, and educator at Shillington School of Design, currently based in New York. Shanti has poster and brochure design down to a fine art, finding her gateway to self-expression by experimenting with strong, descriptive typography and confident color palettes. She combines scanned textures, vector patterns, and different digital collage techniques and manages to create an illustration style that never ceases to turn heads and spark mind-expanding ideas.

Specializing as a conceptual designer, Shanti Sparrow also teams up with many non-profit organizations to raise funds and awareness for leading humanitarian, environmental, and research-based causes.

Check out her Behance profile.

Marta Veludo – Graphic Designer and Art Director

“Gender roles in my profession has never really been a question, mostly because I am a freelancer and I am neither in contact with toxic masculine environments nor do I have team peers I don’t like. But that changed since I became a mother 3 years ago! As career-focused as I was, I got quite shocked by the change. Mostly regarding time + creativity. 

Society always requires more from designers: stay up to date, do faster and better and crazier, and always push the limits. I realized that I don’t know many freelancing mother graphic designers that kept this rhythm. Even when I was pregnant, I researched articles about it and only found one by Jessica Hische.

I am invited to talks, and I am almost the only mother & designer. I can keep doing this because me and my partner are a team, and I am lucky to have found a team at work too, but I know society doesn’t treat us equally, in what is to be expected as a mother and a designer.

Marta Veludo is a trendsetting art director and designer based in Amsterdam who brings her one-of-a-kind vision into cultural and commercial projects. Marta has worked with many high-end brands like Google, Adidas, Reebok, Lego, Heineken, Vice, The Bookstore Foundation, and The Amsterdam Spanish Film Festival. 

She is inspired by popular culture, folk art, and pound shops. She believes that non-industry influences are an absolute must for creatives and that great ideas happen when engaged in everyday life activities. 

Follow her on Instagram.

Teresa Sdralevich – Designer of Political, Social, and Cultural Posters

“My biggest challenge as a designer is to give voice to a never-ending struggle, to serve the cause by creating images that may push mentalities a few inches forward. I would love to create empowering, collective symbols for women to share and use as a weapon. I am happy to see that more and more young women create their own signs and narrative.

I never experienced a negative bias for being a woman, but I reckon the absurdity of a profession where classes are usually 80% feminine: unfortunately most of these talented girls will be relegated to the less appealing and least paid jobs – if they don’t disappear altogether from the radars.

My visual education is filled by great works by male designers – I am thinking about a book that would pay a tribute to women designers overshadowed by their (male) partners or simply forgotten. Let’s fill the gap! It’s all part of the puzzle we can contribute to change.”

Teresa Sdralevich is an acclaimed graphic designer, illustrator, author, and silkscreen printer. Born in Milan, Italy, and currently living in Brussels, Belgium, her work on political, social, and cultural topics has been displayed in collective exhibitions and solo shows.

Teresa is committed to fighting inequality and violence towards women, and her stunning, avant-garde work has made a mark on the entire industry. Her love for visual storytelling, unique posters, and books has led her to contribute to several publications, both as an illustrator and author. She even wrote a prize-winning book herself: “The Poster Power: Great Posters and How to Make Them.”

From Haïti, Sarajevo, London, or Bologna, she loves to travel and host workshops to pass on the knowledge that she acquired thanks to other talented people.

Follow her on Instagram.

Jing Zhang – Designer and Illustrator

“The biggest challenge for me as a woman in design is the constant battle with family time. I’m raising a little girl who needs all my attention.
It is challenging to stay inspired and creative while looking after your family at the same time.
My day is strictly planned. So is my work.”

Jing Zhang is a London-based Chinese designer and illustrator. She crafts her own narrative with a vivacious, rich in detail style that makes whimsical information design accessible to the entire world. Jing’s clients’ portfolio boasts names like HSBC, General Electric, IBM, Canon, Samsung, and Adobe.  

If you are an avid traveler, you may have come across Jing’s work in the world’s hottest urban spots, be it at the underground stations or on maps and buses. Her illustrations have captured the public’s imagination, from London to Paris, Dubai, Australia, and the U.S. 

Check out her Behance profile.

Verena Michelitsch – Graphic Designer and Art Director

“For me, (my biggest challenge) in the second year of running my own business is mostly planning out projects and working on many things in parallel while I still have to be laser-focused on the design part. Good design just needs time and can’t be rushed, but often I really have to set myself blocks of hours to get things done. I love to work on many things in parallel, but this can also be challenging.”

Verena Michelitsch is an Austrian independent graphic designer and art director based in the city of New York. As a versatile artist, Verena handles everything from concept, visual expressions, graphic design, and illustration to editorial design and art direction.

At the core of her unique artistic vision are all forms of art, including shows and museums, but she also gets inspired by traveling and engaging in insightful conversations. Verena has worked with many big brands and companies including Nasa/JPL, Apple, Facebook, Bottega Veneta, and The Smithsonian.

Follow her on Instagram.

Charity Ekpo – Graphic Designer and Illustrator

“My biggest challenge would be not only being a woman but a woman of color in design. Because of the major lack of WOC (or for me specifically, black women) in these creative spaces, it can make you feel like you’re out of place. It’s easy not to see yourself in higher positions because those that occupy them don’t look like you, and it’s easier to feel or be tokenized.

I cannot emphasize enough how important representation is and creating work environments where everyone’s presence and thoughts are welcome to avoid issues like this and then some.

We should all be aiming to create more diverse and inclusive spaces no matter what kind of business it is. But especially in marketing and advertising where you’ll be connecting with audiences of all races, ethnicities, ages, gender identities, and sexual orientations. Your team should be as reflective of the audiences you’re looking to reach.”

Charity Ekpo

Charity Ekpo is a graphic designer and illustrator from Kansas, currently residing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She enjoys exploring with vibrant, energetic colors and playing around with sassy, uplifting subject matters via illustration, lettering, and animation. 

Charity has a razor-sharp vision and she masters an array of design branches such as video, GIFs, photography, and, naturally, graphics and illustrations. Charity loves to design work that aims to empower women as much as possible and encourage women to be unapologetically bold and strong. 

Follow her on Instagram.

Raewyn Brandon – Freelance Graphic & Web Designer

“I would say the biggest challenge for me as a woman in design, is juggling work and mum life simultaneously. Women are amazing multi-taskers, but it’s definitely something else to juggle looking after the home, baby, and trying to be creative all at the same time!”

Raewyn Brandon Design/ Facebook

Raewyn Brandon is a creative freelance graphic and web designer based in New Zealand. As a former Lead Designer at Behance/Adobe, her clean signature style has undoubtedly contributed to the expansion of digital minimalism. Raewyn lives and works in her studio in Mount Maunganui, and whether she’s working on a simple logo or the branding of an entire company, she strives to provide excellence in everything she does.

Check out her Behance profile.

Elaine Chernov – Illustrator and Design Director

“My biggest challenge has been knowing my value. Not just understanding what my rates should be, but deeply believing in my own value as a professional.”

Elaine Chernov is an illustrator and design director based in Los Angeles, California. She is passionate about hand-drawing, and with an elegant, unique illustration style, she turns everything she touches into art. 

With experience of over a decade, Elaine runs her own design and marketing shop, Shipshape Studio. She has worked with huge brands like Sprite, Bombay Sapphire, Organic Valley, and MillerCoors. When she’s not leading the design department of her studio, she loves to work on illustrations and hand lettering projects.  

Follow her on Dribbble.

Since we are celebrating women and increasing the visibility of their success, we can’t leave out Creatopy’s amazing graphic designer and illustrator, Gyöngyi Balogh.

Gyöngyi Balogh – Graphic Designer and Illustrator at Creatopy

“I fell in love with the richly illustrated colorful pages of manuals early in the first grade, and since then, art has remained my passion. I love to draw, experiment, and try out different environments simply by observing the world around me and learning new things every day. The biggest challenge I’ve experienced as a woman was probably dealing with very stiff briefs that would not allow me to deliver my creative input and expertise to a project.

The difference in tastes and preferences expressed through bitter criticism was also something that I had to learn to deal with. These might or might not be connected to the fact that I am a female designer. But while it’s essential to be flexible and adjust my style and voice to fit the client’s needs and vision, I believe that authenticity is also critical. Luckily, personal projects can help me with that.

Regarding criticism, it has now become fuel to creative fire and my motivation. I’ve learned to give 120% and let go of the negative things. I try to focus on the process and have fun creating—although it’s not always easy. At the end of the day, art is my biggest passion, and I can’t let it turn into something else.”

Gyöngyi Balogh

Gyöngyi Balogh is a passionate designer and illustrator at Creatopy, where she creates editorial and product illustrations. During her freelance career, Gyöngyi has worked on various illustration projects for advertising, children’s books, and products. She has also worked on logos, animations, and video editing projects.

Follow her on Dribbble.

We believe that we all have a part to play in the battle of forging a gender-equal world. Creatopy encourages and applauds all women’s empowerment initiatives in all industries and fields. While Women’s Day is a special occasion, it’s essential to celebrate and empower women every day.

Happy International Women’s Day! 

Diana Bolboaca is the Communications and Outreach Team Leader at Creatopy, passionate about creating meaningful connections and partnerships.
This article was originally published on Creatopy.com and reposted here with permission.

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