Jessica Helfand | Essays

Gentlemen Prefer Blogs

Watching Annie Duke beat out a half-dozen male competitors in the World Poker Tournament this week, I experienced an odd case of déjà vu. It wasn't because of some Proustian memory of my own poker prowess — far from it, infact. Rather, what I felt was an odd sort of parallel universe with something I've been ruminating about for some time: namely, my presence here on Design Observer as the sole female contributor, and the scarcity of women who regularly participate in discussions here on this site.

Before I cast myself as the Gloria Steinhem of weblogs (let alone the woman champion of anything) consider this: the blogisphere is expected to include ten million participants by the end of this year, yet I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of women readers who regularly post comments on this site. (You know who you are.) And while I suspect we have a good deal more who routinely visit here, I suspect that, when all is said and done, blogging remains a particularly male phenomenon.

And why? To the extent that women understand and appreciate the diaristic nature of blogging, one might easily expect them to proliferate in great abundance. And in principle, they do: a recent survey found that females are slightly more likely than males to create blogs, accounting for 56.0% of all hosted blogs. Over 90% of those initating weblogs are under the age of 30: of these, adolescent women slightly outnumber their male counterparts when it comes to hosting — not surprising in the sense that blogs can provide a kind of whisper-down-the-lane outlet for randomized teenage angst. The frequency with which most single-host blogs are subsequently abandoned by their owners testifies to the limitations of this type of audience. (Demographers refer to this as a "nanoaudience.")

And what can be said of female bloggers over the age of 18? Professional women working in technology industries seem to have yielded greater success with blogs that embrace issues of topical concern to their industry. More promising, still, is the idea that weblogs can bypass cultural and geographic embargoes, offering alternative channels for personal expression. The BBC reported not long ago that blogging has opened up communication options for women in Iran, where women host the majority of some 1200 Persian blogs.

Nevertheless, the phenomenon of women and their presence online remains a paradoxical one. Women seem to be routinely outnumbered by men when it comes to design discussions, at least where web design is concerned. (A designer in the Bay Area muses about this rather poetically here.) At the same time, many internet-based chat rooms and bulletin boards are heavily frequented by women who are united in their pursuit of certain common interests: while design factors among them, family-oriented topics (child rearing, what to make for dinner) seem especially popular, but so are health, beauty, gardening and even pre-pregnancy advice boards where women compare tips on how to boost their fertility. Laugh if you must, but such support systems lie at the core of community-based sites where traffic patterns are both active and consistent. Make no mistake: there is serious brand loyalty here. What these online destinations may lack in serious content they compensate for in a kind of deeply felt sustenance: the best audience for the kind of emotional bloodletting on these sites is, infact, other women — and those women constitute anything but a nanoaudience.

Arguably, for as many women as there are online comparing recipes or menstrual cycles, there are an equal number reflecting upon issues of greater consequence. Or are they? Is the reason there's never been a woman in the White House due to our preoccupation with the minutiae of everyday life, which translates to a kind of inability to truly focus — an area of expertise in which men tend to excel? Does the multitasking for which women are often lauded present inpenetrable obstacles in the race for single-minded achievement, performance and classic, capitalist definitions of success? Is there a reason why the famous people examined here — Bruce Mau, Neville Brody, Eero Saarinen, to name a few — are all male? (As the author of the Ladislav Sutnar piece, let me be the first to admit that on this score, I'm probably as guilty as the next guy.)

But wait a minute: are these the only designers deemed worthy of blog space? A decade ago, Ellen Lupton and Laurie Haycock Makela published an essay in Eye Magazine about what they termed an underground matriarchy in design. Their essay focused on particular women who had a critical impact on the way design is studied, taught and valued in contemporary culture. What is most remarkable about this correspondence is the way Laurie and Ellen independently examined, reflected upon and processed information; how their critical position(s) emerged from a kind of circumspect exploration of a number of issues — social, emotional, critical, metaphorical — resulting in a kind of ideological multitasking. It would have been ideal material for a blog: conversational, yet critical; reflective, yet provocative; educational, yet inspirational. I'd argue this pluralistic idea-processing is highly characteristic of the way many, if not most women think. It is not, in general, the way men think. And I think that blogs, in general — and this blog, in particular — would benefit greatly from a little less male design-lumninary hero worship, and a little more attention to the real issues facing and framing design criticism.

As to where all this is heading, who knows? It's all a poker game. Which brings me back to the subject of Annie Duke. I noticed while watching her on television that — unlike her male competitors, who each wore wedding bands — Annie's left hand was ringless. My thoughts immediately drifted to the wives, those poker widows back home making it possible for their husbands to compete in a big world tournament, while I pitied the poor single, female player.

So much for assumptions: it turns out that Annie Duke is happily married, with four children. She has advanced degrees from Columbia and Penn in literature and cognitive science, respectively. And what do you know? She even has a blog.

Posted in: Technology

Comments [51]

Interesting coincidence, I just saw an advance copy of this upcoming sundays' New York Times Magazine, and on the cover is Ana Marie Cox, of the political blog . The cover story is about her blog in relation to the election. Her site is: www.wonkette.com.
chris dixon

And I think that blogs, in general — and this blog, in particular — would benefit greatly from a little less male design-lumninary hero worship, and a little more attention to the real issues facing and framing design criticism.
REALLY, I shudder to think.(big laughs)

Design at the turn of the Century was a male dominated profession. Many women are unsung HEROES. Perhaps throughout History never properly credited. Certainly, the AIGA and the Art Directors Club has made an effort
to recognize our Sheroes.

In the 1980s it was acknowledged by Print Magazine or Communication Arts. Although, men continue head many of the contemporary Design Consultancies. Women were the Backbone of those Consultancies. Creating the bulk of the work.

In reference to posting on Design blogs. Women are perhaps more attentive and focused on the project at hand.

It's always good to hear from Marian Bantjes, Lorraine Wild, Ellen Lupton, and Debbie Millman.(others)

I'd like to Recognize some of my favorite Women Designer(s)

0. Cipe Pineless, Posthumous Acknowledgement. Forebearer of Women Designer(s) being equal to men.
1. Rosmarie Tissi, = The Greatest Woman Designer Practicing Today. Bring Tears to my Eyes.
2. Elinor Selame, = First Woman of American Corporate ID. Still Kicking Ass.
3. Margaret Youngblood, = Boundless Energy, has made more contribution(s) to Corporate ID than any man in the 21 Century.
4. Deborah Sussman, Has done it all. Sussman's, Range is unmatched.
5. Paula Scher, The Reining Queen of American Design.
6. Reba Sochis, A Legend in American Advertising.
7. bConstance Birdsall, = The Hardest Working.
8. Tomoka Miho, Uncomprimised Vision.
9. Phyllis Tanner, Revitalized one of the most Recognizable Brands in the World, Lawry's Unchanged after 30 something years.
10. Lorraine Wild, One of the Great Illustrators of the 20th and 21st Century.
11. Louise Filli, Has stood the TEST of TIME.
12. Jennifer Morla,
13. Yang Kim, Rising Superstar

Jessica, trying to Humor you. And give Women
Equal Billing.


it is interesting. there were quite a lot of women involved in 'class action', which started at yale, and i believe one of the participants attempted to start an online forum (this was in the early to mid 90's too). don't forget the guerrilla girls too. and sheila levrant debretteville as well. but i guess it is a case of 'unsung heroes'.

but i think the case with designobserver is that it is a bit of an 'old school' site. the views and modes of expression are, for the most part, quite traditional. it would also be interesting to learn how many minority designers post on this site. also, i think the posts on this site are more debate-oriented rather than conversational and communal, which is contrary to the female mode of conversation (at the risk of sounding sexist). perhaps it isn't the correct outlet for women who are in the age group likely to blog. other message boards i have participated in have had quite a large female group present, but on those sites there was no expectation to substantially contribute to an ongoing debate.
Manuel Miranda

I can't speak for other (design) forums; if men are generally more blogarific than women, I'm not sure why that would be. At Speak Up we have a fairly active female audience, although still definitely much outnumbered by men (3 to 1, at a rough guess?). I'm certainly, uh... more vocal, shall we say, than most. I'm also the only one willing to crack a joke (what's up with that?).

The thought of women flocking online to trade recipes and talk about babies fills me with horror—only partly because these are things that have never held interest for me. However, surely there are an equal number of men talking about cars and beer? I hope so. I mean I hope not. I mean ...

Commenting here on DO is, I have to say, not easy. Women do back down from challenges quicker than men, myself included, and I've been chewed up and spat out more than once. I'm either scrappy or stupid for returning. Or maybe I just like the look of my own typing. But I feel tomboyish when I post: it's like climbing trees and jumping. It appeals to me—I have never played with dolls.

As for this: less male design-lumninary hero worship, and a little more attention to the real issues facing and framing design criticism.
I am so surprised to hear you say that. I have never considered this blog as engaging in much worship (other than of yourselves by various grovelling acolytes [laugh here]), and I think you have quite enough framing of design criticism. It seems a very nicely balanced place, actually: varied, interesting and sometimes unintelligible.

Is the reason there's never been a woman in the White House due to our preoccupation with the minutiae of everyday life

No. But one of the reasons that men tend to excel, rise to the top, become luminaries is that it takes a ton of work and time and they often have wives who tend to everything else. I have not yet met a man who would be willing to set aside his career and look after the children/house/meals/etc. so that his wife could advance in her field. It is incredibly rare. The women who do excel are often superheroes: they do it while at the same time raising children and maintaining a household. That also is incredibly rare.

However, now that I think about it, my boyfriend does rather look after me. He'll call me down to dinner 3 times before I'm ready to log off. So maybe there's your answer (if there was, in fact, a question): those who don't cook, blog.
marian bantjes

There are blogs on design and design related issues that are run by women. They aren't the kind that feature discussion, but that doesn't mean they're not being read. Here's a few interesting ones:

Nicole Ferentz

I'm 25 and have been "blogging" for a number of years now. When I started back in 1998, I don't think the term 'blog' was even around. People had "E/N's", short for 'everything and nothing', and the majority of the sites my friends and I kept up with dealt with the 20-something college scene. Since then (and having multiple incarnations of my 'blog') I've linked to and from many female bloggers.

Trust me, it's not all men.
Jesse Courtemanche


Commenting here on DO is, I have to say, not easy. Women do back down from challenges quicker than men, myself included, and I've been chewed up and spat out more than once. I'm either scrappy or stupid for returning.

That's being extremely Modest and Lady Like.

I consider you the Elinor Clift of Design Blogs.

Aware, you reside in Canada.

If you've ever seen the McLaughlin Group. You know what I'm talking about.

Elinor Clift, don't back down. More than one occassion; has told the men "Shut Up I'm Talking".


Please allow me to engage in more SHEROE WORSHIP.

Would like to take this time to add to my list:

Catherine McCoy, begain her career with Unimark International. Preeminent Educator.

April Greiman, Explored and Revolutionized
Computer Graphics years before the men credited today.

Manuel pithily encapsulates the accepted notion which contrasts women's communal approach to discussion and exchange of ideas with the more hierarchical and aggressive mode of idea elaboration exhibited by men.

Even so, Design Observer provides fascinating insight into how these differences express themselves. The question then: What are and How are the communities being built on Design Observer? Does the exchange of ideas on these pages influence the broader design dialogue we see in other forums? Are we just talking to ourselves? Amongst ourselves? How does the mode of discussion on this particular blog encourage exclusion or inclusion across its active readership? Where are the substantial ideas in this exchange? Who offers them? Does it matter?

Marian's tomboy-ish approach permits her to enter the discussion using humor as a community builder. Is this the only mode women can use to play with the big boys? Do we have to joke around to be taken seriously? I hope not.

The mode of debate on DO encourages participants to engage in the various threads as serious thinkers of a kind, and postures struck by these writers are meant to heighten this effect. The "elder statesman" is one approach, with its attendant deferential response. Another is a more aggressive, combative style of effusive, hyper-emotional journalistic ranting (here I am thinking primarily of the styles of Kenneth FitzGerald and Armin Vit; well-known and oft-published design writers). And yet another occurs as the participants engage in dialogue with design leaders, attempting to exchange thoughts on, as Jessica says, "the real issues facing and framing design criticism."

But often, even in those moments when women do enter the fray, they are dismissed. My own experience in this regard has further reinforced these and other thoughts on the matter. Posting with Stuart Kendall ideas we developed collaboratively, I've found my contributions here either diminished, or, more interestingly, ignored entirely (also see Print magazine). Done undoubtedly unintentionally, it nevertheless points to the endemic assumptions that legitimate men as manufacturers of ideas, and women as merely supportive community-builders.
Vanessa Kanan Corrêa

Is this the only mode women can use to play with the big boys? Do we have to joke around to be taken seriously? I hope not.

Actually, that's just me and the way I relate to people, and I've never seen another woman do it (in writing), which I find odd. On Speak Up the discussions are more back-and-forth; there are more questions and response. There, I note that the boyz frequently joke, rib, dig and call each other down. I do believe I'm the only girl who joins in this play.

I do joke around here, but not so I can be accepted but because it's fun, and sometimes because the posturing makes me want to slap someone.

I too have been dissed, dismissed and ignored at times, but it has never occurred to me that it might be because I'm a woman. In fact I don't believe it is. Perhaps this is naive, but I feel there are some very smart, well-educated people here and sometimes I'm just out of my depth. And sometimes people are just assholes.

Even my slightly different culture separates me more from others here than my gender.

Vanessa, your second-last paragraph seems to hint at a "bad" vs. "good" type of dialogue, with the "good" being that mature exchange of thoughts in the last sentence. What I look for in a good conversation is personality, whether it be brash, thoughtful, erudite, foul-mouthed, poetic or bizarre. Maybe that's why I post, just to stir it up; to add another voice, another perspective. That I am female is immaterial.

Oh, D'Maven ... I have never seen the McLaughlin Group nor have I heard of Elinor Clift. A quick look at their website, however, makes me a tad nervous at the comparison. You should know that I would never, ever, ever wear an outfit like the one I saw Ms. Clift wearing in her picture.
marian bantjes

After my parents divorce, I read all of the self-help books sitting in my mother's house. They related to communication patterns and differences between the sexes. My mother had amassed these books to help her understand the reasons my father left, and why things broke down in the first place.

Who has read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus? Dismiss that book as nonsense, but it covers many issues relating to male versus female communication. Generalized as it seems, men tend to have more aggressive communication styles than women. Furthermore, women use discussion as a means of bonding, and men use discussion—or call it bragging—in order to establish dominance or authority. (Don't you feel my tone of voice right now? It's almost dictatorial, as if I'm lecturing to you. That's typical male communication, in contrast to the opening paragraph when I shared memories from a personal and emotional domain.) The next time you're in a restaurant, compare the discussions you hear between an all-male table and an all-female one. Women will listen to each other, empathizing with whatever the speaker shares. All you might hear in reply is, "That's too bad, I'm sorry," or "Wow, that's great!" Men will compete for the most supreme anecdote, joke, incident, or put down. If a man has a problem he does choose to voice, his friend will offer a solution, "Here's what you do, Bob." With women, discussion is therapy. With men, it's an educational experience or sometimes a big game of one-ups-manship. These are examples, and will have exceptions. Culture, class, age, or upbringing shapes our lives in rich ways. So rich that no book could ever fully delineate how men communicate or how women should communicate.

Many notable designers are women, and they participate on Design Observer or Speak Up. Seeing their point of view dismissed—or anyone's—is disheartening, but it's part of the game. Right?! Isn't that what critical discussion/thinking allows? Yes, but we can do it without wrestling with one another. Listening, understanding, empathizing, and delivering counter opinions can be done without backhanded bullying. I've done it myself. Later in the day, I feel guilty and want to even apologize for putting somebody's opinion down or implying that they're simple minded. (I do have a soft side. My wife will attest to this.)

Women may be less likely to participate in blog discussions, but their presence in the design world remains strong. Call it a matriarchy or label them Designing Women. Jessica, I agree with your stance that blogs would succeed as conversational, yet critical; reflective, yet provocative; educational, yet inspirational places for discussion. Some of my most memorable lectures, seminars, and studios as a graduate student contained those elements. And an overwhelming majority of them were instructed by women, who generated very marvelous ides and discussions. Coincidence? I'm going to thumb through Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and see if there's a chapter on educational styles and learning patterns.

Jason A Tselentis

Some of the comments here have raised some interesting issues about the interrelationship between gender, blogging and anonymity. Manuel Miranda mentioned the activist group Class Action, which was by its charter anonymous but was mostly female in its composition. And the Guerilla Girls were notoriously anonymous, concealing their identities in ape masks. Am I wrong in thinking that men would never do this?

On the other hand, blogging by its nature provides a bit of anonymity. Even when you sign your full name, unless I know you from some other life, I don't know how old you are, where you live, whether you're a "good designer" or a no-talent hack, or, in some cases, whether you're a man or a woman. (For instance, upthread Jesse Courtemanche writes, "Trust me, it's not all men" in the blog world: I know both men and women with the first name "Jesse". If that is her real name. Or his real name. See what I mean? Does it matter?)

Finally, to Vanessa Correa's point, I haven't seen ideas being dismissed or ignored because they were originated by women. Despite great expectations for the medium, weblogs are not a perfect (or usually even very good) way to sustain the kind of give-and-take that characterizes thoughtful debate. An idea will get dismissed sometimes just because the respondent is a dismissive sort of person; a contribution will be ignored because the online typers have moved on to something else, like lunch. Who knows?

Finally, Ms. Correa raises some interesting issues about the personas that writers adopt online. This is about more than gender, I would guess. I've also been increasingly fascinated by the vast -- and I mean vast -- difference between the (very large) number of people who visit this site and the (very small) number of people who post on it. It's hard to speculate about the nature of the communities being built on sites like this one when the overwhelming number of visitors are participating -- enthusiastically, I hope -- simply by reading, thinking, and maybe even talking about the ideas they encounter here with other human beings face to face.
Michael Bierut

> Another is a more aggressive, combative style of effusive, hyper-emotional journalistic ranting (here I am thinking primarily of the styles of Kenneth FitzGerald and Armin Vit; well-known and oft-published design writers).

It would be uncombative to let such a comment unranted. Regradless that I'm nowhere close to being as oft-published as FitzGerald, I guess I take this as a compliment even if it wasn't meant as one. The truth of the matter is that, like Michael mentioned, this is just my online (or publishing) persona. I'm a sweetheart at, um, heart. An opinionated heart that's all. When I write I want my point to come across, if I need to "scream" a little so be it; can't take it? Cover your ears - see? there I go again.

But seriously, compared to FitzGerald, Mr. Keedy and even big boys like Tan Le or patric king, I'm a pussycat.

I too have been quite bewildered at the lack of women posting on Design Observer, even more so than Speak Up. And we've had our share of (internal) criticism. Even prompting me to write one of the only posts that did not allow comments back. Anyway, what I was trying to say is that Design Observer is less buddy-buddy, which for men leads to what Jason mentioned above, so in a more "controlled" (no offense) environment I thought women would be more comfortable writing.

Ultimately, it is only up to each woman (man or cow) to decide to contribute.

> the (very large) number of people who visit this site and the (very small) number of people who post on it.

Ah yes... the important thing with that is to not consider it a "problem", because it is not. We (bloggers of the world) all wish we had hundreds of thousands of people commenting on our blogs, but some people benefit greatly from just reading. I can't count the times that I have received e-mails or met people saying how much they enjoy Speak Up but that they only lurk.

Oh...and has anyone stopped for a moment and consider that maybe DesignMaven is a woman? Anonymity goes a long way in BlogLand.
Armin Vit

i'm gonna be the odd man out here. i don't understand at all what sort of question you're trying to raise in your post. is it that women aren't visible enough in design? women aren't visible in design writing? women aren't visible in weblogging? that you don't think women speak up enough in non-gender-specific forums?

are you trying to make or illustrate a point?

I'm not interested in drawing a line in the sand between men and women so much as expressing an opinion about the fact that, in my own experience here, there's a more direct, confrontational approach to certain sorts of subjects that seem, at their core, quintessentially about, by and for guys. It's not about gender specific anything: I have no interest in writing about women designers, and I don't think writing about women designers will bring more women readers to this site. What interests me is how women process information differently, which seems evident in the scarcity of women posting here on Design Observer. It's a subjective assessment, but it is nevertheless based on empirical evidence.
Jessica Helfand

The topics we continue to touch upon are extremely complex and the conflation of some of the issues here points to that complexity.

For my part, some clarification on my comments:

I agree with Michael when he says that ideas are not dismissed on DO because they originate from women. My own ideas were not dismissed in any way. In fact, they were taken up with great vigor and attempted seriousness by DO participants. However, they were attributed (both in this forum and in this month's PRINT magazine) exclusively to my collaborator, Stuart Kendall. Neither omission was intended maliciously; I don't believe; one was oversight, the other spoke to a particular agenda.

I return to this only because it points to a larger cultural failure to take women seriously as generators of ideas. Furthermore, I would maintain that apart from Jessica's contributions and Ellen Lupton's occasional posts, few women engage with some of the most crucial questions being considered here in a serious manner. It remains beneficial to ask why, and to consider if the format of DO contributes to this phenomenon.

This all leads us back to the purpose of DO. Lest anyone misunderstand me, I think a lot more of the ideas considered here should probably be rejected. Rick Poyner's tactic of occasionally summarizing and re-phrasing long discussions often usefully frames the terms and direction of the debates. It seems that a lot of people are simply typing just to see themselves type instead of writing in pursuit of a collective articulation of ideas. But perhaps this articulation is not the point of DO after all.

Maybe it is just a place to air opinions instead of discussing things, to say what you think without thinking about what others say. Maybe it is just a forum for typing and not for reading. This is not a gender issue, but a broader social one.

On this point, while it's nice to see so many of the boys insisting that deep down they're pussycats, this does not speak to the distinction I tried to make; that between the emotional rant and the rational articulation of ideas. The conflation here is between traditionally "female" hyper-emotional opining with "male" aggressive assertiveness. Bringing both into the mix in one post makes it difficult to sustain the discussion. Bruno Monguzzi notes, "If you keep shouting, you are not making communication any better. You are removing talking and whispering from the system." And, I might add, the rational articulation and exchange of ideas.


Sidenote: DesignMaven a woman? Given the definition of the word "maven," I assumed s/he was, although it remains unclear why this should matter. And on this topic, it would seem a call for better pseudonyms is in order. What happened to Le Corbusier, Cary Grant or Johannes Climacus?
Vanessa Kanan Corrêa

What interests me is how women process information differently, which seems evident in the scarcity of women posting here on Design Observer.

now i understand. i had gone into the article with the assumption that you were arguning a specific point, and then (clearly) exasperated myself.

this idea gets batted around every once in a while on metafilter, but in a more generalized way which usually plays out as "would the straight men please stop arguing for a moment and let the rest of us get a word in edgewise, please?" nobody ever quite seems to understand the annoyance behind the statement.

yes, there are several more men active (and vocal) in both blogging and design. but i personally feel it's a quality versus quantity situation. women are decidedly hardfer to pick out, but the level of work definitely has a quality of insight difficult to find in other places.

one of my personal favorites in the blogoverse is rebecca blood, who consistently writes thoughtful, well-reasoned work. she's largely considered to be one of the best independent writers working online, and is thought of as a "founding mother" of blogging alongside other women (such as megnut, whose work i find boring, but most seem to appreciate).

I'm hearing some really bizarre stuff here, and it really seems to be pointing back to "Rational, logical, theoretical discussion = good; emotional, ranty, opinionated, passionate discussion = bad."

Furthermore, there seems to be some implication, which I'm sure you'll all deny, that perhaps only Jessica, Ellen Lupton and Vanessa have the required critical thinking to really be comfortable in this forum because what they contribute is discourse, whereas what I, for instance, contribute is chatter.

Yes, I'm taking this personally. How feminine of me.

I know a number of intelligent, articulate men who will not post here, partly out of fear of making some error for which they will be skewered and partly because it takes so much damned time. On this forum, you cannot just blithely post—you have to read, re-read, proof, edit, test and consider before posting. Most people don't have bloody time, sometimes not even me.

Men are more tenacious, more confident and less prone to having their feelings hurt. Posting here is like stepping into an intellectual boxing ring. Sometimes it's interesting and fun, and sometimes it's just a bloody battle. What is it supposed to be?

Yes, DO actually is a place severely lacking in those "feminine" qualities of compassion, support, comradeship, or, dare I say it, friendliness. Most people post here to prove their intellectual worth; some attempt to add to the discussion as best they can (because they are interested, fancy that!) only to discover that their thoughts, opinions, rants etc. are, shall we say, not quite up to the intellectual rigours of the Club.

Now that I think of it, there is a whiff of cigar smoke in the air.

Lest anyone misunderstand me, I think a lot more of the ideas considered here should probably be rejected.

By all means, reject away.

Rick Poyner's tactic of occasionally summarizing and re-phrasing long discussions often usefully frames the terms and direction of the debates.

Perhaps a more useful tactic would be to simply edit or delete any comment which does not fit within the author's prescribed framework.

It seems that a lot of people are simply typing just to see themselves type instead of writing in pursuit of a collective articulation of ideas.

Like who, exactly?

But perhaps this articulation is not the point of DO after all.

Oh the snide tone of this and the paragraph that follows it. You of course are on the higher plane, and if the authors of DO know what's good for them, they'll join you there.

I have always thought that the point of any blog is to share thoughts, ideas, opinions and observations and to solicit feedback of same from passers-by, and see what happens to that original thought as it passes through a virtual community. A blog is a kind of Open House, and if one truly wants participation it is important to be accepting of the personalities that pass through. (Of course there will always be drunks who need to be tossed out.) People who are overly judgemental of others' capacities or communicative style will ultimately miss out on a true sharing of ideas, as opposed to the ersatz intellectual posturing which some people hold in such high regard.
marian bantjes

Somewhat related (maybe) is the perception of my female colleagues about blogging. Someone commented recently how 'brave' I was to blog, as if it is something that was inherently risky. Other women have commented in a similar vein, about the risk of putting my thoughts out there and maybe changing my opinion at some point.

I wonder why we feel that we don't have something valuable to say and why we feel that we have to get it right first time.

I wonder whether it is that blogging is still pretty geeky, and it just follows naturally from the fact that geek industries are still predominantly male.

I wonder whether....oh, I'd better stop wondering - I can do that on my own blog ;)
Donna Maurer

Dear Marian,

You Rock.

Aashim Tyagi

Vanessa makes some excellent points here, namely, the degree to which larger cultural issues both impact upon and — judging by the impassioned tone of others here — are impacted by this very topic.

To bring things back to said topic, I was interested to read the cover story that Chris Dixon mentioned earlier in this discussion, in yesterday's New York Times Magazine. Beyond the political observations lies a thoughtful look at how blogs have altered writing, and how writing has altered blogs. In one passage, the author describes it this way: "There were a thousand small ways his voice changed; in print, he had been a full-paragraph guy who carefully backed up his claims, but on his blog he evolved into an exasperated Larry David basket case of self-doubt and indignation, harassed by a fake ''editor'' of his own creation who broke in, midsentence, with parenthetical questions and accusations."
Jessica Helfand

Marian, I'm not sure that "most people post here [on DO] to prove their intellectual worth." I hesitate to make that kind of generalization because I know that me, Jessica, Rick and Bill have our own different, evolving motivations in writing for this site, and different opinions about which kind of responses we hope to encourage.

Personally, I've viewed this site as a way to keep learning about design, both through writing and through reading. I can't tell you what pleasure I took, for instance, at the responses I got to my post about graphics for the Olympics. I never would had gotten reacquainted with, say, the work of Roger Excoffon without the contributors to that thread.

Sometimes I read responses that seem overblown and pretentious, and they make me wince. Sometimes I read ones that seem overly casual and ill-informed and it makes me want to take out my red pencil. Sometimes I read ones that don't understand the difference between "its" and "it's" and I actually go in and edit them.

And every once in a while I read one that makes me want to clap my hands. There was a brilliant, pithy riposte on the "Flush Left" thread that was so good I sent an off line email to the author. It turned out he was a design student who had used a pseudonym because he was "afraid of making a fool of [him]self." Just goes to show you.

I must say -- to Vanessa's point -- in my experience I haven't noticed much difference in character between the comments from male and female authors (to the degree I can distinguish gender from the names), except -- to Jessica's point -- there are more of the former and fewer of the latter.

Several years ago, when I was actively involved with organizing programs for the AIGA, I noticed that if you asked a woman to speak at a conference, often (but not always, of course) she would say let me think about it, or can I get back to you? The guys, on the other hand, would be booking their plane tickets before the question was out of your mouth: it was as if a podium, a microphone and an attentive audience was their birthright. It would seem something similar prevails in the virtual world as well.
Michael Bierut

hyper-emotional journalistic ranting (here I am thinking primarily of the styles of Kenneth FitzGerald and Armin Vit)

On this point, while it's nice to see so many of the boys insisting that deep down they're pussycats, this does not speak to the distinction I tried to make; that between the emotional rant and the rational articulation of ideas.

In my latest essay, "Buzz Kill," I discuss four excuses that designers use to dismiss criticism out-of-hand—to escape engaging its points.

Thank you, Ms. Corrêa, for providing #5.
kenneth fitzgerald

Sometimes I read responses that seem overblown and pretentious, and they make me wince. Sometimes I read ones that seem overly casual and ill-informed and it makes me want to take out my red pencil. Sometimes I read ones that don't understand the difference between "its" and "it's" and I actually go in and edit them.

if we can move the disscussion a little to the topic of intimidation on this site, i think what michael bierut states above may be the reason why there are more lurkers (men or women) on this site than active participants. if one expects only intelligent, grammatically correct, and objective commentary on this site, there are going to be a lot less participants. michael's example of the student who was afraid to put his name on his comments for fear of ridicule reflects this intimidation. as jessica stated, the blog is a format most participated in by the under-30 set. chatrooms are quite casual, responses are instantaneous, and they are filled with more, well, chatter. message boards usually revolve around a specific topic, and posts are usually more thought out, as they are responses to specific topics and threads. but message boards are still part of the online world.

before gaining popular attention, the internet was mostly used by government officials and academics. academics were actually amongst the first people to use listserves and bulletin boards online, so you can imagine the calibre of writing and thinking on message boards before the mid 90s. but now that the internet, and 'chat' (under which i include any sort of written communication through digital means, like chatrooms, text messaging, message boards, etc.) are so widespread, and so many people do it, you can't expect a high level of writing and thinking on any site anymore. 'chat' is somewhere between writing and talking, and talking is always much more affected by your environment than writing is. writing is usually learned in school, and your writing is matched against a standard, and if you don't fit that standard, you usually leave writing behind. but speaking, your voice, usually reflects the world around you, as well as your aspirations and motivations, and no one leaves speaking behind.

sometimes people dont speak correctly and dont obey the rules of grammar. this is reflective of our world. economics, accents, migration, interests, and aspirations all affect and inflect how we speak. people say 'should of' instead of 'should have' because that is how it sounds. not everyone wants to be a writer, but lots of people want to participate in public life, and one does that through language. personally, im quite happy that there isnt an official language in the united states, and that there is no language academy, because it would be that much more difficult for this country to take in its diverse character if there was a government body expecting everyone to speak the same way.

this message board is open to the public. it truly is a public forum, and the public is a lot of things: stupid, intelligent, surprising, boring, uneducated, self-centered, lucid, casual, formal, honest, sentimental. sometimes it doesnt speak english. sometimes it doesnt know the difference between 'its' and 'it's', 'your' and 'you're', 'should have' and 'should of'. if anything, the public is reflective of the world we live in.
manuel miranda

if we can move the disscussion a little to the topic of intimidation on this site, i think what michael bierut states above may be the reason why there are more lurkers (men or women) on this site than active participants

Manuel, maybe I was too negative when I said that pretentious posts made me wince and casual ones brought out the editor in me. I could have just as well said I find value in either kind as well. My point was that, for me personally, I don't have a litmus test for tone of voice that prevents me from responding to an idea. ("Its" and "it's" -- that's another matter, sorry.)

As to "participants" versus "lurkers," I did a quick calculation and determined that less than one-half of one percent of the people who visit this site in a typical week actually post messages. I wonder if this is much different from other blogs. I also wonder: is "lurking" not a form of participation?

Jessica, we're well off topic now. Sorry.

Michael Bierut

Marian, I'm not sure that "most people post here [on DO] to prove their intellectual worth."

That was a generalization that perhaps I should at least partially take back: clearly I have no idea what people's motives are. Still, I get that impression from many of the comments which seem to stand in isolation of any sort of discussion, provocation or query.

Of all four authors, your entries, Michael are by far the most approachable, and without spending the day analyzing data, I would suspect that your style generates a wider range of discussion. I see this as a good thing; for you it may be tedious. I don't know.

To bring things back to said topic,

Actually, Jessica, what you said earlier was "What interests me is how women process information differently, which seems evident in the scarcity of women posting here on Design Observer." Nowhere in your original post, nor your responses do you mention anything about "how blogs have altered writing, and how writing has altered blogs." That is decidedly off-topic. It would be an interesting aside and worthy of exploration, had it not been preceded by the dismissive "To bring things back to said topic." This is a method I have noticed is frequently used here to shut people down: "This is off topic" or "You missed the point."

But I digress.

In the effort of staying on topic (though really, what it was, I share pk's initial confusion), I do think women process information differently, and I think we relate to people differently. I described my own act of posting here as a tomboyish endeavor: that is to say, I step outside of my comfort zone in order to play with the big boys. It is the virtual extension of something I've done all my life, but many girls do not enjoy tomboyish behaviour which may explain why I am in a minority as female blog addict, on this site anyway.

All of these other comments regarding the intimidation factor of posting on DO specifically, are related to the atmosphere of DO which some may call "male," and others may call something else. Jessica is, of course, a woman, but so is Margaret Thatcher.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is a lion's den. All very challenging, but when I think about it, I'd really rather play with the pussycats.
marian bantjes

> Bruno Monguzzi notes...

Bruno Monguzzi can ki...

(I'm sorry, was I saying that out loud?) (And no offense to the Monguzzi estate).

In all seriousness, as Jessica noted from the NYT article, blogging brings out weird behavior from rather normal people. Whether it is Marian's tomboyishness, my agressiveness (whatever) or Design Maven's all caps. But here is the cool thing: you are exposed to all of it, because it is public. Then you can decide wether you want to dimissis it, diss it, hiss it or piss on it. Or ignore it altogether. Or quote dead designers (RIP). How can you avoid this? Simple, establish a screening process for first time posters so that most ideas considered here needn't be rejected. Then come up with a nice little secret handshake and have a rational articulation and exchange of ideas.

> Now that I think of it, there is a whiff of cigar smoke in the air.

Marian, it's not just you. I think the smell has gotten heavier over the past months. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

It's funny, I think any good blog needs this sort of conversation to propel it to the next level. Not a better level, just the next one. The editors should really consider taking note of all the comments here, they are the hardest to take and to assess, but when some readers detect a tone it must be acknowledged. Whether it affects change is not up to us of course.

I can't remember the exact words but in Poynor's latest column in Print he mentions how many people acknowledge they are going off topic and he took that as a sense of the reader understanding the nature of the discussion. I see it as a sign of people having to excuse and apologize themselves for veering the slightest off topic.

I'm a multiple-times-a-day reader of Design Observer, I enjoy all the posts by the editors but I quickly lose interest in the comments... that doesn't detract me from reading them but I certainly don't care to engage with them. There is no give-n-go, no back-n-forth, just long threads of seeing who can outsmart everybody.

And, of course, blogging is not suitable for everybody.

Couple of months back I had a similar discussion with a dear friend of mine, who is an excellent designer and a woman.

She was flipping through some of the design annuals and was amused by the fact there were hardly any women judges. Her reasoning was also that it isnt that there are no women who are practising in the field but the fact that it is still a male dominated field and many women have perhaps not reached the point of power and authority.

I feel that it is only in the last few decades that design is coming out of the shadows of being a technical form ( printing press,analog methods) which required people to go to site specific place to work and the know-how of the machinery. I think that is perhaps why it has been so male dominated and it is only recently that design is enjoying the position of being more open and is undergoing the process of change in which there is a more active participation by both sexes.

I personally think advent of web design has changed a lot of the rules. I remember almost a decade ago, most of the interesting webdesign was done by 13 yr old girls ( this is of course, pre-blog craze) who often used the "pop gothic" imagery, "dirty" graphics,dark poems and angst filled diaries for the world to read(proto-blog??) but the point is that these girls were perhaps changing mianstream design.

Also it should be noted that also in the better part of the last decade it has been teenage girls who are dictating the advertizers. Their influence has been soo great that even video
games have started to evolve beyond car chases and semi-automatics.

I guess my point is that i feel that changes are happening rapidly and the next decade will bring us more and more women designers who are more active and will challenge the hierarchy and not be the silent collabrators and the idea of design and its practice will evolve as well, it must and it is.

P.S After being awed by 13 yr old girls years ago, Some of the most interesting design is still being dished out by women.

Front Design
Aashim Tyagi


i would agree that 'lurking' is definitely a form of participation. and i think that 50% participation is actually really good. design observer does have a pretty small audience. but its interesting, i have met people who recognize my name and introduce themselves to me, saying they remember my name from the blog, but usually they are people who have never posted here. i always say, go ahead and participate.
manuel miranda

Kenneth: I'm sure I don't understand how calling for a rational exchange which permits communication with one another fits your list.

It is a well-known cultural phenomenon that women do not participate in/create discussions in the same manner as men, and in fact, become increasingly less willing to voice their ideas as they move through the educational system. And women who remain engaged in the exchange of "ideas" - in a number of fields -- do face a broad cultural bias.

Pluralistic idea-processing includes rationality. Modes of thought differ between men and women, but I am loathe to say that community-building, imagination, intellectual discourse, play, &c, &c, is the exclusive domain of one gender or another. Jessica's questions remain relevant: Why are the preponderance of contributors to this site men? Is it blogging in general? Or is it writing about design in particular? Is it the way this particular blog is structured? Maybe it doesn't matter.

Maybe the complexity of ideas put forth by many of the contributors on this site are simply not appropriate to this mode of debate -- for either gender. It may simply amplify the frustration when some well-phrased thought or argument is passed over, or when the conversation does indeed veer off topic. So many of the interesting by-ways are lost.

Marian: I don't believe DO is a lion's den. And I hope more women feel confident enough to post their observations about design & culture. This is a rare opportunity that the four editors have afforded the design community; a chance to exchange ideas with people curious about the direction of design.
Vanessa Kanan Corrêa

After I wrote about this topic last year on Speak Up I met strong resistance to the idea that addressing the lack of female participants is a worthwhile goal to pursue. Armin's argument—that it is "up to each woman to decide to contribute," what I think of as the Personal Responsibility argument—held wide currency among the participants. At best, adherents of the Personal Responsibility argument would argue that Design Observer is just another backdrop against which problematic gender dynamics play themselves out. (Adherents to the equally popular Women Are From Venus argument would argue that the dynamics are not problematic in the first place). Both of those positions amount to basically washing one's hands of the problem and I hope to see Design Observer approach this issue with the complexity that it requires.

Jessica, I agree that writing about women designers would not be a great enticement for women participants (though it might help make the underground matriarchy a little less underground, a worthy cause on its own—especially for young designers looking for role models). The best way to start might be to redouble your efforts to write with women readers in mind and to aggressively seek opportunities to encourage women who choose to participate. It worked for Sweden

Finally, a note about tone: while I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with grandstanding (it is basically the bread and butter of my own blog), I think it goes a long way towards fostering an environment that is ultimately hostile to thoughtful, contemplative posting by relative strangers of either gender. Vanessa already made this point but I think it's worth making again.
Rebecca Gimenez

Kenneth: I'm sure I don't understand how calling for a rational exchange which permits communication with one another fits your list.

Because intelligent people are unlikely to even enter into a discussion with someone labelled "hyper-emotional," "rant(ing)," and irrational (what I believe is opposite of "rational"). I wouldn't. I don't think I'm oversensitive to interpret your comments as saying my work is devoid of substantive content. You're entitled to that opinion—and you're not alone in holding it. But it still seems an avoidance of getting into the merits of my arguments.

Possible irrelevant story: one of my treasured experiences in my art career was when my artwork was making its way through an anonymous grant selection process. After it played out, an insider informed me that up until the last round, the jurors (male and female both) assumed my work was done by a woman. And the ultimate revelation that I wasn't may have played a role in my not getting the grant.
kenneth fitzgerald

As the student mentioned in one of Michael Bierut's comments above, I can attest to this being a somewhat difficult place to freely post comments - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The vast majority of people that post on Design Observer are intelligent, well-informed and add something valuable to the conversation. As a 21-year-old undergraduate student - a definite minority on this blog - it is difficult for me to intelligently "talk design" with all of you, but I certainly enjoy the challenge.

Many people, myself included, come here to learn more about how people think and talk about design, not necessarily to outwardly participate in the discussion. For me, this website is definitely not a hostile place that promotes ranting, grandstanding, or hero worship, but rather a peek into design discussions that I would have never had the chance to hear before, with the opportunity to actively participate.
Ryan Nee

Worth remembering that the same goes for Film blogs , game blogs and music blogs.

Personally I just think statistically us blokes get more emotional and animated about the fine points (or trivial points!) of culture in general.
There are far more male music writers who have written books on the detailed aspects of pop history or journalism, same goes for movies and the movie business (cept for pauline kael of course) and also design books and magazines.

I don't think a lack of women contributing to design 'criticism' means that women designers are less interested in design.

But I've rarely if ever seen 2 women designer arguing over the ubiquitousness of helvetica or stock photography etc., etc., with the same emotional fervour as us lot. and maybe that's a good thing!

Thank you for that last paragraph, Ryan. There's a fair bit of axe-grinding and get-it-off-my-chesting going on in some of the comments above (cigar smoke, anyone?) but you put your finger, with absolute precision, on what we are trying to do with this site. It's as simple as that. Anyone, man, woman or extraterrestrial, who thinks this is a worthwhile goal and has something to say should join in. Don't think that you have to come from North America, either. Tell us how some of these issues look from your part of the planet.
Rick Poynor

Some demographic information from one of your regular "lurkers." (A term which I think applies more to forums than blogs... but I don't have time to get into that.)

I am an early 40s-something Mother/Designer/Artist/Author/Professor.
I have been doing the first job a far shorter time the the others - so it comes less easy to me. While I write this comment, I should be writing a final grant report, grading, class prep, designing and building a couple of new websites (cobbler's children...) learning CSS, this could go on and on... At three o'clock my daughter get's home from first grade (it has been a rough transition this year) and will need a snack, mommy time, homework, dinner, bath and then bed. Hub and I split these chores evenly, so I will have 15 minutes here and there to answer desperate emails from my students or maybe skim a blog (maybe "skimmers" instead of lurkers?)

While I enjoy reading this weblog (particularly Jessica) and the comments, there are too many other things I want to do than leave a trace here. Oh, and most importantly - I like my sleep - like to get plenty of it.

I'll just end with "Keep up the great blog!" since it is unlikely I will ever post a comment here again. Uh, oh! Three hours til the kid gets home, better go.

Rick, I really have no axe to grind. I wish no one any ill. As I said, I'm an ardent Design Observer reader and I'm grateful that it exists but that doesn't alter my opinion or my willingnes to express it. And, perhaps yes, I wanted to get it off my chest. But it's because I care. (Aaaaaw!).

I do still think that every now and then we can open the windows a little bit to let the smoke out.

As a long-time male lurker, I apologize for the long post, but would like to say that I think...

that it is important to distinguish between the medium and the message, or perhaps to avoid to much a cliche, to distinguish between the people working/thinking and the people writing/talking. Don't imply that because the latter group is dominated by us men, which I think is a widespread issue of social behavior and societal norms, that the former is equally dominated, or that even if the former is dominated, that this domination is not due entirely to social causes and historical tendencies that take forever to break. In other words: this is not a design problem but a communication behavior problem.

I learned long ago that men have a style of interaction (more aggressive and authoritative, will interrupt more often, voice opinions as fact, tend towards argument rather than discussion) that, since we are the holders of power (historically), we inadvertently (and sometimes purposefully) shut out women. (I'm speaking in broad strokes here)

This shutting-out seems to be a sore subject for men, who tend to dismiss these claims outright or suggest that women just "buck up" to "play with the big boys," or find other excuses or rationalizations for their behavior. Often, when this sort of thing gets brought up, there's some guy who proves the point by shouting it down. It was pretty shattering for me in college when I looked around and began to take note of this stuff.

All this is just to say that I think the blogging world is dominated by men because it is a world that is dominated by a mode of communications that is more akin to traditional male behavior. Blogs generally exist for 2 reasons: to spur conversation that the author wants to hear, or to serve as a platform for personal opinions. I think this blog is more of the former (that's why I'm here), but most blogs are more of the latter. I generally find blogging discussions to include a lot of the argumentative I'm-right-you're-wrong attitude that I associate more with males than females. It doesn't help that to be conscious of behavior requires just the sort of self-policing that is rarely practiced in web-discussions.
m batz

> blogging is not suitable for everybody.

Heck, personal communication is not suitable for everybody. :-/

I'm constantly struck by the fact that so many designers are such lousy communicators, I mean on a personal level. Some of them manage to conduct great monologues, or type up eloquent monolithic reactions to something they don't agree with, but they fail at the subtle "organic" stuff. Being stuck in a studio in front of the computer all day probably has something do with this - you become an introspective, insular hermit. But maybe it's also due to the visual nature of their training and professional practice, while the more "intricate" levels of communication (like in-the-flesh, or textual) are essentially non-visual? And maybe this is related to the artsy refutal of the value of legibility by those who want to express themselves more than submit to the realities of human society? Although I certainly won't engage in a futile legibility debate, not around here.

Let's not underestimate the value of a quick, short, gut-level post. It reveals the feral, candid human beast underneath all the formalistic barriers used to evade, distract and deceive in modern (maybe even Modern) society.


just posting a book i read as an undergrad, entitled "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation" by Deborah Tannen. it does have a bit of a pop-psychology tone, but discussing the book in class was very interesting. my college was an experimental, seminar-based learning environment, and though it was supposedly a leftist, progressive institution, the same dynamics described in the book played themselves out in student seminar discussions.

here's the blurb for the book:

Georgetown University linguistics professor Tannen here ponders gender-based differences that, she claims, define and distinguish male and female communication. Opening with the rationale that ignoring such differences is more dangerous than blissful, she asserts that for most women conversation is a way of connecting and negotiating. Thus, their parleys tend to center on expressions of and responses to feelings, or what the author labels "rapport-talk" (private conversation). Men, on the other hand, use conversation to achieve or maintain social status; they set out to impart knowledge (termed "report-talk," or public speaking). Calling on her research into the workings of dialogue, Tannen examines the functioning of argument and interruption, and convincingly supports her case for the existence of "genderlect," contending that the better we understand it, the better our chances of bridging the communications gap integral to the battle of the sexes.
manuel miranda

Tannen's later popular writing steers away from the idea that men are exclusive in using "conversation to achieve or maintain social status," noting that women's interactions also have to do with social status. The female-group social structure is just different.
Gunnar Swanson

I'm a 21 year old engineering design major, and a female. I've lurked on this site for about 4 months, since I found the link on www.diepunyhumans.com. I spent the summer as a research assistant to my Green Design professor, and got in the habit of reading as many design blogs as I could keep up with. During that time it has never ocurred to me to post on any of them, though there are often issues I find interesting and important (or else I would stop reading, right?). I've spent the last 20 minutes trying to think why. My best answer is that you all seem to know so much, in such depth, and more importantly you all seem to Know What You Are Doing with design. I, on the other hand, usually feel like I have no idea what I am doing with design, or at least no clear idea. I am a MechE, a tinkerer, as well as a die-hard idealist looking for a way to make social justice a design problem. I am not a details person. As far as I'm concerned, the coolest design project I have recently seen is a pez-dispenser beer cooler that loads from the bottom and pulls from the top, so the beer being pulled is always cold, but you don't have to load the warm beer in the back. My friend Tommy built it from cardboard. So I guess my question for you all is: where do I belong on Design Observer? Maybe the answer is to respond to questions when they apply to me, like...now!

Two quick anecdotes?

* Years ago, The Wife and I did some editing for an edgy, fun, no-budget magazine. Since the pay was next-to-nothing, the only incentives the mag could offer to writers were getting published, fun, and making a name. The Wife and I both wanted to get away from the usual Ivy-boy-brat roster of writers, and did our best to rustle up non-usual writers, including women. We spent weeks and weeks trying to find suitable women writers, ones who'd have a blast making extreme statements for the sheer hell of it -- that was the mag's franchise, basically. And we came up with one, aside from The Wife herself.

As far as we could tell, writing in the spirit of "going out on a limb for the sheer hellraising, troublemaking fun of it" is 99% a guy thing. Women are often better writers, god knows. But they're also generally more sensible ones. They're more likely than guys to write cleaner, down-to-earth, realistic copy, and are more likely to turn their assignments in on time. But they're far less likely to love provocation for its own sake. Isn't that one of evo-bio's contentions? That women tend to cluster in the solid middle, where guys are more likely to steer to extremes, both of the lousy and the excellent (or at least show-offing)?

* A Hollywood guy with a lot of experience was talking to me about men, women and screenwriting. In his view, women were often far better writers -- more insightful, less chest-pounding, more inside their characters and situations. But they often had far less lasting power in the industry. Why? Because it's a viciously competitive business; because no one cares how you feel; and because material isn't treated lovingly.

The talented women writers are often appalled by how their talents and work are treated, and leave the industry. Meatball guys, on the other hand, simply tend to expect to get battered-around some, so they persist longrun. Many women seem to want their creations treated respectfully, and in the movie industry that almost never happens. As a consequence, many women writers bail out of the business.

My source thought that was a pity, by the way. Hard to imagine how to make a business as hypercompetitive as the moviebiz a kinder and gentler place, though. I wonder if one of the reasons women creatives are more numerous in design than in movies is because it's a somewhat less viciously competitive field.
Michael Blowhard

With regard to the notion of the lion's den...

Well, if you are a designer yourself, of course it is. I don't know it's possible for four famous names to set up a blog on design without the lesser-knowns to view it, at least to some extent, as a proving ground -- from what I'm told, our field is a small one, and reputations get around. Of course DO is a lion's den. That's part of what makes posting here so seductive. (I am a man, of course)

Message threads about design aren't far removed from design crits. In my experience with crits, only two or three people out of 20 comment regularly, and the rest of the class sits back, silent. The ones who say nothing, maybe they don't have anything to add to what has already been said. Or maybe they are uninterested. Or maybe the discussion is over their heads. Or maybe they would like to say something but are afraid of sounding stupid (a person saying something stupid about anything is embarrassing; a designer saying something stupid about design is the end of your career). Or maybe the thing on the wall is so dumb and ugly that it is not worth the effort. Or maybe the piece is brilliant and needs nothing but silent appreciation.

And of the few who do talk, there are always those who like to bs and hear their own voice and impress the teacher[s]. But most of the time, critiquers critique to offer insight and perspective on a piece or idea because that is how people learn what is good, what is bad, and what does and does not matter. Hearing other people and analyzing what was said is how you gain sophistication. (well, that and seeing as much as you can).
Ahrum Hong

i like all the things that have come up in this conversation. its a good analysis of the 'culture' here at design observer. most blogs usually get into this self conscious sort of analysis, and i think this is the first thread here that has dealt with questions of DO's particular characteristics.

ahrum's comparison of DO to a design crit is a good one. it's true that some people like to hear themselves talk, but that is part of conversation. so is insight, as ahrum points out as well. id also like to point out how design crits live on beyond the classroom, in private conversations and thinking about things, which im sure happens with threads here on DO.

another anecdote, this one relating to hero worship: i went to a lecture by michel gondry last night. a lot of the questions asked were by students, and the form of their questions could easily have been boiled down to "i worship you, how can i be just like you?" i think the thing amongst younger students is that they can't see that their heroes are just like them, except that the heroes have had more time and opportunity to develop their interests and talents. i know it's impossible, but i think the format for last night's lecture would have been better if it were a conversation, rather than a lecture/q & a session.

that sort of conversation is possible here on DO. i totally respect lurkers and observers, and people with a willingness to learn by taking everything in, but i think making a contribution by exposing yourself a little would make this site grow even more. regarding worry about your reputation and career, in my opinion, you can't help what you are, so by just being what you are, that is the best way to develop your reputation. it's better for yourself and everyone else in the long run.
manuel miranda

I actually avoided this thread until this morning, and it's been gnawing at me ever since. I truly intend to insult no one as I write this, but I have a few thoughts:

1. There's nothing wrong with reading and not writing. For some, this place is a source of illumination and education. Bravo for those who keep up with things whether or not they write a word.

2. Some people choose not to write a response because it's already been said. I don't believe there's much sense in repeating things in this kind of an environment. I refrain frequently for that very reason, and I imagine others do the same.

3. The differences we cite between men and women are generalities at best. There are always other factors involved and always exceptions to the rule. I know everyone knows that, but I feel like we need a reminder. I'm not someone who believes stereotypes materialize out of nowhere, but I also believe they don't lend their greatest value here.

4. I don't care if there are fewer women actively participating here than men. I also don't care if there are more straight people here than there are gay, or if someone is asian, white, 50 years old, 20 years old, or what. I don't care if your name is Marian or Michael, or if you like boys or girls. And I'm not "PC" grandstanding. I come to DO because I have experienced a certain level of engagement from its participants and feel I can reasonably expect that to continue, and the personal statistics of the people participating are of little to no concern to me.

That said, I recognize that some of these things might be an issue for some people here. So I have a question: if these issues are actually problems, let's stop asking why and start looking for solutions (and let me cut off at the pass that recognizing the dimensions of the problem helps to find a solution... I know that, and I think the dimensions have been illuminated enough). And if it's not solutions we need, that what is it?

If a lack of female contributors is a problem, what do we do to change that? Or, does it not matter and do we keep going as we have? What's actually wrong with a low ratio of women to men?

I remember a few years ago Vonetta Flowers was on the US women's bobsled team. She and her teammate took gold in the event. Of course, this got a lot of media coverage because Ms. Flowers is black (or African American if it suits you better) and was the first black person from the US to win a gold at the winter olympics. While her achievement is great, isn't it undermining to call attention to the color of her skin? I remember thinking that if all people were truly treated as equal, this wouldn't be a bigger deal than any other gold medal.

Can DO start to set a precedent that moves beyond? Oh, and was this not an issue before it was even raised?
Andrew Twigg

With my first post let me begin by say hi. I've been visiting for a while and enjoy the range of topics. I'm a designer/art director for a small firm in Minneapolis. I also do a good amount of personal work/non-client, which lives primarily online. For many years, I've participated in the online design community -- interactive and traditional. I post links and brief news on a few design portals. These are not places of discourse, but their purpose is to direct visitors to things popping-up online (ranging from "eyecandy" to the more academic).

Regardless of all my time online, I have refrained from active participation on design blogs. Partly because of some points m batz has brought up. Also, unfortunately, finding myself the target of rude comments from a *certain* design blog proprietor, who from what I understand is quite aggressive in his distaste for the portals. Me, guilty by association, I suppose?

I have, regardless, pointed people in the direction of *unnamed* blog, Design Observer, and other's as I think there's a great value to fostering these communities -- something the portals are not meant to do. I myself, prefer to engage in discussion with designers I know personally (collegues/coworkers and on private discussion boards). I enjoy conversation, sharing ideas and showing new work. I do not enjoy arguments, hostile one-sided ranting, and the personal attacks I've witnessed on other sites.

So, while I visit and read... lurk... and enjoy Design Observer (this blog seems to be fairly positive and sans drama) I don't see myself posting very much. I'm also uncomfortable with the thought that there is a specific need for more female representation? I see myself as a designer, not a female designer.
Jemma Gura

Great post! We do need more women. We need new ideas, new perspectives, new areas of interest... and they'd be perfect for that.
Gabriel Mihalache

I perceive that when I post using my first name, Marilyn, rather than my initials, my posts are more often ignored by guys, especially on technical sites.

I've participated in several of Adobe's technical forums over time. I've found that when I give similar advice to that given by a male participant, it's often ignored, even if given first, while the guy's advice is commented on by name. This has happened again and again, so I think there is a pattern, perhaps unrecognized by the individuals involved.

It would be interesting to do a study of posts on a variety of sites, including percentage by women vs men (doesn't matter if we don't always know -- those that can't be attributed to a woman would be counted as coming from a man), number of responses mentioning previous posts by women vs men, etc.

My hypothesis is that we would find that men (and perhaps women too) respond more often to posts made by men, but of course, I haven't done the study. Anyone on this site interested?

So, for me, the question is one of women's invisibility, which has been thoroughly documented in other areas, but not on the web.
Marilyn Langfeld

As a female graphic design student, a relative novice in the design game, i am increasingly bewildered by the lack of the "feminine touch" in the world of graphic design. Why don't many women blog? Is it because women much prefer to sit and talk in the real world, face to face with other human beings as opposed to the cold communication of the computer keys and mouse? Or is it because blogging makes life easy for men? Men hate the words "let's talk", when spoken by a female. Well, when blogging, a male can post his opinions without the fear of an immediate counter point. This is not meant to turn into male bashing. The simple fact is that womwn prefer the more human touch when engaging in dialogues.
While there are many wonderful female designers, the field is predominately male, just like the field of architecture. Women are less likely to enjoy the constraints of such dynamic fields. They instead would prefer to design just for the sheer pleasure of creating something beautiful. The saying is that behind every great blogger is a great women. Aint it the truth. While all these men are out there blogging, who is taking care of the real world. Women. As i continue in my quest to break this male dominated society, i look forward to reading more of your comments here on designobserver, and i hope to contribute more comments in the future.
J Frederick

In the article "How the web became a sexists' paradise," Jessica Valenti identifies the problem of sexual harassment and threats of violence faced by women who blog or participate in online discussions. The ideas discussed in the article could definitely account for the lack of female voices in the blogosphere.


"A recent study showed that when the gender of an online username appears female, they are 25 times more likely to experience harassment. The study, conducted by the University of Maryland, found that female user-names averaged 163 threatening and/or sexually explicit messages a day."

Jobs | July 21