Women in Design Deep Dive 2021: Event Recap

May 26 2022 - 11:04am


The second virtual installment of IDSA's Women in Design Deep Dive—and 5th consecutive IDSA event focused on women in industrial design and related fields—drew hundreds of attendees from around the world on July 28 and 29, 2021. The online experience once again proved how important it is for female-identifying and non-binary designers to have a safe space where they can connect, discuss, and generate meaningful solutions for gender parity and inclusivity in the workplace, with allies also in attendance to listen, learn, and support.

All of the replays are now posted to the Event Hub for those who registered for the live WIDDD 2021.

Increasing Access and Opening Minds 

With the support of event sponsor Ammunition, IDSA was able to give 18 students complimentary registration to WIDDD 2021. Loft LLC in Providence, RI and Women in Industrial Design Chicago, in partnership with Ovyl Studio in Nashville, TN, also supported the event by purchasing multiple tickets for women in design to attend.

Across both days of the Deep Dive, themes of vulnerability, empathy, mental health, diversity, equity, co-creation, risk-taking, relationship-building, adaptation, and resilience took hold and radiated throughout. The speaker lineup included design educators, strategists, founders, inventors, authors, entrepreneurs, and designers across graphic, UX, research, footwear, and industrial design focus areas. The attendees ranged from students to junior and mid-level designers to VPs and top business leaders, all gathering to hear powerful lived experiences and to better understand not only the challenges faced by women in design today but also their triumphs, advice, and visions for how to move forward.

For approximately four hours each day, co-emcess Sarah Rottenberg, Associate Director of the Integrated Product Design Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and Raja Schaar, IDSA, Program Director of Product Design at Drexel University, guided participants through an energizing mix of keynote presentations, breakout sessions, and speaker roundtables. Simultaneously, audience Q&A and sidebar chat interactions kept the sense of community real and buzzing, as close to an in-person feeling of connection as could be achieved virtually.

The gathering also served as a time to reflect on and celebrate the roots of this event and how it has pushed the industry forward in just the past few years. During the emcee introduction, Raja described attending the first IDSA Women in Design event in San Francisco, where she was invited as a speaker. She recalled walking into the pre-conference Happy Hour on a balcony space. "There were only a few people there," she said, "and I was chatting with the people in front of me. The space behind me was filling up. And I remember turning around and gasping and tearing up a little bit, because it was overwhelming to be in an environment with so many people who you knew looked or felt the way that you did. And as I'm thinking this, someone walks in and literally blurts out, 'Are all of you really industrial designers? All of you?' And it was like, 'Yes, of course we are!' And it was a moment when you could feel the emotion in the space. It was just rippling through the air."

"For us, having this identity-based conference really gives us the opportunity to think about not just women in design in relationship to each other, but women as designers," she continued. "And to value the expertise and the experience and all of the things that we do and the way that we operate, and how they touch; and not because we are women, but because we are people who have amazing ideas who just happen to be women."

Day 1 - Wednesday, July 28

The first day of the event included four presentations, three breakout sessions, a speaker roundtable, and a virtual Happy Hour for continued conversations and networking. 

Reneé Seward, Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati, shared her inspiring career trajectory from graphic design student to design researcher and entrepreneur. Her company's tool, See Words Reading®, helps those who have difficulty reading letters on a page with an inventive font, SeeType, that recently won an STA Award. Jo Barnard, Creative Director of the London-based design and innovation consultancy Morrama, walked through her path to starting a design agency with refreshing candor and transparency. Jacquelyn DeJesu Center, founder and CEO of femme-focused design and innovation company DEEJAYZOO, talked about her flagship product launch SHHHOWERCAP® and the steps that led to her success with humor and heart. And as the closing Day 1 keynote presenter, Cheresse Thornhill, Design Director of S.E.E.D, adidas, explained how she found fulfillment in her design career through the connections she made over the years and the wonderful work she is doing now with her team: transforming the footwear design industry and cultivating the next generation of diverse design talent.

The invigorating and informative Day 1 breakout sessions were "Activism Through Design," led by Ti Chang, IDSA, Founder and VP of Design at Crave; "Permission to Speak: Unlocking the Power of Your Personal Voice," led by writer LaDonna Witmer; and "The UX Mindset: How UX Works with ID to Define and Create Products with Purpose," led by Darcy DiNucci, VP of User Experience Design at Ammunition.

Day 2 - Thursday, July 29

The second day carried over the tremendous momentum from the first with four more presentations, three breakout sessions, and a Day 2 speaker roundtable discussion.

Ayse Birsel, award-winning designer and author of Design the Life You Love, shared her design process, Deconstruction:Reconstruction™, as the "red thread" running through all of her design studio’s corporate product design, innovation, and brand work but and also through life, which she described as "the ultimate design project." Dominique Mueller, Director of Inclusive Design at Target, presented her life story with breathtaking vulnerability, revealing how social economic constraints, racism, and intentional connections can lead to a purposeful design career. No matter what your positionality, she declared, it's about what you make possible for others. Monica Weiler, Ph.D., co-founder of Stratos Innovation Group, expanded on the theme of resilience by looking into how the concept of resilience itself has evolved over time, with many examples of how it can be applied to design practices at the personal, team, and organizational levels. Finally, Frances Bronet, President of Pratt Institute, shared how she and her colleagues created unpredictable ecosystems, with overlaps in dance, disability studies, architecture, and more, to allow for serendipitous moments of discovery.

The Day 2 breakout sessions focused on the topics of "Designing for Humanity," led by Phnam Bagley, Partner at Nonfiction; "Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built For Men," led by Katrine Marçal, author of the book of the same name; and "Closing the Gender Gap Through Design," led by Başak Altan, IDSA, in which participants discussed themes from the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez and their own experiences as women in industrial design.


Here's what just a few of the WIDDD 2021 participants had to say...

Chelsea Young, attendee: "It's always energizing to see a talented community of women sharing their inspiring experiences and projects. Thank you IDSA for organizing another awesome WIDDD!"

Vicki Matranga, H/IDSA, attendee and co-chair of IDSA's Design History Section: "Fantastic program. So many riveting speakers and inspiring stories. Every session was powerful. Breakout sessions and chat comments built connections and allowed all to speak. A great success for IDSA—thank you for organizing such a needed event."

Cheresse Thornhill, M.S., speaker: "Thank you IDSA for creating a space for women in design to share our collective genius! Can't wait for next year!"

Başak Altan, IDSA, speaker and Design Voices 2021 host: "Thank you for an authentic, inspiring event full of connections. It was an honor to be part of it. Thank you IDSA for organizing!"

Raja Schaar, IDSA, co-emcee and co-chair of IDSA's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council: "It was an absolute honor to learn from these phenomenal minds over the past two days. It was a therapuetic, life coaching water hose of discourse. This event, like so many, has reenergized my spirit, helped me to reflect on my values, my impact, and how I will be more intentional about showing up for myself."

Brian Shafley, attendee: "A terrific slate of speakers! I was inspired with each session. Well done!"

Thank you to our event sponsors & media partners: