Power in the Poster: 1997–2017, 43 Black Pins, 40 men, 3 women

Power in the Poster Catherine Girffiths Best Design

by Catherine Griffiths

1997–2017, 43 Black Pins, 40 men, 3 women / 43 poster

Each year the Designers Institute of New Zealand awards two Black Pins, its supreme award. For the past two decades, 43 Black Pins have been awarded, of which 40 have gone to men and 3 to women. For this year’s Best Design Awards (to be announced in September), of the 9 convenors of juries for judging the nine main categories and various sub-categories, 8 are men and 1 is a woman. Of the jurors and convenors combined, 46 are men and 15 are women. The jury for the Value of Design Award is made up of men only, no women.

How has this happened? Where are the women?

1997–2017, 43 Black Pins, 40 men, 3 women / Archive poster
2018 Best Awards Jury: 46 men, 15 women / Jury poster

I posted these three posters and story on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, Saturday, 21 July 2018. In the first instance, they were a response to the announcement of the male-laden jury for the Designers Institute of New Zealand’s Best Design Awards 2018, the institute’s premier event celebrating the year’s best design work.

Then I worked out that the institute’s prestigious annual award, the Black Pin—two are awarded each year—in the past 20 years has an even heavier male bias, 40 men and 3 women. While the CEO is a woman, the Board is male-stacked too, 10 men and 3 women. Later, a friend pointed out that the membership of the institute, which sits at just over 1000, is fairly even men and women. Another noted, of the 52 Fellows, 9 are women. Fellows? Such a word.

The information for the posters and story was gathered from the Best Design Awards website, the design using the site’s spot colour purple and their brand’s typeface, Untitled Sans—more power to the message.

The response to the posts across social media was quick, strong and unanimously supportive. Many of the members of the Designers Institute have been aware of the significant gender imbalance and cultural conformity, and some have endeavoured to address this, but without success. The Best Design Awards, for better or worse, as an archive of design, has been writing women out of Aotearoa New Zealand’s design history.

The objective of the posters is to encourage meaningful change, not only to gender imbalance throughout the institute’s processes, but to have those processes embrace cultural diversity too. And to be excited about the future it will offer. The proposition here, for the Designers Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand is to lead the industry it represents into a better world.

How might this happen? I’m not a professional in the gender balance or cultural diversity repair kit. I believe the Designers Institute must seek an independent, professional audit to discover where processes have gone dreadfully astray compromising the credibility and personality of the institute, and then to provide clear, functional solutions.

There are indications that the Designers Institute, since the posters appeared, is awakening to the kaupapa. Go(o)d speed.

To kick-start a conversation available to everyone, several of us with the appetite have set up a blog, Designers Speak (Up) as an open and democratic platform for all designers in Aotearoa New Zealand. With the many passionate design voices out there, from students, teachers, emerging designers to late-career, Designers Speak (Up) aims to be a place to be heard fair and square, publicly or anonymously, and to keep the design community abreast of historic and real-time issues and concerns.

— also published in The Spinoff

Catherine Griffiths / designer, typographer, artist

9 thoughts on “Power in the Poster: 1997–2017, 43 Black Pins, 40 men, 3 women”

  1. Hello, I am a photographer, I would love to come along to shoot this protest however I don’t seem to be able to find a time? is it at the start of best awards at 6.30? cheers.

    1. Hi Sam, this would be fantastic. We have another photographer lined up, so the more the merrier. So yes please! 5.30pm meeting point by the Fish market, for a 6.15 start. Goes until 7.30 … see the event on our FB page too, and contacts, Katherine and Jade.

  2. Thank you Catherine Griffiths for drawing attention to this inexcusable gender imbalance in an industry that should know better, and in a typographic language we can all connect with. Having been a judge for one year, a convenor for three years and a Fellow of the Designers Institute, I now feel complicit and embarrased and unhappy about the Institute and the industry of which I am a part. Wouldn’t it be great if this brings about significant behaviour change, or maybe just change, period? Diversity is something beautiful Aotearoa NZ could own as a national value. I hope I’m not mistaken and I hope the Designers Institute has the courage to learn from its mistakes. We all make mistakes, but it is always, always, about what we do about them.

  3. And of the 3 women awarded black pins, it appears that none were awarded to women for their practice in the areas that DINZ represents: graphic design, interactive design, motion graphics, spatial design, product design, design in business, service design and design education.

  4. The 5 ‘D’s are not popular on a school report, but for designers it is about the dream, drawing, definition, detail and design. We all possess a desire to create from the inner core of our being, from girls to women and boys to men. When the highest recognition of knowledge, culture and skills by female designers tallies only 7% of award-winning designers over 20 years by the Designers Institute of New Zealand, it leaves itself open to critical gender imbalance. This is a gross over-representation and acknowledgement of male designers, and a subjugation of creative and talented female designers. They may as well be presented with 5 ‘D’s of a school report. Don’t let the indoctrination of our design nation be infiltrated by draconian male dominant ideologies.

  5. Can we start a list of leading females in Design from various industries? Some of the males counter this argument by saying traditionally there weren’t that many females in the industry that have been around long enough to be awarded the black pin. I’d love to throw a list of worthy applicants back at them.

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