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5 Powerful Works by Female Designers

Written by Anna Castleton
Published date 08 March 2016

Curator Ruth Sykes shares five graphic design pieces from her current exhibition at Central Saint Martins, UAL.

1. Rachel ‘Ray’ Marshall cartoons for suffragette publication ‘The Common Cause’ 1910

Rachel ‘Ray’ Marshall (1891 – 1940); Cover cartoons for suffragette publication ‘The Common Cause’ 1910 Photo credit Ruth Sykes

Ray Marshall was already a published cartoonist before she enrolled in the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1912 to study wood engraving. The cartoon on the left satirizes the anti-suffrage view that attractive young women were not interested in voting or reforming women’s pay. Pay inequalities are still, of course, with us. In graphic design specifically, recent research published in the book “Graphic Designers Surveyed” revealed a gender pay gap which increases as designers age. This book, published by GraphicDesign& (established by ex-Central School student Lucienne Roberts, and current head of the Graphic Communication Design progamme, Rebecca Wright) is also included in the A+ exhibition.

2. Margaret Calvert, Men At Work, 1965

Margaret Calvert (b.1936), Men At Work, part of the Kinneir Calvert road sign system for Britain launched in 1965. Photo credit Ruth Sykes
Most British people see the work of Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir every day they step outside. Together, they designed the road signs for Britain that have been in use since 1965. Margaret (b.1936) attended a Central School evening class in 1957 to ‘brush up on typography’, while working with graphic designer Jock Kinneir, assisting on the signage for the newly built Gatwick Airport. Seven years later, after the pair had created the signage system for the new UK motorway system, the Kinneir Calvert signs for the rest of Britain’s roads were launched. Margaret herself drew a number of the original symbols, still in use today, including the famous ‘Men At Work’ sign shown here.

3. Kate Hepburn and Sally Doust’s Spare Rib Magazine, 1973

Kate Hepburn (b.1947) and Sally Doust (b. 1944) Spare Rib Magazine, 1973. Photo credit Ruth Sykes

Kate Hepburn (b.1947) studied at the Central School in the late 1960s, before graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1972. In her final year at the RCA, Kate teamed up with Sally Doust (b. 1944), previously Art Director of Australian Vogue, to begin work as the original design team for second-wave feminist women’s magazine Spare Rib. The brief for the design required a new kind of visual language that would indicate it was both a women’s magazine and a publication that challenged the status quo. Recognising the iconic status of Spare Rib and the valuable insights it gives to women’s lives during its 21-year existence, The British Library has recently digitized every copy of the magazine for public browsing.

4. Women’s Design and Research Unit’s ‘Pussy Galore’ typeface

Women’s Design and Research Unit's ‘Pussy Galore’ typeface
WD+RU (Women’s Design and Research Unit, 1994) poster showcasing the typeface ‘Pussy Galore’ printed by Fuse Magazine, 1994 Photo credit Ruth Sykes
WD+RU (Women’s Design and Research Unit) was founded in 1994 by Liz McQuiston (b. 1952), Siân Cook (b. 1962, studied and taught at CSM) and Teal Triggs (b. 1957, taught at CSM) with the aim of raising awareness of women working in visual communication and design education. After going to a typography conference where the speakers were all male, their response was to design the experimental typeface Pussy Galore, which consists of dingbat style icons reflecting on the endless spectrum of stereotypical language used to label and control women. The Pussy Galore typeface was included in the 2009 “Elles@centrepompidou” exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and in “No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism” by Rick Poynor. Whilst there are more women in typography today, it is interesting to note the recent creation of the ‘Alphabettes’ network, which exists to support and promote the work of all women in the fields of lettering, typography and type design.

5. Morag Myerscough Creative Review Cover design Letter A, 2013

Morag Myerscough (b.1963), Letter A for Creative Review Cover, 2013 Photo credit Ruth Sykes
Morag Myerscough (b.1963) studied at St Martins from 1982 to 1985, before going on to the RCA, and then founding her own studio in 1993. Morag has won many awards for her work, most recently as part of the design team awarded architecture’s Stirling Prize. This year she was included in Debrett’s ‘People of Today’ in recognition of her contribution to the field of design. A monograph of Morag’s work is due for publication later in 2016 by Unit Editions. Morag’s work is included in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s permanent collection. The giant letter A shown in the A+ exhibition was created for the cover of the Creative Review 2013 Annual, and is made from wood hand-painted by Morag. Also included in the exhibition is Morag’s hand-painted circular road sign, from the recent ‘50 Years of the British Road Sign’ installation at the Design Museum, curated by Made North.

See all these images and more in A+ 100 Years of Visual Communication by Women at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, showing 80 works by female designers. Find out more at

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