Discover the women that the history of design has forgotten


We’re talking to Dr Jane Hall, whose new book Woman Made seeks to shed light on the work of women in design who have been largely overlooked by history.

“It’s amazing how many people in this book have done amazing things that we haven’t been taught in design school,” Dr. Jane Hall says of her new book, Woman Made.

Published by Phaidon, the book seeks to present and celebrate the women who have marked design over the past century, but who have not necessarily entered design history.

It’s a sequel to Breaking Ground, which the founding member of Assemble Hall wrote two years ago, focusing on influential women in architecture.

“The house is a very gendered space”

While women have made significant contributions to all design disciplines, those included in Women Made have all had an impact on the house. Think about textiles, furniture, lighting and products.

It was of course a deliberate choice, says Hall. “The home is a very gendered space, but it has been a site of major changes for women over the past 150 years,” she says.

Plus, Hall says it’s a very ‘overlooked’ space when it comes to design. “The home is not taken that seriously,” she said, adding that it could be due to the wider experience women have there.

“It can be difficult to travel outside the sphere of Western design”

There are around 240 women included in the book, but Hall says the actual list was around 800.

With so many potential women to feature, Hall says the first step was to figure out “who was actually famous and why.”

There are a lot of reasons why some women aren’t so well known to designers in 2021, she says. But one of the most important was geography. “It can be difficult to travel outside of the Western design sphere because it comes with its own ideology,” she says.

Making a conscious effort to get out of that conversation, the book features designers from over 50 countries, with a spotlight on Nada Debs, Aljoud Lootah, and Monling Lee, alongside practitioners you’ve probably heard of, including Isle Crawford, Lina Bo Bardi and Charlotte Perriand.

Monling Lee. Sport Sofa, 2020. Photo credit: Jumbo (page 150) B. 1982, Taipei.

“I read a lot of very limited profiles”

One useful technique for going beyond that was research at international biennials, Hall explains. But still for many of these designers, especially the older ones, information can be scarce.

“I read a lot of very limited profiles,” she says. “I found out that I was running into someone amazing and couldn’t find information about them online or in books. “

Where the women were still alive to talk about their practice, Hall says she made a good effort to write their biographies directly from interviews with them. During the year-long research and writing period, Hall says his interviews could take him “from Kuwait to Dubai, then to Rotterdam” in a day.

Nada Debs. Summerland Paravan 2019. Photo credit: Courtesy of Nada Debs (page 78) B. 1960, Beirut.

“This might be the most complete description of some of these women”

For those who had died, it was more of a challenge. Hall recalls, for example, chatting with Dorothee Becker’s daughter for more information on the designer.

Becker, who worked extensively with the new plastic material in the 1960s, had a piece in the Vitra Design Museum, but the institution could provide very little information on it while Hall did research.

Such circumstances made the project even more relevant, Hall says. “Those 200 words might be the most complete description of some of these women who survive to this day,” she says.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri. Componibili modular storage system, 1967. Photo credit: Kartell US (page 63) B. 1918, Milan. D. 2006, Milan.

A “visual survey”

As for the book’s design, Hall refers to it as a “visual inquiry.” Each woman has a short biography, written by Hall, alongside pictures of their work.

Woman Made offers more than 220 color images. The whole thing is contained in a mint faux leather cover, designed by Ariane Spanier and featuring her “signature, sophisticated” typography.

Woman Made: Great Women Designers, is published by Phaidon and will be available from September 2. For more information, visit the Phaidon website.

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