Q&A with Women Design author Libby Sellers

Libby Sellers is a design historian, consultant and former senior curator of the Design Museum, London. In her upcoming book, Women Design, she profiles a selection of the most dynamic female designers from the modern era, showcasing their finest work and celebrating their enduring influence. We had the opportunity to chat with Libby about writing her book and being a woman in the design world.

Photo Credit: Joakim Blokstrom
Photo Credit: Joakim Blokstrom

Who are the women designers who have inspired you in your work? 

It was only in the early twentieth century that women were even permitted access into the design industry. So I have to thank those pioneers who challenged convention and ultimately enabled other women to follow suit. Though more specifically, I have had many very inspiring female mentors in my career – in my early twenties I met Ilse Crawford, then editor of Elle Decoration, who set me on the path to studying design history and not long after graduating was really fortunate to have worked with Alice Rawsthorn, then Director of the Design Museum. Perhaps tellingly of the design world they both remain close friends.  

What was the most fascinating thing you learned while researching Women Design? 

It has to be the sheer number of women who have made such a substantial difference and contribution to the world of design, and therefore to people’s lives. There was not enough room in the space of one book to cover them all! 

What progress (or lack thereof) have you witnessed regarding diversity in the design world? 

While most of the contemporary designers I approached were very open to being included in the publication, a small handful were reticent. They felt that to focus on them as women would ultimately detract from the conversation about their work. These women are amazing role models for future generations. While I can understand their concerns, it was very disheartening to have to accept their decision to not be included. I think we need to accept that inequality still exists and that it is only when there is a truly level field that we can start a discussion about merit or a meritocracy. Perhaps by seeking out and celebrating role models we might be able to create a discernible difference. 

What can we do to make the design community a more inclusive place? 

 It is worrying that, in the UK, design and technology are being cut from the national curriculum in favour of core academic subjects. Obviously students need a balance, yet by deliberately squeezing creativity out of children’s learning there is little hope that the next generation will know that they can, let alone want to, seek a career in design. The pipeline will be cut off or, at worse, restricted to a privileged minority. Education, access and mentoring are key to encouraging inclusivity.  

What designer, who the public might not be familiar with, should we be?

Perhaps Aino Marsio Aalto, who has been largely eclipsed by her more celebrated husband Alvar, yet whose work is widely seen and of whom I quote Nina Stritzler-Levine, curator at the Bard Graduate Centre, New York saying ‘is arguably the single greatest omission of design history’. Learn more about Aino Mariso Aalto in this excerpt from Libby’s book, Women Design.


Thank you so much to Libby for taking the time to chat with us! See below for more information on her book.


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Women Design Pioneers in architecture, industrial, graphic and digital design from the twentieth century to the present dayFrom architects and product designers to textile artists and digital innovators, Women Design profiles a selection of the most dynamic female designers from the modern era, showcasing their finest work and celebrating their enduring influence.

Design throughout history has been profoundly shaped and enhanced by the creativity of women; as practitioners, commentators, educators and commissioners. But in a narrative that eagerly promotes their male counterparts, their contributions are all too often overlooked. Through 21 engaging profiles, Women Design rediscovers and revels in the work of pioneers such as Eileen Gray, Lora Lamm and Lella Vignelli, while shining a spotlight on modern-day trailblazers including Kazuyo Sejima, Hella Jongerius and Neri Oxman. Richly illustrated with archival imagery, this is a rare glimpse into the working worlds of some of the most influential forces in contemporary design.