A new collaborative proves Chicago's female designers are Quite Strong.
In 2006, McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers, graphic designer Milton Glaser and superstar book-cover designer Chip Kidd were on a panel, “The Art of the Book,” at New York’s 92nd Street Y. One of the questions they took from the audience, paraphrased by moderator Michael Bierut, was simply, “Why is it that you guys up there are always…guys?”
Last January, five Chicago designers between the ages of 24 and 26 asked the same question over brunch at Lula café. They’d all sat through design-history classes that featured one woman for every 20 male designers, attended panels devoid of diversity or felt the need to shout a bit louder than their male peers to have their ideas heard. A few weeks later, Jennifer Sisson, Victoria Pater, Elaine Chernov, Jana Kinsman and Katherine Walker (pictured, from left) formed Quite Strong.
An all-female design collaborative is a rarity. The women of Logan Square–based Quite Strong share a feminist viewpoint, but they try to take a lighthearted approach toward gender politics in the design world. “We asked ourselves, how ‘girl power’ are we going to be?” Kinsman says. Though they emphasize fun, they’re fully aware of the importance of their mission. “The influence design has on [the wider] culture is incredible,” Chernov says, “so bringing a different perspective to it—the female perspective—is crucial, especially in advertising.” She jokes about Dell’s disastrous attempt to appeal to women with Della, a 2009 line of pastel-colored laptops marketed as perfect for “finding recipes” or “guided meditations.” Quite Strong counters such misguided thinking with links to articles about women in industrial design and profiles of female Web developers who love complex code.
The collaborative’s members represent the gamut of design expertise. Kinsman, an illustrator for Crate and Barrel, says she’s excited to design the 2011 “Thought You Knew” benefit calendar, which highlights Chicago’s female cyclists. Sisson, a freelance Web developer, is the genius behind Quite Strong’s new website. Pater’s a freelance graphic designer. Walker, a designer with VSA Partners, still finds time to take on personal projects such as a recent logo design for Chicago court watch program Out for Justice. Art director Chernov shapes guy-oriented ad campaigns for clients including MillerCoors and the World Poker Tour, proving that women working in advertising don’t have to be stuck with cold creams and Diet Pepsi like Mad Men’s Peggy Olson.
Rather than fixating on women designers’ lack of recognition, Quite Strong promotes other women designers through its website’s Lust List. The collaborative also encourages talented young artists by working with Ag47 Collective, an arts mentorship program serving preteen and teenage girls in Logan Square.
Chernov, Kinsman, Pater, Sisson and Walker see old-fashioned designers who cling to sexist ideas fading into the background as studios seek diverse talent pools. They tell me reactions to their collaborative have been overwhelmingly positive so far. Chicago digital designer Sharlene King, who instigated UnicornsOMG, a series of casual designer meetups, says she recognized instantly “that there’s a thoughtful intent to what they want to accomplish. It’s more about the contribution to the community than personal and private agendas.” Quite Strong is partnering with UnicornsOMG to celebrate its website launch Friday 17 at Wicker Park’s Edge (1700 W Division St).
Online collaboration is a big part of Quite Strong’s day-to-day operations, as its five members work together on freelance branding and development projects aimed at female markets. The designers’ Logan Square studio, where they served me vegan cupcakes, magnifies that creative energy tenfold. “I’ve sought out coffee shops with Wi-Fi [and] cooperative work spaces,” says Sisson, describing her work as a freelancer, “but having a communal space to call my own is perfect. Being around the other ladies is always fun and totally inspiring.”
Meet Quite Strong at Edge Friday 17 at 6pm.