Friday 15 March 2013
Guest blogger: Julia Meer

Julia Meer

Julia Meer is both a designer and design historian, which is why she both designed and – together with Gerda Breuer – edited the book Women in Graphic Design 1890–2012. After more than two years of research, picking authors, and choosing which designers to write a short biography on and whose images to show, here is how she remembers the time.

Women in Graphic Design

Working on the publication of Women in Graphic Design 1890–2012 was very special, both with regards to content and the emotional side. There were, for example, the reactions when we told people what we were currently working on. There seems to be a widespread insecurity when it comes to this particular topic: everyone assures you how interesting the topic is, and it subsequently gets lost in platitudes. Not so when it comes to people who were already dealing with these matters. We experienced great enthusiasm and support – so it was very easy to get information and material. At least when it came to the currently active designers.

It becomes much more difficult when you go back to the time before 1970, when it becomes hard to get in contact with the designers. Even more difficult is the time before World War II, when it is extremely hard to find work samples. When it comes to the years before 1900, you are happy if you at least find a name. But that isn’t much. Then you know there have been women working as graphic designers, but you don’t know anything about their education, life, clients or ideals. That’s why we realized quite early that the »traditional« method of research, that focuses on the designers and their work, wouldn’t be enough. It was necessary to ask structural questions like: why were there this many women active and in which fields? When and why do designers become visible? Were there ambitions to change working conditions?


WomenGraphic_0017For me it was very fascinating to »re-read« the history of graphic design and understand history, even more than before, as something that is written and constructed. I think our book is a good foundation for this re-reading, but the task of re-writing history is still pending. Hopefully we helped to widen the perspective, and encourage women and men to ask critical questions. I guess, when it comes to that, the fact that Gerda Breuer, my co-editor, and I were socialized in different generations enriched the research. It makes it obvious to the reader that there is a history of feminism as well, that merges with the history of graphic design. There were, and are, a lot of different ideas and approaches, which makes the discussion very vivid and productive. These different positions also reflect in the interviews, which were probably the most memorable part of our work.

I very much look forward to the Hall of Femmes series. It is both impressive and calming to meet successful women and hear them talk about their work and themselves. I think young designers especially need to get a concrete/palpable example of ›successful women‹. Otherwise they only have an abstract and often vague idea of what is necessary to become successful. And that image is often debilitating and causes pressure and doubts about whether one is capable of all that oneself. If you then meet Irma Boom or Julia Hoffmann and realize that they have not planned and organized every single minute and aspect of their lives and are a massive paragon of ambition, that helps you to get a better perspective. They still work because they love their work. Summarizing all that: we really hope the book not only gives impulse to design historians, but is also inspiring and motivating for designers.


Julia Meer has worked at the institute for art and design studies at the Bergische Universität Wuppertal since 2008. In addition to pursuing the completion of her dissertation on typography in the 1920s, she works as a freelance designer and organizes lecture series, most recently on the architecture of the 1950s. She has served as editor of the magazine ff. since 2006. Find the book here and Julia’s web page here.

Posted by: 21:43

Categories: Guest blogger, Julia Meer