Imagining a More Inclusive Design Industry

This year, Women’s History Month carries the theme "Women Advocating for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion". With this idea, the global community is expected to join efforts to eradicate gender bias and discrimination completely. Women around the world are also encouraged to raise their voices louder for justice and equality in every aspect of social life, including in the workplace. Gender equality itself remains an unfinished task in various sectors, including design. The current design ecosystem, not excluding Indonesia, still needs more representation of women, especially in leadership positions, both in institutions and studios. With such reality, how about we imagine an equal and inclusive design industry?

Design plays a crucial role in voicing social issues in our lives. Creative ideas manifested in graphic forms can become effective tools for conveying messages to various layers of society. Considering the current reality, there are myriad issues and challenges faced by women every day regarding their rights: the lack of safe spaces, sexual assault, the right to authority over one's own body, wage gaps, and much more. In a world increasingly connected through various digital platforms, educating about these crucial issues can be easily shared. Activism through design shared on digital platforms can foster understanding of what is happening and spark real actions or initiatives for change.

As the role of women in the design industry approaches the desired level of equality and equity, more perspectives are represented at the table, especially that of women themselves as well as queer voices and other minority group. In Indonesia, small strides have been made with the emergence of various female collectives. Although these organizations have yet to to make moves on on a massive scale, the designs produced are able to support the information conveyed to the general public with visual elements with the power to attract the attention of many. One such collective that routinely shares educational content, information, and campaigns regarding women's and minority rights is PurpleCode ( on Instagram). Through carousel posts on Instagram, PurpleCode is able to utilize the role of design to convey crucial information around the issue of sexual violence and safe spaces for women like education on the importance of psychological support for victims of online sexual harassment which is a common occurrence in Indonesia. When the 2022 Personal Data Protection Act (UUPDP) was passed by the Indonesian government, PurpleCode Collective shared infographics regarding the pitfalls of the law through the lens of women’s rights. Not limited to short-form content on social media, PurpleCode Collective has also facilitated the design of a zine with artist Ika Vantianti under the title Zine Klub Saudara (English: The Sisterhood Club Zine). This movement is part of an effort to voice issues often ignored by conventional media through the process of zine design, from the writing to the visual design.

Aside from PurpleCode, similar efforts were also undertaken by Komik Problema Nona (@problema.nona on Instagram) initiated by Mar the writer and Sanchia T. as the illustrator. Komik Problema Nona uses short illustrated comics to share stories around the issues faced by women like how social environments measure women from their physical aspects rather than their capabilities, the problem of catcalling, and even negative views held against women who don’t marry by a certain age. Along with collective initiatives, female illustrators and designers are also individually speaking up on the matter of women’s rights and struggles through their works. This year, Nadya Noor along with TaskForce KBGO published the zine comic Mulai Dari Kamu (English: Starting From You) which also acts as  a call to action for the general public to prevent the non-consensual distribution of intimate content which is concerningly becoming more common on social media.

On a broader scale, the representation of women in the industry is proven to push the voicing of issues often under-addressed by the general public in the global scale. Spain-based design studio Hey is one such example. Founded by graphic designer and lecturer Veronica Fuerte, Hey also hosts the popular Women at Work Podcast alongside their core creative practice. This year, Veronica Fuerte also heads the jury panel for the graphic design category in this year’s edition of the D&AD Awards. Hosted by Ane Guerra, the podcast invites remarkable women practitioners to share their experience in the industry since its conception in March, 2021. Women at Work platforms female creatives from all walks of the creative industry including creative director Liza Enebeis, creative coder Beatriz Lozano, graphic designer Dahyun Hwang, 3D designer Eva Cremers, creative entrepreneur Carla Cammila Hjort, and more. Bringing them into the spotlight and allowing them the simple right of visibility evens out our perceptions of the industry—balancing our view of who can be a successful practitioner in the creative industry.


New York-based agency &Walsh, founded and spearheaded by graphic designer Jessica Walsh, is also one such example. On their website, they note how &Walsh is only one of the total 0.1% creative studios owned by women worldwide. In response to this lack of representation of women and nonbinary creatives in the industry, &Walsh initiated the Ladies, Wine & Design (LWND) non-profit following a rather complex interaction with a fellow female design practitioner in 2015. With chapters in 280 cities including Jakarta, LW&D addresses this disparity through free mentorship circles, portfolio reviews, talks, and creative meetups. A simple glance at their Answers section shows you that this is an organization that profoundly understands the struggles of non-cishet male practitioners in the industry. Tackling the issue of representation not only through the simple metrics of the sheer number of non-male practitioners but comprehending that high-level roles, especially at the leadership level, is crucial to confronting inequality in the field at large.

These steps taken by female collectives, studios, or individuals prove that design has the power to uplift these voices that have so far been overlooked and issues by the global social environment, Indonesia included, that still subscribes to the patriarchal system. Visual works born from the representation of women in the world of design, though small in numbers, can slowly change public views through effective education. Imagine if more women were involved and took crucial roles in the local design scene: more and more initiative movements from female creative actors fighting for the rights of women and vulnerable groups; more and more brand or product campaigns that take the perspective and needs of women without even a hint of the male gaze narrative; greater opportunities for brands or products initiated by women and vulnerable groups to get ideal promotions and publicity; more and more official government institutions or non-governmental organizations related to women are utilizing design for even more mass-scale education; more and more discussion forums for creative practitioners on important issues related to the rights of women and marginalized groups; women's wages are becoming more equal; and more safe spaces for women in the creative industries.

Speaking of safe spaces, equal representation of women in the design industry—and indeed, in all industry sectors—can be the first step to creating a work environment free from a culture of sexual violence. Gisela Swaragita, a writer and journalist from Indonesia, once translated the Rape Culture Pyramid which she adapted from the 11 Principle Consent. In this pyramid, it is said that indecent chats in hangouts, jokes about rape, degrading attitudes towards women and marginalized groups, and unequal wages are the earliest levels of rape culture which, if normalized, can develop into forms of harassment. Often subconsciously, workspace behaviors, including in creative environments, perpetuate this culture because they have become part of everyday life. If women's roles in the design industry are equal, and even have an important role in the industrial landscape, then awareness of the importance of preventing rape culture will grow. Steps to prevent all forms of gender-based violence will be realized as more voices are heard.

Creating an inclusive design industry is not only a task for women, but also for all industry players. There are steps that can be taken to address gender inequality in the design industry with the aim of fostering a more inclusive and equitable work environment, as well as recognizing the efforts of all designers regardless of gender. The first step is to increase diversity and inclusiveness in recruitment practices by eliminating gender bias and limitations written in job descriptions, promoting career paths fairly, whether for women or vulnerable groups who qualify, and providing equal wages without considering gender. It’s also crucial for underrepresented faces of the industry to build community together in order to support each other’s progression in the creative sphere. Presenting a united front in solidarity is key in ensuring that the creative field is able to step forward and evolve together into a more equal professional ecosystem. 

Companies can also provide project and training opportunities for their employees in a balanced way, this includes giving trust to female practitioners to lead projects and providing guidance and support in the leadership process. Design studios can also be actively involved in discussions and creating educational content about gender equality and its impact on the industry, both internally and externally. If there are reports related to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, companies must be able to monitor the case, provide real and firm sanctions to the perpetrators, and facilitate assistance for victims. 

Simultaneously with these steps, female designers and vulnerable groups must embrace each other to realize equality by providing support to each other, listening to ideas and opinions, providing healthy input, and joining in voicing the rights of fellow women and vulnerable groups. With the existence of the Rape Culture Pyramid, female designers must now be more aware of acts of gender-based violence and have the courage to take firm action, such as reporting related cases, to company officials and related institutions.

If you, either those in he design industry or readers of Grafis Masa Kini, experience sexual violence in or around the creative work environment, you can report it via email to or contact the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) at call center 148 or WhatsApp 0857-7001-0048. Alternatively, you can contact the SAPA 129 service provided by the Ministry of Women Empowerment And Child Protection since 2021 via hotline 129 or WhatsApp to number 08111-129-129.

About the Author

GMK Team

Collaborative articles written by multiple writers of the Grafis Masa Kini editorial team.