Lessons I've Learned in a Man's World

How many successful senior interior designers can you name who are female? From Philippe Starck to Marc Newson and Marcel Wanders, success stories of women in interior and architectural design are drowning in a sea of men. There are handful of high profile women working in design, namely Patricia Urquiola and Ilse Crawford, but that’s about it!

In fact, looking as far back as the early 1900’s, women in design are often overshadowed by their male counterparts. A good example is Charlotte Perriand. She worked in a studio with Le Corbusier, who took credit for a lot of her work, and it was only after she died that her incredible talent was acknowledged.

A lot of the junior designers are women but once they leave to have a family it is often difficult for them to come back in a client facing role unless its 40+ hours a week, which is really hard to do with a family. 

Women have slowly been emerging from the blanket of men, but there is still a long way to go in interior and architectural design.

Here is my advice to other women who are surrounded by men in their industry.

Follow your passion

It goes without saying that when you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. If you have a passion for design, follow it with full momentum and make that dream happen.

I have always had an affinity for space and volume and have always been passionate about the effect that our surroundings have on us. I believe that people are the product of their environment and I studied interior design because I wanted to design spaces that made a difference in people’s lives – whether that is at work, at home or at play.

Being a designer has never really felt like a job to me – I still work pretty hard but I do it because I love it. Being a designer is who I am and it’s a pretty amazing way to make a living. I have worked and studied through one recession and one global financial crisis and it hasn’t always been easy to make a living as an interior designer. But because I really love and believe in what I do I have been able to bear the tough times.

Take every opportunity – and learn from it

The journey to becoming a success in design, or any career, begins with saying yes to everything, taking risks and learning from mistakes.

Early on in my career, I took every opportunity I could to learn more, do more and get more experience. I worked long hours, was first in and last to leave and I offered to help the senior designers whenever I could.

I watched how the senior designers worked, and I’d hear how they talked to clients and suppliers and learnt from them how to behave as a designer. I took on as much responsibility as I could get my hands on and I took as much advice and constructive criticism as I could get – it paid off in the long run.

Broaden your horizons

Travelling is a great past time but being able to travel around the world, experiencing and learning about different cultures is an essential part of having a career in design.

So much of the world around me informs my work so it’s important that I read, research and travel and bring this knowledge back to our projects and our studio.

Exploring different places and broadening my knowledge in design, technology and human behaviour are both educational and inspirational elements of my job that help me to be a more successful designer.

Be you and know your worth

At the beginning of my career I initially thought I had to be more corporate, more serious. But as I’ve progressed, I’ve found that by being my authentic self and forgetting about “competing with the boys”, I’m more successful in my career.

The more you value yourself and how authentic you are, the more the ‘right’ clients will be attracted to you and the more fun life becomes as you will be collaborating with like-minded people, clients, and colleagues who have similar values and goals.

Being a woman in a male dominated industry can be confronting and difficult. But if you believe in what you do, take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, broaden your experience with education and travel and be your amazing authentic self, you too can become a successful woman in your industry.

My industry is dominated by men. A phrase that I know is often said a lot, but my career in interior and architectural design is really lacking in female representation at a senior level.

By Angela Ferguson

Angela Ferguson