Recap :: Breakthrough: Women In Design 2012

by Alyce Packard, BID Candidate
On Thursday, April 12th, BAC NOMAS presented their 3rd annual "Breakthrough: Women in Design," a panel discussion featuring women from the local design community. Thalia Lewis, of BAC NOMAS introduced the discussion. The word of the night was gratitude.

We are grateful for the women leadership we have at the BAC including our students and the staff, we're grateful for the four guest designers we had visiting us that night, and most of all we are grateful for Norma Sklarek to whom the night was in memory of. Norma Sklarek was the first African American female registered architect. Women designers everywhere, including Norma who lead the effort, are carving a path for us. 

The first speaker was Mika Gilmore who is a Designer for HMFH Architects. I personally found it really easy to connect with her, she's fresh out of school (a BAC graduate) and she's really interested in furniture design.

She's best known for her "Hexy Wall" design. The Hexy Wall is a series of hexagons used as shelves. You can use as many as you want and you can arrange them whichever way you like because of the way they are connected with magnets. They’re very customizable. Mika's story was very inspiring. She worked hard to get where she was and she spoke to us in a very down to earth kind of way.

Next was Sarah Madden, the Sustainable Planning Coordinator for Sasaki Associates. Sarah spoke in a very matter of fact kind of fashion and got deep into detail on a few of her projects. The one thing that was very clear was how passionate she was about what she was doing; she was especially passionate about water.

Sarah referred to sustainability as the "s-word" which I found funny. Focused on her storytelling skills, she
found new ways to talk about the concept to make it more exciting, without the stigma. She pointed to a website where people could get involved by filling out specific surveys indicating what they wanted to change the most about the area they lived in. 

Meichi Peng, the owner of Meichi Peng Design Studio and Peng Furnishings spoke next. Meichi's story is impressive. She had originally gone to school for mechanical engineering until she figured out that she wouldn't be happy doing that for the rest of her life. She explained that to be a designer, it is imperative that you be passionate and have drive.

Moving to America all by herself when she was 18, Meichi explained her driving force and journey. She had been sewing since she was younger; she was the tailor in her family, so she created her own line of handbags called Peng Bags. On top of that she was going to school and working. She thought of herself as a sponge while she was working as an intern for architects and she wanted to absorb everything she possibly could. She wanted to prove that interior designers aren’t interior decorators. When she receives comments, she really digests them and thinks about what the client wants. Meichi loves challenging herself and taking risks.

Last but certainly not least was Valerie Fletcher, the Executive Director for the Institute for Human Centered Design. Valerie was very interested in connectivity and felt that most women designers were also very interested in that subject. She said that a respect for diversity is absolutely required if we want to survive. She thought a lot about universal design. Why design something if it won’t change the human condition?

She discussed both the negative and positive impacts of human behavior. While we do waste and consume things, we are also living and surviving longer. Valerie strives for social equality because we live in such a diverse world where everything is constantly changing. She’s working on ensuring enabling and supporting environments. As designers, it is our jobs to create the context in which humans live.

After each guest spoke, they all sat down together and answered questions from the audience. To me, the best question was: "What is your most useful skill that some people might not know about?" Although each of them had their own individual answer, there were common threads. All of them were courageous in their own way and all of them were risk takers.

They all agreed that in order to succeed, you have to ask for what you want; you can't expect someone to just walk up and give it to you. It's about attitude, you have to believe that you deserve the life that you want and you have to have the drive to attain it. You have to be confident enough to trust yourself and to be the first to do something. This field was traditionally a male dominated field, but we should not try to be like men, we should embrace being women because we have strengths. As women we are naturally caretakers. We have a keen attention to detail and we care a lot about the environment, about our clients, and about ourselves.

As Mika said, when designing you should dedicate 60% to what it is that you're doing and always at least 40% to yourself. It is our job to create experiences for other people so we shouldn't spend all of our time behind desks and indoors, we should be out in the world creating and finding our own experiences. 

More images can be found here.