Design Like Her

Sofia Rocha e Silva

Graphic Designer

I’ve taken some courses in History of Design, but there are no strong female references, from the classics.

Was it difficult for you to start your career as a designer? Why?

I guess it’s never as easy a start as you want it to be. But my difficulties had more to do with the fact that I moved to a smaller town that didn’t exactly have job offers in Design, which meant I had to create my own job and that increased the difficulties. But I think it was mainly that, the change, the geography. It was not so much about gender inequality, at least consciously.

During your career, did you ever feel you had to make decisions that you think if you were a man you would not have to even consider?

I think so. I’ve been feeling that more in the last few years, especially because of the issue of planning to have a family and all of that. I really feel like it’s a question of thinking and making a decision in terms of timings much more complicated. Because it’s not the same as men. As a woman, you really need more time, you need recovery time and all that, and it’s a big window where even if you want to, you’re not going to work. And in terms of decisions, I think there is a really big difference. Even if we want to say ‘no’ and we do our best at everything, it is a really big difference. We have to think about more things at the same time.

Did you ever feel that a client or work colleague treated you differently because you were a woman?

When I moved to Vila Real in 2014, a friend of mine, Guilherme, and I founded a magazine. Guilherme is five years younger than me. I was 24 and he was 19, which is a considerable difference at the time. We were co-editors of the magazine, we were on an equal footing. And what often happened when the two of us went for interviews was one of two things: either people thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend, because they couldn’t understand the idea of two people creating a project and not being a couple; Or they thought I was the assistant in some way. This happened in a very visible way, once we went to a festival and people were dealing with everything with Guilherme, and I was invisible. And that moved me a little at the time. Because I was invisible, and that was a really strange feeling. People in that case didn’t see me as someone who was going to make decisions. It was unconsciously on their part, but it was because I was a woman. There was no other reason. 

But in terms of clients I don’t feel this so much, but also maybe because as most of the work I did as a designer was on my own, people only dealt with me. I think there is more of this difference in treatment when you actually have a partner. When you have a pair of designers where one is a man and the other is a woman, you feel this duality of treatment more. Even if you are perceived as the second person in charge, you are the second person. 

When you’re alone, it’s you! Maybe there is a difference in treatment, but you don’t perceive it so much. And many of my clients are women too. I think this also has an influence.

However, I had a cooperative for some time and we when we founded the cooperative, the members decided that I would be president. And I was the only woman, and together with my vice-president, we were the youngest in the group. And in that case it was maybe the opposite situation. I think it’s even reverse prejudice, I think they even felt that I would be more responsible, more organised, and determined to deal with the issues that needed to be dealt with. Exactly because I’m a woman and partly because of my personality. People always make that distinction. The hardest thing is to be neutral. And that’s what people have to work at, to be as neutral as possible, and that’s hard. 

Do you think that the Design education (in terms of bibliography, case studies and references) is inclusive to female designers?

I think it is getting better. As we get closer to the middle of the 20th century and onwards, it is slowly increasing, very slowly. I think it is improving because there is a conscious effort to do that, also because the perspective of what History is has changed a little bit, it is no longer something so linear and dogmatic, but a more global perspective. And that includes various perspectives from various people who participate in History. But we have very few female references while we are studying. Design History is something that is given in a superficial way, it should be more in-depth. I’ve taken some courses in History of Design, but there are no strong female references, from the classics. You don’t have a classical reference. Later on you’ll have Paula Scher for example, but from the classics, further back, there aren’t any. And even we don’t do that revision afterwards either… When we become designers we don’t go looking for what has passed us by. Because we don’t have time, or we don’t even remember! But it’s still a job to be done. I know there are some interesting projects that have looked at this, but putting the references into the culture is a very time consuming and very long term process.

Do you consider that most women prefer to work as freelancers, or with a contract with an entity? Do you think men think the same way? Why?

I don’t know, I think maybe in terms of scale you really see more men as studio directors. Although that’s changing as well. There was a podcast where I talked about that with Ana Fernandes. She’s a Pacífica project manager in Porto, and we talked about this issue of there being more men as studio directors, and there are more women working as designers, but on a lower level. It’s like cooks and chefs, there are more male chefs, but maybe you have more women in kitchens. But in relation to being self-employed, or employed, I’m not sure what the difference is. 

If you’re self-employed you can actually manage your time and maybe get more out of it. You can be fairer to yourself and the time you have to take off for situations like maternity. However, when you’re self-employed, if you don’t work you don’t earn money… And in fact you can have that maternity leave during that time, but then you have to go back to work and you have to be at 100% and everything depends on you again. So I think it depends much more on the person, how they best fit in. Because in a company you have a kind of a structure, which although it’s unfair a lot of times, especially in situations with pregnant women, where many companies fire women who shouldn’t be in a position to be fired. But it ends up having a structure that when things go well you have a support. And when you’re on your own, maybe not. Each side has its pros and cons.

In terms of influence, did you feel the presence of the female figure (in the Design History, academic or professional environment)? What designers inspire you?

In History and when I was studying I don’t think I felt that at all. Although I think that when we discover a woman who has been successful, even if we don’t do it consciously we always get hopeful and proud. You reviewing yourself in a success story is different, but it’s a very unconscious thing. Nowadays, I think when I’re doing internet research, when I’m looking for references in Pinterest for example, the work is genderless. You rarely see the authors of the work. And then the author ends up being diluted. You might have some reference studio that you’ll look up, but most of us do a search through everything there is, at Pinterest, Behance and all of that. Gender is an anonymous thing, which actually has those positive points. It doesn’t influence it in any way. So right now I have no idea if I’m working with female references or not. But I believe I am, because, as you said, there are actually more women designers than men, in quantity. So I believe that there are a lot of women in the references. 

Do you feel that society has any expectations regarding you as a female designer?

I personally don’t feel that much. There’s a certain expectation from people who haven’t entered this world and maybe are starting a business, that they may expect women designers to have a more feminine style, passing the redundancy, but I actually think that as a woman designer you have a much wider spectrum of styles that you can walk on. You have women who do very strong and very irreverent things in terms of colour and style; And you have the other opposite. And I think it’s even the other way around. I think that maybe the expectation in terms of style falls more on men. Because you don’t see so many men varying their style that much. It goes more or less from the middle of the modern/modernist style to the more irreverent things and those bolder illustrations with very black strokes. You don’t have that many guys working with pastel colours and cursive fonts. You have some, obviously, but I think that in terms of expectations, here it is a bit more the opposite. But from people and clients who talk to me, I don’t feel there’s that expectation at all.  In terms of society, maybe. Maybe we’re also put in boxes as happens in other professions. Especially when it’s a visual thing. But I feel more those general expectations that affect all women in any profession rather than any specific ones about women designers.

What is your opinion about the female visibility and recognition in the graphic design area?

I think it’s quite different from before. I went to university in 2008 and I think things have been changing little by little. In 2008 there were already some references that were strong for us. We had R2 who were a couple and you really felt that it wasn’t that case where the studio is named after the man. They are both designers and that had some weight. At the time I was studying, we also had Sara Westermann, who made posters for the Casa da Música, we had Martim Nirrana’s studio, which was a duo, but you also had that female presence. And little by little I think we have more and more female references that end up being, in a very organic way, in the culture of Portuguese Design, which is always a positive factor. They are not there to be inclusive or anything like that. Although I think there has to be that initial obligation. In order for there to be more women in the History of Design, we don’t go there naturally. Initially, there has to be an awareness that it is necessary to include more women in the History of Design. It won’t be History, or the natural course that will lead to more women appearing.

I really think there has to be that obligation. I don’t call it quotas because that’s not the case, but it will be more or less like that. There has to be that initial rule for things to start moving to a different level. But then the wheel starts moving, and you start to have references that appear and become part of this more organic culture. Mainly in Porto. I don’t have references in Lisbon, but in Lisbon there are many more designers, so I’m sure there are many more women designers as well. But when I was a trainee in my last year of course, I did an internship at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Porto, and the designer at the faculty was Márcia Novais, and I learnt a lot from her, who was the only designer at the faculty. She did a lot of work and very different things. You also had Inês Nepomuceno at ESADE, so you had an axis of women designers who had some visibility and little by little you started to have some women in your reference portfolio, without even realising the process. But initially you always have to research, you have to go after. 

Inequality is invisible most of the time. Until you feel it in your own skin, or come across a specific case, many people are a bit oblivious to it. It’s difficult to show it when people don’t realise it exists. 

People in that case didn’t see me as someone who was going to make decisions.

Inequality is invisible most of the time. Until you feel it in your own skin, or come across a specific case.

Sofia Rocha e Silva

Graphic Designer
Was it difficult for you to start your career as a designer? Why?

I guess it’s never as easy a start as you want it to be. But my difficulties had more to do with the fact that I moved to a smaller town that didn’t exactly have job offers in Design, which meant I had to create my own job and that increased the difficulties. But I think it was mainly that, the change, the geography. It was not so much about gender inequality, at least consciously.

During your career, did you ever feel you had to make decisions that you think if you were a man you would not have to even consider?

I think so. I’ve been feeling that more in the last few years, especially because of the issue of planning to have a family and all of that. I really feel like it’s a question of thinking and making a decision in terms of timings much more complicated. Because it’s not the same as men. As a woman, you really need more time, you need recovery time and all that, and it’s a big window where even if you want to, you’re not going to work. And in terms of decisions, I think there is a really big difference. Even if we want to say ‘no’ and we do our best at everything, it is a really big difference. We have to think about more things at the same time.

I’ve taken some courses in History of Design, but there are no strong female references, from the classics.

Did you ever feel that a client or work colleague treated you differently because you were a woman?

When I moved to Vila Real in 2014, a friend of mine, Guilherme, and I founded a magazine. Guilherme is five years younger than me. I was 24 and he was 19, which is a considerable difference at the time. We were co-editors of the magazine, we were on an equal footing. And what often happened when the two of us went for interviews was one of two things: either people thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend, because they couldn’t understand the idea of two people creating a project and not being a couple; Or they thought I was the assistant in some way. This happened in a very visible way, once we went to a festival and people were dealing with everything with Guilherme, and I was invisible. And that moved me a little at the time. Because I was invisible, and that was a really strange feeling. People in that case didn’t see me as someone who was going to make decisions. It was unconsciously on their part, but it was because I was a woman. There was no other reason. 

But in terms of clients I don’t feel this so much, but also maybe because as most of the work I did as a designer was on my own, people only dealt with me. I think there is more of this difference in treatment when you actually have a partner. When you have a pair of designers where one is a man and the other is a woman, you feel this duality of treatment more. Even if you are perceived as the second person in charge, you are the second person. 

When you’re alone, it’s you! Maybe there is a difference in treatment, but you don’t perceive it so much. And many of my clients are women too. I think this also has an influence.

However, I had a cooperative for some time and we when we founded the cooperative, the members decided that I would be president. And I was the only woman, and together with my vice-president, we were the youngest in the group. And in that case it was maybe the opposite situation. I think it’s even reverse prejudice, I think they even felt that I would be more responsible, more organised, and determined to deal with the issues that needed to be dealt with. Exactly because I’m a woman and partly because of my personality. People always make that distinction. The hardest thing is to be neutral. And that’s what people have to work at, to be as neutral as possible, and that’s hard. 

Do you think that the Design education (in terms of bibliography, case studies and references) is inclusive to female designers?

I think it is getting better. As we get closer to the middle of the 20th century and onwards, it is slowly increasing, very slowly. I think it is improving because there is a conscious effort to do that, also because the perspective of what History is has changed a little bit, it is no longer something so linear and dogmatic, but a more global perspective. And that includes various perspectives from various people who participate in History. But we have very few female references while we are studying. Design History is something that is given in a superficial way, it should be more in-depth. I’ve taken some courses in History of Design, but there are no strong female references, from the classics. You don’t have a classical reference. Later on you’ll have Paula Scher for example, but from the classics, further back, there aren’t any. And even we don’t do that revision afterwards either… When we become designers we don’t go looking for what has passed us by. Because we don’t have time, or we don’t even remember! But it’s still a job to be done. I know there are some interesting projects that have looked at this, but putting the references into the culture is a very time consuming and very long term process.

Do you consider that most women prefer to work as freelancers, or with a contract with an entity? Do you think men think the same way? Why?

I don’t know, I think maybe in terms of scale you really see more men as studio directors. Although that’s changing as well. There was a podcast where I talked about that with Ana Fernandes. She’s a Pacífica project manager in Porto, and we talked about this issue of there being more men as studio directors, and there are more women working as designers, but on a lower level. It’s like cooks and chefs, there are more male chefs, but maybe you have more women in kitchens. But in relation to being self-employed, or employed, I’m not sure what the difference is. 

If you’re self-employed you can actually manage your time and maybe get more out of it. You can be fairer to yourself and the time you have to take off for situations like maternity. However, when you’re self-employed, if you don’t work you don’t earn money… And in fact you can have that maternity leave during that time, but then you have to go back to work and you have to be at 100% and everything depends on you again. So I think it depends much more on the person, how they best fit in. Because in a company you have a kind of a structure, which although it’s unfair a lot of times, especially in situations with pregnant women, where many companies fire women who shouldn’t be in a position to be fired. But it ends up having a structure that when things go well you have a support. And when you’re on your own, maybe not. Each side has its pros and cons.

In terms of influence, did you feel the presence of the female figure (in the Design History, academic or professional environment)? What designers inspire you?

In History and when I was studying I don’t think I felt that at all. Although I think that when we discover a woman who has been successful, even if we don’t do it consciously we always get hopeful and proud. You reviewing yourself in a success story is different, but it’s a very unconscious thing. Nowadays, I think when I’re doing internet research, when I’m looking for references in Pinterest for example, the work is genderless. You rarely see the authors of the work. And then the author ends up being diluted. You might have some reference studio that you’ll look up, but most of us do a search through everything there is, at Pinterest, Behance and all of that. Gender is an anonymous thing, which actually has those positive points. It doesn’t influence it in any way. So right now I have no idea if I’m working with female references or not. But I believe I am, because, as you said, there are actually more women designers than men, in quantity. So I believe that there are a lot of women in the references. 

People in that case didn’t see me as someone who was going to make decisions.

Do you feel that society has any expectations regarding you as a female designer?

I personally don’t feel that much. There’s a certain expectation from people who haven’t entered this world and maybe are starting a business, that they may expect women designers to have a more feminine style, passing the redundancy, but I actually think that as a woman designer you have a much wider spectrum of styles that you can walk on. You have women who do very strong and very irreverent things in terms of colour and style; And you have the other opposite. And I think it’s even the other way around. I think that maybe the expectation in terms of style falls more on men. Because you don’t see so many men varying their style that much. It goes more or less from the middle of the modern/modernist style to the more irreverent things and those bolder illustrations with very black strokes. You don’t have that many guys working with pastel colours and cursive fonts. You have some, obviously, but I think that in terms of expectations, here it is a bit more the opposite. But from people and clients who talk to me, I don’t feel there’s that expectation at all.  In terms of society, maybe. Maybe we’re also put in boxes as happens in other professions. Especially when it’s a visual thing. But I feel more those general expectations that affect all women in any profession rather than any specific ones about women designers.

What is your opinion about the female visibility and recognition in the graphic design area?

I think it’s quite different from before. I went to university in 2008 and I think things have been changing little by little. In 2008 there were already some references that were strong for us. We had R2 who were a couple and you really felt that it wasn’t that case where the studio is named after the man. They are both designers and that had some weight. At the time I was studying, we also had Sara Westermann, who made posters for the Casa da Música, we had Martim Nirrana’s studio, which was a duo, but you also had that female presence. And little by little I think we have more and more female references that end up being, in a very organic way, in the culture of Portuguese Design, which is always a positive factor. They are not there to be inclusive or anything like that. Although I think there has to be that initial obligation. In order for there to be more women in the History of Design, we don’t go there naturally. Initially, there has to be an awareness that it is necessary to include more women in the History of Design. It won’t be History, or the natural course that will lead to more women appearing.

I really think there has to be that obligation. I don’t call it quotas because that’s not the case, but it will be more or less like that. There has to be that initial rule for things to start moving to a different level. But then the wheel starts moving, and you start to have references that appear and become part of this more organic culture. Mainly in Porto. I don’t have references in Lisbon, but in Lisbon there are many more designers, so I’m sure there are many more women designers as well. But when I was a trainee in my last year of course, I did an internship at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Porto, and the designer at the faculty was Márcia Novais, and I learnt a lot from her, who was the only designer at the faculty. She did a lot of work and very different things. You also had Inês Nepomuceno at ESADE, so you had an axis of women designers who had some visibility and little by little you started to have some women in your reference portfolio, without even realising the process. But initially you always have to research, you have to go after. 

Inequality is invisible most of the time. Until you feel it in your own skin, or come across a specific case, many people are a bit oblivious to it. It’s difficult to show it when people don’t realise it exists. 

Inequality is invisible most of the time. Until you feel it in your own skin, or come across a specific case.