Our Muireann.
Getting to know the A Team

1. Tell us a little bit about your creative self, why did you want to be a designer, where did you study and how did you get started in the industry?

I’m not sure I always wanted to be a designer or even knew what that was to be honest, but I always knew I wanted to do something creative. A friend of mine was doing Industrial Design in NCAD and he showed me the projects he was working on. And once I saw those and learned more about design there was no turning back- it was the perfect fit because I could to do the creative bit as well as the ‘nerdier’ technical stuff like the maths and engineering. After I finished in NCAD I worked in industry for a while but found my myself in education, first in IT Carlow and then to UL which is where I am now. Both my parents were teachers so maybe I was destined find my way into education even if it was via design!

2 - How do you see yourself as a female in the design world?

This is tough, I’ve never really experienced too much overt ‘sexism’ as a female in design, I’ve always worked in predominantly male teams and my male colleagues have been nothing but supportive and gender blind. All of my male bosses have been brilliant and given me so much help along my career journey. I do have a few stories about being a female designer in one or two situations that perhaps at the time I didn’t realise were gendered. They were difficult to deal with and have definitely made me realise I shouldn’t accept that kind of behaviour from anyone. So I am much braver in calling it out now.

3 - When did you first hear about WhyDesign and what was your reaction?

I did a small research project as part of the Irish Year of Design ID15 called the Gray Legacy Project looking at the reasons why there far fewer females studying product/industrial design in Ireland. The findings were really interesting and I realised that the decision to go into a career in design goes much further back than choosing a college course. So when Kim told me about Why Design? it couldn’t have been better timed. I think any initiative raising awareness about design and what it is as a career path (or multiple career paths) can only serve to build a better and more resilient design community.

4 - How and why did you join Team WhyDesign (hook or crook)?

Are you allowed to say ‘no’ to Kim? I guess if you want to make a difference you need to be involved and if we want to change the attitude towards females in design it needs to start with education, which is where I come in. I’m acutely aware of the challenges our female students experience every day and these can be directly translated into the professional world. It’s not only female students though who need support, we need to give everyone an equal shot at amazing design careers. Plus I love organising events- maybe I missed my true calling!

5 - Where would you like to see WhyDesign in 5 years?

Not needed anymore! For me the best measure of success would be that we no longer need an initiative like Why Design? (sorry Kim!) because design education and the professional design industry is gender blind and truly diverse. Maybe Why Design? will evolve to include a broader diversity agenda and work towards a more varied Irish design industry. It would be great that every aspiring designer (at whatever level) can see themselves represented in the design community and can feel empowered to carve their own path through their career in whatever way makes sense to them.

6 - What is next for you?

Get through the next few weeks of semester end chaos and make sure the students graduate with work they are proud of, not the easiest thing in these strange times! Then hopefully I will get a bit of a break before we are right back into planning for the coming year- which is going to be vastly different from what we typically do. But I guess it’s a great opportunity to be really creative and innovative in designing new ways of training future designers. Plus I’ve got a few interesting projects on the boil at the moment that are directly related to design for/ by women so watch this space!

Contact Details

Dr Muireann McMahon is a Design Educator

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