KH: Could you tell us a little about your journey into graphic design?
JC: I came from architecture, which has always been famously bad in terms of gender relations. When I was in architecture school, I felt pretty sure that unless I was married to another architect, it was going to be really difficult for me to have my own practice. And I just did not like that.
After school, I drifted slowly towards graphic design, and even when I was working at MoMA in 1999, I thought I was just taking a break from architecture. I was just going to do some graphic design work, and then go to architecture school again and get back on the horse.
It was around that time actually that I encountered Sharon Poggenpohl’s version of the AIGA Career Guide from 1993. When I read through that book, it showed me a field that seemed to value what women thought and what they did. And looking over the fence, it seemed to me like a place where I could be autonomous, and not be a pioneer. Whereas in architecture that definitely was not true.
So the book played a really big role in the fact that I did decide to go to graduate school in graphic design, and make the decision to switch careers into graphic design instead of architecture.
What attracts you to the format of the manual?
I can write a book, for example, about what's happening in publishing, which five people will read. Or I can write something that looks like a manual for doing it, get across the same idea, and get it across to a lot more people.
I've always loved the idea of the Trojan horse.I prefer to say “no, no, this is nothing; this is just how you fix your bookshelf.” In Moby Dick, Melville says over and over again that it’s just a book about whaling. But then it winds up explaining something much bigger than that through that medium.
What was a common thread between the people you interviewed?
So many of them were learners, and it’s really clear from everything that they said that they were always looking for new situations in which they didn’t know everything.
And there’s a huge difference between somebody who habitually walks into a place where they don’t know what’s going on, and a person who only follows a path where they know they’re going to be A+ all the way up.
Are there any perceptions about the graphic design industry that you’d like to correct?
It was not even on my radar in high school or early college because it just didn't seem like a particularly intellectually engaging thing to do. People have been told that graphic design is a thing that you do if you’re not good at math, that it’s not a smart field, that it’s easy, stuff like that. There are a lot of people who could be in this field and be really engaged by it and really love it who are probably doing things that are not as engaging, and not as confounding as design is.
If people could see that it was not the stereotypical picture of the young woman at the computer with the Pantone swatches in front of her with a Wacom tablet, with the man helpfully hovering over her shoulder, that would be awesome.
Do you hope your book will attract more women to the field?
We have no issue attracting women into the field. My thesis class is 100% female. There are plenty of women who think they should be designers to fulfill their creative destiny. There is no end to them, actually.
Rather than a question of who to bring into the field, what I hope is to send a message for people who are already in this field. I want them to know that they can design a place in it, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to abide by or follow anything. They just shouldn’t have to.
Graphic design is kind of similar to architecture in a way: we show one or two examples of women who won the game, but we don’t really acknowledge all the women who work in the field all the way through and value the work that they do in quite the same way as we do somebody who gives talks, and has profiles and monographs and awards.
We don’t separate enough being recognized from just being good. They’re two different skill-sets, those two things.
Any final reflections?
My feminism is all about freedom. I want to be free to do whatever I want to do. That’s it; I don’t really care about much else.
For more on Juliette's book, check out this piece by Eye on Design