A survey of Women Graphic Designers in Wisconsin

Principal Investigator, Art Director and Designer: Tamara McLean
tlmclean@wisc.edu, 2025 MFA Fellowship Candidate, Graphic Design Program, Art Department, UW-Madison


Women's role in Wisconsin's graphic design history since 1989 is the focus of this research.

The Wisconsin women's graphic design unwritten history and contributions to economic success to fine art academic culture and professional communities are unrecorded. In the United States, specifically Wisconsin, before 1989, Graphic Design careers were dominated by men working in printing companies. Since the Heidelberg Platen Press was introduced in 1914 and manufactured between 1923 and 1985, printing has been a physically demanding, highly paid union job. In 1961 Letraset released a dry transfer type that democratized communications. On January 24, 1984, founder and CEO Steve Jobs debuted the first Macintosh Computer in Cupertino, California. The computer was now accessible to the masses, and desktop publishing was launched as a billion-dollar industry. This research focuses on Wisconsin's graphic design history and the role women have played. Each medium: package, visual merchandising, environmental graphic design, branding, print collateral and web, provides a visual experience as narrative, interactive, and tangible. It will be an original website design that tells the stories of Wisconsin women in graphic design history. A diverse group of women designers will be sought. The website will showcase women's experiences working alongside men in the printing, advertising, education, freelance, in-house design departments, and design agencies throughout Wisconsin. The website will include interviews with UW system educators and designers. The gallery show website, https://design4women.org, will be developed to embrace regional, national, and global audiences.

Project Description

  1. Who are the women who worked in graphic design in Wisconsin? I am interested in learning more about who the diverse group of women is. Specifically, economically and socially.
  2. What is their background? Did they have an education or obtain a degree past high school? What certifications were required? I am curious to know if their location or job opportunities dictated their career choice.
  3. Where did they work? It will be interesting to learn if women were first offered opportunities in the many printing companies throughout Wisconsin. When did companies start to expand Marketing Departments to include Communications and Graphic Design? What jobs did they do? Was graphic design a progression from secretarial work, or did companies seek artists?
  4. What titles did they earn? Who was the first female graphic designer in Wisconsin? Who was the first female Creative Director? Did they feel included?
  5. I am also curious about equity. How did women's pay compare to other professionals? What types of tasks were they assigned? Are there women in leadership roles? If so, when did women reach the executive level?
  6. What are the current opportunities for Wisconsin women in graphic design? What does the career path look like today? What mediums are women graphic designers working in? How many careers require advanced training, certificates, and degrees? What areas of study are required?

This is a long list of questions, and my research may fail to discover all the answers. However, these are essential questions to ask. No one knows a job better than those who have worked it—learning the answer to these questions, even if incomplete, will help inform the next generation of women graphic designers in Wisconsin, regionally, nationally, and internationally.


Visual communication education is traditionally male-focused. Graphic design educators and designers who explore a female collective living and working in Wisconsin have been ignored. The exhibition invites visual pioneers pursuing feminist graphic identity in visual communication. Female visual communication educators are routinely challenged to deal with inequity of academic and professional opportunities and recognition. They suffer from a lack of supporting systems, connections, and resources to explore new cross-disciple visual solutions. Limited opportunities to present their works as exhibitions and publications from exclusive professional graphic design communities and industries. All invited Wisconsin female exhibitors and artists for the exhibition are highly recognized in digital art and fine arts as artists. However, they have been unrecognized and excluded by their professional design communities and industries in the US. There is no data, survey, statistics, or research related to academic marginality and exclusion in the traditional graphic design research of the US. The design research aims to provide exhibition and research opportunities for the academically underrepresented but highly regarded females living and working in Wisconsin as visual art and design educators and professionals in the US.

Approach (design, methods, and analysis)

In-person interviews with women graphic designers in Wisconsin translated into experience stories, photos and visual designs. Data visualization design will be the primary tool for communicating findings.

Expected products

Website, publication, conference presentation and exhibition at Evolving Graphic Design Symposium, AIGA DEC and SECAC.