Promoting young women is smart for any executive.

Christiane Funken


»notamuse« focuses on the lack of visibility of female graphic designers in the design public. The meaning of the name is clear: not a muse. Unlike the muse, who inspires male, creative spirits through her inspiring but passive role, we are concerned with female designers who themselves are creative and actively participate in designing the creative landscape. »notamuse« places them in the center of attention on this page.

We wish for more female role models in graphic design and a more diverse design scene, beyond male graphic design heros. Therefore, in the spring of 2017 we interviewed 22 women and talked about subjects like the new working world and women in »male professions«, the differences between male and female designers and sexism in everyday working life. We discussed artistic approaches, work processes and personal experiences in the design world. This website offers the opportunity to compare the designers’ answers sorted by topic and thereby give valuable insight into design concepts, ideals and personal confrontations with gender equality, both in professional and private life. Statements of sociologists and design theoreticians complement this critical analysis.
In addition to this website we developed the book »notamuse – A New Perspective on Graphic Design«, which exclusively showcases the work of contemporary female designers. It is understood as a deliberate gesture that aims to compensate the male dominated discourse in design. The book will be published in 2018.

The team of notamuse: Silva Baum, Claudia Scheer und Lea Sievertsen (left to right)


Silva Baum, Claudia Scheer, Lea Sievertsen
Mainzer Str. 12
10247 Berlin


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Code by Jens Schnitzler, Tim Rausch and Jana Reddemann

Johanna Dreyer & Katharina Weiß

Grafikladen is the creative studio of Katharina Weiß und Johanna Dreyer. Their work ranges from conception design and classical art direction to contemporary design in print and online. Katharina Weiß and Johanna Dreyer studied at TH Nürnberg and UdK Berlin. In a chat, they talk about the obstacles one has to take in the transition from university to self-employment and how they experienced sexism in their career.

What was your decisive motivation for self-employment?

KW: After studying, we both had a lot of internship experience and realized that we often did not enjoy the working methods of others. You are dependent on someone who structures his enterprise according to his own rules, which you cannot comply with. We both have a vision of how we want to work and deal with each other ­ we have not found that in the Berlin creative industry.
JD: There is this dichotomy where you want to work. Either one goes into the advertisement and earns appropriate money—but the work is mostly unsatisfactory. Or you go to a cool graphic office, where you gain, despite working extra hours, 900 €. Already during our bachelor studies, we noticed that we are a good team, so there was this idea to become self-employed.
KW: Our profession is not a high risk. Everyone has a computer and the programs and it is possible to work from anywhere. Even if it does not work, you have not made a big loss.

How long did it take to become independent?

KW: From six months up to a year. As a beginner, right after your studies, you are often selling yourself under value. Then you gradually increase the hourly rate and it gets better and better. Generally speaking, there is still space for improvement.

You mentioned that certain processes in agencies do not please you.

How do you typically work on your projects?

KW: By now, our projects are running quite similarly, but it was a long process. Whenever we receive a request for a project, together with the client we create a briefing and afterwards develop the concept. With regard to the visual implementation, we continue to work on it separately. We used to do it together, which was nice, but we cannot afford it anymore. But this is all right, because the one who works on the project can realize oneself and the other only interferes up to a certain extent.
JD: However, we always have to agree on the design. If Katharina finds that a draft does not work, it will not be sent out, even if I love it.

How do you balance the conflict between economic efficiency and your own demands on the quality of design?

KW: Time is a big issue for us at the moment, because we have neglected a consistent time recording in the last two years. Meanwhile, we have realized how important this is in order to be able to assess the effort better. So far, the estimation and the actual expenditure of time have been very different, but since we have recorded it, we have become somewhat stricter. We do not necessarily work out yet another idea when we realize that we already exceeded the estimated hours.

Do you actively go on acquisition?

JD: So far, there was no need to actively acquire customers, which is quite astonishing. Especially since we do not want to work in advertising, but for customers from the social, political and cultural sectors. Our existing customers have always been able to generate new jobs.
KW: What you should not underestimate is private acquisition, which we both do intuitively. Whenever you meet new people and talk about your profession and thereby offer graphic advice, this can often lead to new projects. We received the first orders from our circle of friends. Since about half a year we get orders that we cannot trace back.

Do you deal with your process of designing for example by consciously working in an experimental or a conceptual way?

JD: I'd like to be more experimental, but that depends on the budget. Now and then you have to force yourself to try out new things and, for example, expand the analogous experiment.
KW: We would like to introduce one day a month, in which we can try new approaches and techniques or research. Unfortunately, the time is missing. But, of course, we treat each customer differently, analyze his target groups and adapt the design to it.

Do you want your signature to be recognized or is it fully about the commission?

JD: It used to be a big issue to me, but it does not concern me anymore. In general, we have no particular style that we pursue. Rather, I consider every project to be a metamorphosis with the customer. Sometimes I come up with great ideas before I have to realize that the customer does not feel comfortable with it. Therefore, a project is rather a relationship with the customer, in which the outcome is like a common baby. Before the start of a project, however, we already carry out research in order to differentiate ourselves from similar projects.
KW: I've also left this self-realization phase behind me. It was interesting one year after my studies, but that's not what I'm looking for now. We focus on a happy customer and that we are satisfied with the designs. There is no sense in producing »hot shit« that no one understands.

What do you think about design trends?

JD: The focus should be on the project, but of course we want to use a good font and do not try to use a different design, just so that it is less hip. In Berlin you can hardly escape from trends, so I think that our design is pretty up-to-date.
KW: The problem is that a trend must also be sold to the customer. Just because you find something hip and beautiful, does not mean that someone wants it.

Do you have any role models?

KW: Mirko Borsche still inspires me because I feel that he can do what he wants and every customer buys it. What l’m missing is a female role model and someone I can look up to entrepreneurially. We have made it ourselves and often it would have been nice to have a mentor, who can give advice. Perhaps a little bit more agency experience would have helped as well.
JD: I have no specific person as a role model, but rather a certain inner attitude as a goal. My vision is to not let myself be stressed and to work on things with an inner balance. Self-employment is a strong challenge for the inner balance, so I hope to be like a little Buddha, who can keep his serenity and transfer it to clients.

What does success mean to you personally?

JD: We've been thinking about that lot. Success for me is the realization that I am in a steady process and not just work on a goal ­ after all, you are constantly working on new jobs and it makes no sense to try to empty the to-do list. Understanding this process is a big task for me.
KW: For me, success also means having fun at work and earning my livelihood. If you are constantly thinking about your financial balance, you have no fun. Being able to identify with the projects is important to me. I do not want to work for assholes.

How important is public attention to you?

KW: The importance of public attention must not be underestimated, even though we are both not very good at it and often do not feel like working on it. Self-presentation also takes a lot of working hours, which can be exhausting. Men are often better at it, because of their big flap. Women are much more self-critical with their performance and therefore, could follow the men’s example.
JD: I am always happy when someone acknowledges our work. At the same time, it is difficult for me to implement self-imposed measures consistently. For me, it's more of a burden to present my work on Facebook and Instagram.

Did you ever experience any uncomfortable situation at work due to your sex?

KW: Whenever we meet with a customer for the first time, we feel that there is some sort of mistrust regarding our performance, because we do not wear jackets and are not very big. At the beginning of a co-operation, there is often a sort of fake fight, in which we should prove ourselves, although we were specifically requested to do the job. This behavior could be partly attributed to our sex, but perhaps also to our appearance. Many men are much more self-assured and thereby have a different effect on the customer. You can convince customers quickly, but at the beginning you come across small barriers.
I once worked in an office with two bosses who have only hired women. In retrospect, I feel that this is some sort of oppression—the hardworking women who are not pretentious.
JD: In part, I also feel that I am not properly recognized as a consultant in the design process, but rather as a service provider. As long as the design is satisfactory, there are no complaints—but whenever there are questions or doubts, I am not perceived as a professional who can clarify these questions. This can also be due to the fact that many graphic designers work with a different self-understanding.
At a Christmas party during an internship, someone told me that I only got the job because there is a video of me in which I eat a chocolate banana. This is already really sexist and was very shocking. It can be a naive strategy to play the sweet girl, but at some point you do not feel like it anymore.

Do you think there are special challenges for women in the design field?

KW: I think external circumstances are very difficult to change, so basically we only have the opportunity to work on ourselves. Perhaps it is a way to adapt one's own appearance and to present oneself as one would like to be perceived. I do not want to disguise myself at all, but I would like to try to be more confident when starting new projects.
JD: In the existing economic system, you are often being taken advantage of as a sensitive person. If you do not build a protective wall against these harsh structures, your own character quickly collides with the system. For me, the key is to recognize your own limitations, communicate them and stick to them.

How strictly do you separate work and private life?

KW: At the beginning we worked a lot—you think that for this a great project you could work also at the weekend, but then comes the next great project and the weekend work does not stop. After two years we were pretty drained and had to learn to stick to strict limits. Now there is an office telephone and e-mails are not read in the evenings and at the weekend. The flexible working hours are tempting with regard to mixing private life and work, but that is not good. I prefer to separate the time I work from the time I rest. These limits must also be made clear to the customer when suddenly he writes messages on Facebook or WhatsApp.
JD: There is this romantic idea of self-realization in a creative profession in Berlin, but it is hard work, in which financial aspects are also important. At the beginning, I tried to work full-time, studying the Master, but that quickly brought me to my psychological and physical limits, which must be recognized and communicated.

How difficult is it to enforce limits with clients?

KW: The stress happens in the head. We have often seen that artificial pressure is built up by the customers. If you do not react on Saturday, the problem often solves itself by Monday. If you communicate clearly that you do not work at the weekend, it is usually accepted. We do not save lives with our work—normally no one cares whether the flyer is finished one day sooner or later.

Which professional or personal goals do you want to achieve?

KW: On the one hand we would like to continue working together and enjoy our freedom. On the other hand, it would be nice to hire someone to support us with projects. I think it does not make sense to set a firm goal, because ideas change again and again. It is better to have a vision.
JD: Other than continuing to work together, we would like to keep our friendship alive, which has so far enriched us both. The financial independence is important to me, but otherwise I am very flexible. It would be great to be able to start a family at some point without having to worry about the financial.
KW: Our main focus does not necessarily have to remain in graphic design, but could shift in a different direction, for example art direction.