Women In Design feat. Carla Ruiz

Meet Carla Ruiz, a resilient Senior Designer at Bippit. Originally from a scientific background she went on to choose character design over astrophysics and eventually discovered her true passion in graphic design. Here she shares the 5 things she’s learnt as a disabled, foreign woman in the design industry and emphasizes the pivotal role of role models actively driving positive change in the industry. An advocate breaking barriers and inspiring the next generation.

Could you please introduce yourself as well as your background?

A lot of people are surprised to learn I come from a scientific background (even though I talk about space every few minutes). I had two options when choosing my university degree: astrophysics or video game character designer. I chose the latter because I thought I could always try for astrophysics if I didn’t like character design. During my first year I discovered graphic design and I fell in love with it!

Fast forward a few years, I had to make the hard decision of coming to the UK right before Brexit was finalised, as there is almost no employment in Spain. It was all very rushed, I had to survive on a few pennies a day for almost a whole year, living in a room with no electricity and broken windows. Nobody wanted to employ me because I was foreign. I encountered a lot of racism during my first years of work. I was also struggling with very severe mental health issues, and undiagnosed autism. It was very hard! But I didn’t give up.

I started right at the bottom, junior designer, minimum wage. But like it usually happens in design, I was wearing many hats and doing duties that were not junior at all. I learnt pretty fast, polished my skills and in just 3 years I reached senior level. I am currently Senior Designer at Bippit. I am using my senior position to advocate for autistic people, and I have had conversations with many employers to improve their approach to inclusivity.

The design industry has a lot to learn, but we are on the right track with more diverse people joining the workforce.

What are 5 “stand-out things” you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on to your peers as well as the future generation of talent within your sector?

The main 5 things I’ve learnt as a disabled, foreign woman in the design industry are:

  1. Set boundaries. A lot of us try to justify outrageous working hours by saying “Oh, but I love designing”. To love what you do, you need to take care of yourself or you’ll end up suffering burnout. Loving design means loving the creator too. As women, we are used to having to work so much more than our male counterparts, we have to prove ourselves time after time to get the paycheck we deserve. Enough is enough. If they don’t value your skills, someone else will.
  2. Know your worth. On the topic of men getting more recognition than women, this is something I have had to endure during my career. I have been told many times a man would take the senior role but the business-critical, senior tasks would still remain in my hands. They knew I was a better designer than my male counterparts, they just didn’t think I deserved it because I am a young woman. Your skills are valuable, your time is valuable. Don’t waste it with businesses like that. And remember to negotiate your salary! Salary expectations among women are 15% less than men. Senior positions are occupied mostly by men. In fact, managerial positions are dominated by men, 79% to be exact. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.
  3. Find support groups. It can get very lonely being a woman in design. In university, most of the people in class are women. Why is it then that design is a male-dominated industry? Women get pushed out of the workforce because we are denied the career progression we deserve. Persevere, find support groups on LinkedIn, follow senior female designers that are speaking up for change.
  4. Be open to feedback, but stand your ground when needed. Even though you are a professional, you’ll be questioned all the time. I have been in meetings where I made a point and that point was questioned thoroughly. A few seconds later, a man made the exact same point and they all agreed. Stand your ground, make it clear that you know what you are talking about. Justify your decisions, use design jargon but make it easy for non-designers to understand. But standing your ground doesn’t mean refusing feedback. Being open to feedback is just as important, you just need to learn to identify when something is feedback and when something is questioned because you are a woman. Remember, feedback is one of the most important tools designers have. Collaboration is a gift. Good design is a result of teamwork, different views create a better product.
  5. Be very strict about who you look up to. Recently, a woman who everyone admires in the design world, did a rebrand for a museum. The rebrand wasn’t accessible, like many designs the studio she works at creates. It is a pretty big studio (starts with the letter P, if anyone is interested). I mentioned the lack of accessibility and they never responded. A museum is something everyone is meant to enjoy, they are also a big studio people use as reference. Why on earth are we perpetuating designs that aren’t accessible? Colour accessibility is a must. Many times big names lack diversity and the work they produce is not always up to standard. I have seen that same studio translate things to other languages poorly, and when called out they just ignore the comments. Work towards being a role model for future generations, always up your standards, investigate about accessibility and how to improve your work not only in a technical way, but in an ethical way. We have a big responsibility, design moves the world and we can change it for the better.

What is your take on the importance of role models?

Role models are vital. The reason I am in design is a lack of role models in astrophysics. It’s a grim reality, and something we usually hear a lot in STEM. But design is no different. How many senior female designers do you know? How many have you known in your career? In my case, I know just 2 female leaders, and only because of LinkedIn. In my career, I am the only senior designer I have known. I have always worked with men leading the way, and as a result I always thought I would stay as a junior.

But to be a role model it takes way more than just being there. What good does it do to just stay there and not change anything? One of the female leaders I admire is Cat How. I love how open-minded she is and how much she speaks up about the inequalities in the design industry. Role models need to use their positions of power to push for change. It is of no use to younger generations and women in the workforce to have people in senior positions who are comfortable with the status quo.

When I say I want to be a role model for autistic designers, I mean using my voice to fight for what we deserve. I mean speaking up about things other people can’t talk about because they could be risking their jobs. It is in our hands to create a better present and future for designers, and we are going to need role models to do this.

If you’re inspired by the stories and wisdom shared in our ‘Women In Design’ series and would like to contribute your own experiences, we’d love to hear from you. Creatives at all levels, please email Olivia and your story could be the next we feature.

Written by