WhyDesign 2024: Designing for sustainability: economically, socially and environmentally

WhyDesign 2024: Designing for sustainability: economically, socially and environmentally

Thanks to to all the changemakers driving Sustainability in Design, who joined us at Why Design 2024, our annual International Women’s Day event held on March 7th at the Spencer Hotel to discuss this year's theme of designing for sustainability; economically, socially and environmentally. Tackling climate change requires adapting every aspect of our lives and considering our impact not just on the environment but also social and economic systems. This is linked to themes of social justice and gender equality. Designers have the potential to make exciting changes in the way we see and interact with our world. Shout out to our amazing speakers Mary Doherty of Red Dog Creative Agency; Isabel & Ivona from Publicis, David Joyce from Language and Rion Hannora. 

On March 7th, 2024, the Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI) held its annual International Women’s Day event, its seventh WhyDesign, marking a significant moment in celebrating and empowering creative changemakers of all genders, generation and design disciplines at the Spencer Hotel, Dublin. 

The event-showcased a lineup of talented speakers, including Mary Doherty of Red Dog, David Joyce from Language, Isabel & Ivona from Publicis and Ríon Hannora, who passionately delved into this year's theme of designing for sustainability: economically, socially, and environmentally. Throughout the evening, attendees were not only treated to thought-provoking talks but also equipped with practical tools to enact immediate positive change within the Irish design community and its businesses. From advocating for gender diversity and equality in creative departments to championing ethical design projects, the event emphasized the pivotal role designers play in shaping a more sustainable and inclusive future and making exciting changes in the way we see and interact with our world.

Charlotte Barker 


For IDI, tackling the theme of Designing for Sustainability in the creative industry together means considering our impact as designers, not just on the environment but also on social justice, gender diversity and equity in economic systems. 

IDI’s CEO Charlotte Barker set the tone for the evening by sharing the latest sobering statistics from the EUIPO Women in Design Report, which highlights that only 24% of all employed designers in the EU are women. 

According to the EUIPO, in Ireland that figure is even lower, at 22%.

Only 21% of managerial design roles are held by women.

Despite the low employment rates, 63% of design students in universities are female and on average - they earn higher grades than their male peers

The share of female designers has only increased by 2% in the last decade (from 22% in 2011 to 24% in 2021). We peaked in 2019 with 26%.

Mary Doherty

Mary Doherty, President of IDI and co-founder of Red Dog, kicked off the event by spotlighting her incredible team of award-winning  women,  – before featuring some of Red Dog’s noteworthy work, showcasing Red Dog's commitment to ethical design projects that prioritize societal and environmental sustainability.


Isabel & Ivona

Following her lead, powerhouse duo Isabel H. & Ivona Poljak shared their views on fostering diversity in advertising teams, shedding light on the challenges women still face in creative industries. 

Detailing their own experience as two young women navigating the advertising world and showcasing some of the creative duo's stunning and outside-the-box work, they underscored the prevalent issue of inadequate diversity in creative departments. They highlighted the ongoing battle against bias favoring traditional projects and teams, pointing out that women in advertising constitute only 36% of creative departments in Ireland, with a mere 10% reaching Creative Director roles.


I&I special celebration of Irishness, made with Barry's Tea for St. Patrick’s Day 2022, 'Letter to Bahia' is a short film by I&I that explores the experience of moving somewhere new, in this case, from Bahia, Brazil to Dublin, Ireland, and not only the feeling of being far from all that’s familiar to you, but also wondrously observing the unique customs and quirks of your new-found home.


David Joyce

Taking the stage next was designer and educator David Joyce, known as the founder of The Outside Press (his own Independent research lab) and the director of Language, the studio behind iconic campaigns like Together for Yes and Yes Equality, as well as collaborations with organisations such as the National Women’s Council and Women’s Aid.

Reflecting on his creative journey, David emphasised the inherent responsibility of designers to both themselves and the world. Weaving a narrative of “sustain” and “ability”, David shared insights gained from moving away from the traditional design approach of “framing other people's content”, finding solace in his own self-reliance as an author, maker and producer. Despite this shift, David's commitment to nurturing new talent and fostering a sustainable future for design remains steadfast, as evidenced by his role as a mentor, teacher and inspiration to the next generation of designers. He embraces the opportunity to motivate those “more skilled than [himself]”, encouraging them to be adventurous and relish in the outcomes of their work.


Ríon Hannora

Finally, emerging fashion designer Ríon Hannora closed the evening with a call to action, urging attendees to create their own opportunities to challenge traditional norms and embrace sustainable practice in design. She delved into how her approach to fashion, highlighted through collaboration and community engagement, has redefined the role of design in shaping cultural narratives and promoting inclusivity. 

Ríon eloquently described the inspiration behind her chapters (not collections) and collaboration with other creatives, resulting not only in meaningful creations that explore ways of co-designing with her audience and storytelling, but also how her work is instrumental in changing the narrative around women, gender, and culture in society, redefining the traditional relationship between body and clothing. Her efforts in reshaping the fashion scene in Ireland culminated with the creation of Dublin Independent Fashion Weekend as a platform for independent designers to showcase their work.


With such a diverse and inspiring lineup of speakers, once again WhyDesign was a remarkable success. As attendees departed, inspired and energised, the resonance of the event's message echoed through the halls, signaling a promising future for sustainable and gender-balanced design in Ireland.


A heartfelt thanks to our speakers, and to NCAD students who designed ‘talking points’ postcards as icebreakers. Sincere  thanks to Each&Other for sponsoring the event, along with support from Design Skillnet

As always the community support from volunteers is what makes WhyDesign what it is - many thanks to the crew of  2024 - Jack, Sabhin, Amy, Niamh, Isabel and Sorcha, who made this event possible.


 Pictures of the night, courtesy of Hazel Coonagh can be found on IDI's Facebook page.