03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Women at Work: Insights From Women on the Front Lines of Polish Design

Out of the ashes of a more austere and oppressive time comes a design landscape unfettered by a design past, one that is swiftly moving toward a vibrant future.

Gian Luca Amadei, product editor of Blueprint magazine, saw a spark in one designer from Poland who spoke with infectious enthusiasm about what she saw emerging on the home front. His curiosity led to an invitation to visit. When he got there, he was struck by the number of women leading the change. That discovery led to his book, Discovering Women in Polish Design with photographer Dario Lombardi.

I attended the launch during London Design Week but also had the pleasure of meeting Luca the previous evening where we talked heatedly about our mutual interest in the people behind the goods. After all, design is about people - the handiwork of the creator, human ingenuity, and the social ramifications of design in use. All too often design is presented as a faceless object. The book, which I read in full on the plane back to Barcelona, shines a light on the human factor, the people, the emotion, and the problem solving ability of design, in this case inside of a culture in transition.

Quotes from the panel discussion moderated by Blueprint editor, Vicky Richardson.

Trend expert, Zuzanna Skalska:

Women's work

(In the past in Poland), men were engineers and ran businesses. Women were in charge of decoration, family, nesting. Women can see in 3D. We are good organizers. We are synchronizing from the time we get up to the time we go to sleep. That's why we're good for the future of design.

'To me the friction is happening on the border of male and female energies. We used to live by "the Maria code". Poland, Spain, countries where Catholicism was strong. Women got a place on the train. You carried bags for the women. Men constructed. Women were aesthetic.

An industry in transition

Students focus on the creative object more than mass production. They don't know about operations. Up until now, Polish design has been mostly handmade. Recycled. Not expensive. Not sophisticated. It is seen as fresh and exciting but we need to focus.

(In the past in Poland), our everyday life was uncomfortable. Our shoes. Our buses. Design is the quality of everyday life. Polish design is still underground We honor Italian and Scandinavian design. We need Polish design in Poland.

Know-how is being brought back to Poland. In Holland, everything's been designed and re-designed where in Poland everything has never been done. (That is exciting.)

We have (no old habits to break) so we can implement design thinking in everything. We are developing marketing strategy for design. Design of objects that go hand in hand with marketing strategy. We can (employ) design thinking from beginning to end.

Polish designers are returning to their country more and more out of choice to improve Polish design instead of staying in the already established design cities.

Poland's position is unique. We have a system in Poland. The PPP, a private public partnership where the government partners with the private sector. The government acts as facilitator for the know-how that already exists in the private sector. There is money allocated specifically for design. Design used to be part of the department of culture but is now in the department of economics. Anything that is a key driver for economic growth gets the money so there is plenty of money for design initiatives. So for example, you have a private design school with 100% government money behind it. This is causing rapid change. We can move to new systems right away. We can take huge steps quickly. Design has become a tool to make Poland competitive.

(Indirect) Quotes from the book

A Jacobsen-Cielecka, journalist and curator:

Magazines should publish more challenging and avant-garde items and stories to push their readership to look harder, deeper.

Iker (the design group) is not investing much in advertising, instead focusing on design.

M Lubinska, Founder Moho Design:

You need a visionary designer and a visionary manager.

If I'd written a business plan, I wouldn't have done what I have done.

B Bochinska, President of the Board, Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw:

There are designers who are not just talking about sustainable design or eco or ergo design but thinking of people's needs. I need these designers.

A Wojczynska, Interior Designer:

(20 years ago, when you couldn't buy tiles in Poland), all international calls were blocked so you'd have a special lady to say: 'I want to have a connection with France.' And she would say: 'Okay, this will be a two hour wait.' In Communist time, you couldn't have direct contact with the west.

A Siedlecka:

One outcome of the Communist era, you learn how to make something from nothing.

(When asked to present at schools) they usually want to know about marketing. They know how to design, they want to know the practicalities.

The book was published in loving support by Blueprint magazine. To find out where to buy the book, go to the website or Amazon.

Two great Polish design blogs I found through further research: Zsah Blox and Design Girl

Pictures and individual work can be found on What Women Make