In the world of 3D modeling and 3D printing, women aren't just a minority... they're difficult to find at all. In the design world, it is easy to recognize this on a daily basis, and given the work and resulting products, it is even easier to see the true effect gender discrepancies are having on this field. Suz Somersall, female founder of KiraKira.com is working to close the gender gap once and for all.
For Suz, it all started, a little bit at a time, during her time at RISD learning metal-smithing, industrial design, and 3D modeling. "3D modeling tools were really exciting for me because I figured out, pretty early on, that I could basically create anything I wanted to with these tools."
Where Have All The Girls Gone?
When Suz had the opportunity to participate in an incubator program at UVA's Darden School of Business, she had so many undergrad female UVA interns coming to her, with an excitement to learn 3D modeling. The problem was that she truly did not have time to teach them, so instead she went to the head of the Mechanical Engineering Lab to ask if the undergrads could go on campus and take classes. Of course, he was thrilled and welcomed the girls with open arms. Pretty quickly all of the girls lost interest because the classes didn't speak to their creative interest, but instead focused almost solely on the mechanical and technical side of the process. What Suz knew, that I know as well, and wish the world of women could see is this: You don't have to be a tech geek to love the design aspects and entrepreneurship that goes into the world of 3D design, modeling, and printing.
The Solutions Are Becoming More and More Clear
KiraKira is the solution to so many of the issues we are seeing with the imbalance and gender discrepancies of the 3D world. The website offers online courses that are creative, fun, and engaging, with projects and content that is relevant to their female audience. With a goal of reaching young, middle-school women, the lesson length, content, and even CAD platform really matter. Every detail has been considered in creating a place young girls can go to learn the design process, model just about anything, and even print and hold the physical product. A thorough process from beginning to end, geared towards grabbing and holding the attention of each member, from start to finish.
The thing about the courses themselves, that I found so interesting, is that if you were to visit KiraKira, you won't find all-pink-everything with whatever the visual 'girly' norm is. The website and the courses are designed to be appropriate to the age of the girls and the what you are making to make sure they are reaching everyone who might be interested, because it isn't only about gender diversity, but it's about diversity of thought.
Balancing Separatism for the Greater Good
Neither men nor women thrive when the balance has shifted as much as we have seen. One or the other will become stifled and unwilling to genuinely participate, which ultimately hurts the entire design landscape. It isn't so much about exclusionary or even separate, as it is restoring balance. Female-focused education will help bring content to young girls that encourages them in the areas of design thinking, and maybe even entrepreneurship. Empowerment to learn, to fail, and to move forward is the best thing to offer these women in a field they have not yet made their own. And by placing the emphasis on design thinking, women, who are the majority product influencers and consumers, participate in all aspects of the process, from the very beginning. There are also true benefits to gender separate learning, like the breakdown of stigmas or stereotypes, the elimination of distractions, and the focus on specific topics or areas of interest for maximum results.
Project Based Learning with the Heavy Hitters
Right now there is a huge gap in this education system overall, that KiraKira is working hard to fill. Digital design should encompass design thinking by presenting questions, at the very beginning, such as:
- What are you making?
- Does it work?
- How much will it cost?
- What will you do with it?
There are more and more project based learning, so the effort is there and the direction is there. Unfortunately, the content still is not, because there is not an all-encompassing curriculum, even though public and private schools offer programs such as robotics, programming, and Imagineering. What is happening in those programs is a drop-off in girls' interest at this level. Knowing this, I wasn't surprised to hear that Suz and KiraKira would be teaming up with Intel and Autodesk for their upcoming Intel Demo Day. Sometimes you have to bring in the big guns, the who's who, to make change happen.