Designs for Women: GirlApproved Adds Balance to a Man-Made World

Put a female computer scientist with female high school students who are told they can alter female identity paradigms through design and what you get is GirlApproved, an invention and design firm, which proposes to create new products, brands, and technologies. "We base our inventions on finding mass scale unfulfilled needs," explains Heidi Dangelmaier, founder and inventor, who developed GirlApproved Theory, "a fundamental shift in the way we think of design," which "introduces a balance that has been missing in our modern man-made world," she says. "We are now just launching the Theory after years of intensive research."

Dangelmaier argues that female intelligence has not been leveraged in design, engineering, or science.

Dangelmaier believes that science -- particularly her field of computer science -- plays a strong role in defining art, design, and culture. By the time she was accepted into the Ph.D. program at Princeton (Comp. Sci./Electrical Engineering), where she spent seven years but did not finish writing her thesis, a couple of the most renowned computer graphics experts had started teaching there. Their advancements in computer graphics accelerated a visual intensity that she noted was shaping gaming and film in an unsettling way: "Speed, gore, and destruction were elevated, making entertainment increasingly violent," she recalls.

"Where was I, a girl, in all of this? I didn't like killing things. I liked stories, not sensationalism. I wanted to be a science professor, but I saw that science was creating a culture that I didn't want to be part of," Dangelmaier says. "I also realized that science had a masculine bias, not in the absolute laws of math and physics, but in the subjectivity with which the dimensions of science were being pursued and funded. Princeton wasn't as pure as I had once believed."

Instead of completing her doctorate, Dangelmaier launched a digital company named Hi-D, which invented digital applications to help people create and collaborate ("not destroy and isolate, as with masculine entertainment"); she claims it was a forerunner of social media. Hi-D attracted clients from advertising, entertainment, television, and industrial design, including CBS, MetLife, and Comedy Central. And as Dangelmaier's business developed she found that "what people were making (and deeming to be good enough) didn't mesh with what I thought was important." There was something inherent in every field that made her feel like a misfit. "As a scientist, I am always looking for patterns, something deeper at play, and this design tension was too dominant and important to ignore. I folded Hi-D and started GirlApproved."

Dangelmaier started working with high school girls (she insists on using the term girls) about 5 1/2 years ago. "I did everything with them, name the company, build the messaging and brand identity, solicit clients, and recruit. Even though we picked up clients (Playtex, Unilever, Rubbermaid, Nokia) and rapidly demonstrated our abilities for mass-market hits, we kept bumping against disturbing prejudices," she says. So she took about 20 months off from full-time work to focus on research. "We are now just releasing the results of that research -- our new science of innovation and design."

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GA recognizes the commercial and social power of feminine thinking when applied to invention and design. "Being female is as much about the construction of our minds, as it is with our bodies," Dangelmaier says. "Neuroscientists have reams of research on this, but our culture doesn't really acknowledge this in a practical way. Evolution is a great designer. It knows and preserves those things that have use for survival, and gets rid of things that have no inherent purpose. From a biological viewpoint, the male and female minds were engineered differently for a common purpose: survival."

Dangelmaier argues that female intelligence has not been leveraged in design, engineering, or science. "Because from the moment we arrive on Earth, we are raised on a cultural diet that is dominantly masculine," she says. "We start out as females, but by the time we graduate from university, we pretty much have been turned into masculine thinkers." This conversion from the feminine to the masculine mindset points out a big flaw in human thinking processes. "We can't discern the truth, so eventually females get conditioned into accepting masculine values and beliefs as absolute fact," Dangelmaier says. "It is important to remember that by 'feminine,' I do not mean female. Men also have a feminine dimension." So to rectify the imbalance, she is bringing these feminine dimensions into design and hopes, as a result, to trigger profound innovation.

GA recognizes the commercial and social power of feminine thinking when applied to invention and design.

Dangelmaier's team of high school and college "girls" are what she describes as the first females to be raised on a diet of social media, "which gave them a heightened sense of self and feminine consciousness." She refers to them as POST88s -- all born after 1988. The POST88's question traditional design conventions in terms of the useful, intelligent, and social, as well as concepts like rapid prototyping. Their reactions are not driven by insecurity and anger, but self-respect. "When something doesn't feel right, these Post88s have the courage to challenge the system instead of falling into the trap of self-blame and repressing their feelings," Dangelmaier says. "POST88 boys are also applying to GA because they recognize the importance of a balanced design system."

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Steven Heller is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, the co-chair of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts, and the co-founder of its MFA Design Criticism program.

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