For our penultimate #IWD2022 feature we spoke to Ali Johnson, one of the founders and directors behind the map-designing, music-loving, creative studio – Dorothy!

Ali started Dorothy with two colleagues whilst working for an ad agency in Manchester. They released their first print in 2010 and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then, their work has been exhibited around the world, from Liverpool to Seoul; and, they’ve been featured in multiple publications including The Guardian, BBC, Wired, Pitchfork, NME, to name a few.

We asked Ali what inspired them to set-up the company and about her experiences running a business.

Thanks for chatting to us, Ali! Can you start by telling us your background?

I’m originally from the Midlands and still have a faint Brummie accent. I moved to Liverpool 30 years ago to study. My choice of university was influenced more by a teenage obsession with The Pale Fountains, Echo and the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes than the actual course. After graduating I worked in design and ad agencies in Liverpool and then Manchester managing branding, identity and ad campaigns.

Song Map – Dorothy’s first print released in December 2010
What inspired you to set-up Dorothy?

The three of us that set up Dorothy all met whilst working at an ad agency in Manchester. By that point we’d spent quite a few years working together on clients briefs and had become a little despondent with the industry. We’d seen a lot of what we felt were great ideas rejected by clients which was really frustrating. So setting up Dorothy was really a way for us to see if we could make money out of our own ideas without having to rely on a client brief for them to see the light of day. We took a leap of faith and launched our first ever print (Song Map) in December 2010 and soon realised that maybe Dorothy wasn’t such a crazy idea. We now sell our work worldwide to customers via our online shop and we also stock galleries and high street stores.

It’s amazing! What collaborations or exhibitions have been your highlights?

We are so busy designing our own work that we have to be very careful with the number of commissions we take on, so we are in the lucky position of being able to be selective about who we collaborate with so it is hard to choose a favourite. One personal (fan) highlight was working with The Chemical Brothers but I am also immensely proud of the range of homeware we developed for Tate that is still sold in their gallery stores. If you asked Jim (a Red) I’m pretty sure he would say the prints we have designed for Liverpool F.C and also our collaboration with Moog Music and Google Arts and Culture.

Much of your work is themed around music and popular culture. Do you think it’s important for designers to weave their passion into art?

Simple answer. If possible, yes. We feel incredibly lucky to be doing what we are doing.

This year’s theme for IWD is #BreakTheBias. Have you come across bias and stereotyping as a woman in business?

Unfortunately, yes. I have a few horror stories from my years working in agencies. Including once finding out that a more junior male member of my team was earning more than me. And being told by my boss (when I told him I was pregnant) that ‘his dad had always told him not to employ women because they get pregnant’. These experiences are way too familiar for females and certainly 15 to 20 years ago I came to expect it even though I didn’t accept it. It just made me more determined.

That’s awful. But at least it drove you in a positive way. What would your advice be to a woman facing barriers or not being taken seriously?

Call people out. I didn’t do it enough when I was younger and it’s one of my regrets. If we don’t call people out this type of behaviour becomes even more normalised than it is.

Do you have any exciting plans for 2022 you want to share?

We are really looking forward to being more social in 2022. Running more studio events on Jamaica Street and having people in for a beer or two. Maybe see you there?

Definitely! Thanks Ali.
Ali, Jim, Rach and Oli: The Dorothy team outside their 22 Jordan Street studio. (c) Pete Carr.

Dorothy is based at 22 Jordan Street. You can find their designs on sale at their website. Don’t forget to follow them on social media to hear about new work! Twitter @Dorothy_UK / Facebook @theworldofdorothy / Instagram @dorothy_uk

All product images used are copyright of Dorothy Creative Limited.