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Recognized for an unerring commitment to using design to improve the civic experience and for influencing a generation of designers as a teacher and mentor.
Sylvia Harris was a remarkable advocate of good design for real people—a Citizen Designer. She always lived her passions, so it is fitting that she named
what was to be the last iteration of her professional practice Citizen Research & Design, which she envisioned as a research and planning firm designed
to help public sector organizations better communicate with the people they serve.
The 2011 rebranding and repositioning of her firm, formerly Sylvia Harris LLC, was intended to help her achieve two things. On the one hand, Harris wanted
to dig deeper into the field of research—to conduct rigorous investigations that would help organizations understand how people actually experience design
systems. With that research in hand, she could set in motion intelligent plans for large-scale public design programs. At the same time, she wanted to
build a practice that was bigger than herself—a band of citizens who would use their expertise on behalf of the common good. Although Harris had already
accomplished a great deal in her life, her ambitious idea and new direction were cut short by her sudden and untimely death on July 24, 2011.
Harris’ journey began in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. As a young black woman in the South during the 1960s, she experienced desegregation firsthand
and, in the process, gained a visceral understanding of how social systems affect people’s daily lives. She cultivated an interest in design while studying
with AIGA Medalist Philip B. Meggs at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she received a B.F.A. in 1975. A move to Boston to work with architects and
in broadcast media was formative in opening her eyes to the depth and diversity of graphic design practice. At the WGBH design department, Chris Pullman,
another AIGA Medalist, became a mentor and catalyst for her enrollment in the master’s program in graphic design at Yale University.
Right after graduating from Yale, in 1980, Harris cofounded Two Twelve Associates with classmates Juanita Dugdale and myself. While dealing with the
challenges of building a new design practice, she honed the skills and interests that would ultimately propel her career. As the projects became larger and
more complex, she relentlessly explored how to use all of the tools in a designer’s tool kit to create comprehensive public information systems. Her
groundbreaking work in digital consumer banking systems for Citibank set an early standard for human-centered automated customer service.
At Sylvia Harris LLC, which she established in 1994 after leaving Two Twelve, she shifted her focus to design planning and strategy. In the process, she
guided some of the nation’s largest hospitals, universities and civic agencies through systems planning, policy development and innovation management. As
creative director for the United States Census Bureau, Census 2000, she was tasked with encouraging more Americans—including those who had been previously
under-represented—to participate. Distributed to 80 million households, the 2000 Census presented an opportunity to study how a redesigned form might boost
participation as well as public awareness of the Census brand.
Harris was a woman of great energy, passion and intelligence. She nurtured these qualities by reaching out beyond the walls of her studio. She had a
remarkable ability to draw smart, talented young people into her network, making them collaborators and friends. And she generously gave back to the design
community that she so vibrantly inhabited for more than three decades, mentoring students as a faculty member of Yale’s graphic design program and as a
teacher at the School of Visual Arts, Cooper Union and Purchase College. She also served on the U.S. Postal Service’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee.
As a designer and a woman, Sylvia Harris always wanted to do the right thing, the smart thing, the thing that would make the biggest difference to the most
people. She was the model citizen—a Citizen Designer.
Sylvia Harris will be posthumously awarded the AIGA Medal at The AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25, 2014, in New York City.
AIGA’s design community will gather in New York City for “The AIGA Centennial Gala,” a celebration honoring the 2014 AIGA Medalists and supporting national design initiatives.
The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
Section: Inspiration -
After a chance meeting with Milton Glaser grew into a mentorship that saved her career (and her life), Ann Willoughby of Willoughby Design pays it forward by being an advocate for emerging young designers.
Section: Inspiration -
graphic design, Celebration, job search, motivation, personal essay
How has EYE magazine weathered the vicissitudes of design culture and retained its relevance after publishing 60 issues? Editor Walters discusses how the magazine has stayed in the center of a quiet storm of ideas.
Section: Inspiration -
print design, interview, Voice
We’ve all heard the joke about a client saying that their nephew could just make them a logo—but we’re also wary of the idea of certifying designers. I’ll agree that a certification isn’t inherently valuable—you need to have the work to back it up. I believe that AIGA is best positioned to certify designers. But what would that look like?
Section: Tools and Resources
When it comes to design, most companies have at some point found themselves at a crossroads, choosing between doing work in-house or hiring an agency. The more important design becomes to business, the more businesses are inclined to try their hand at developing in-house talent. This presents a challenge for agencies. As the work shifts, how do we shift accordingly? And what would the goals of such a shift entail?
Section: Why Design -
in-house design, digital media, business strategy, partnerships, problem solving, strategy, technology, business plans, new business development, studio management
Read more at www.theatlantic.com
The renowned, food-themed "Great Wall of CBS" has a new home after 20 years in a basement.
Section: Inspiration -
Boralex 2008 Annual Report
http://t.co/gspDt25hRS Thank you, Deborah Sussman, for coloring our world. http://t.co/Uku053MqZX
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