The Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award

Presented by Design Ignites Change and AIGA

Professional designers that have developed a strong project concept to ignite change in their community are eligible to apply for the Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award for $10,000 toward the implementation of their project.

Sylvia Harris (1953–2011) is widely recognized as a pioneer, a generous mentor and a vital inspiration to the field of social impact design. In that spirit, the Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award has been established to honor her legacy by supporting other vanguards dedicated to public design.

Professional designers may apply with a thoroughly developed project idea that meets the following broad parameters:

  • Addresses a pressing social issue within the designer’s community (or a community in which the designer is deeply embedded)
  • Can be implemented within that community in a timely manner
  • Will deliver positive results that can be measured
  • Projects must be feasible and applicants must clearly demonstrate the ability to execute and follow through with the implementation process.

Application period

The application is currently closed. Please stay tuned for updates and for the forthcoming application when it becomes available during our next funding period in 2017.

Past recipients

2015: The Gma Village
Led by Maggie Ollove, a graduate of Parsons’ MFA Transdisciplinary Design program, Catalina Garcia, formerly a partner and creative director for a New York City design consultancy, and Johnna Flood, who has worked in the social sector engaging with communities to create and redesign programs, the Gma Village team proposes a childcare service for low-income families that leverages the invaluable community resources of grandmothers to build a network of trained, trusted, and beloved local providers.

2014: Corbin Hill Food Project
Led by Francis Carter, a graduate of Parsons’ MFA Transdisciplinary Design masters program, the project aims to supply fresh vegetables and fruit where they are needed most, in urban areas, and expand the Food Project’s produce delivery capacity through the deployment of refrigerated cases, acting as pop-up farm stands in communities where the Project is already embedded.


The Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award is for practicing professionals from all design disciplines (graphic, product, architecture, interior, interactive, service design, etc.). Applicants must have a minimum of one year of professional design experience. Applicants must be based in the United States and the projects must be implemented in the United States in their own community or in a community in which they are deeply embedded.


All Award applications will be reviewed by an independent committee of creative professionals, business, civic and non-profit leaders. Projects will be evaluated on concept, viability, and potential for impact.

Application process

Part 1: Complete an online application
Who: All applicants

Part 2: Finalists selected
Who: All applicants notified

Part 3: Final jury and finalists pitch
Who: Finalists
If your project is selected as a finalist, you will video conference with the jury to make a brief pitch and answer questions the jury may have. You or a representative from your project must be available on that day with access to a computer that has video conferencing capability. You may be asked to prepare additional material prior to the video conference.

Part 4: Finalist selected
Who: Finalists are notified

Funding will be made available as a lump sum to the selected project by the end of October.


The following parameters and restrictions apply:

  • The winning project must be executed within one year after the award is announced. Extensions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • Award recipients will give regular updates to Worldstudio until the completion of the project, based on their timeline.
  • Projects can be independently executed in partnership with a corporation or non-profit organization.
  • Worldstudio and AIGA employees and family members are ineligible.
  • All concepts remain the intellectual property of the applicants.
  • Worldstudio, AIGA, and Design Ignites Change have the right to reproduce and showcase the submitted entries as case studies.

About Sylvia Harris

Sylvia HarrisOver her twenty-five year career, Sylvia Harris championed “good design for the common good,” tirelessly promoting accessible communications for mass audiences. As founder and principal of Citizen Research & Design, she consulted for the nation’s largest hospitals, universities, and civic agencies on strategic design planning, public policy development and innovation management.

Her career highlights included serving as creative director of the 2000 National Census for the U.S. Census Bureau; an appointment to the U.S. Postal Service Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee; advisor for Design Trust for Public Space, the African Burial Ground and AIGA Design for Democracy; educator at Yale University, The School of Visual Arts and The Cooper Union; and co-founder of the firm Two Twelve Associates.

Sylvia was a founder of the nonprofit Public Policy Lab, which is dedicated to improving public services and empowering Americans through design and policy. She established the Citizen Designer movement shortly before her untimely death in 2011, and will be honored posthumously with a 2014 AIGA Medal.

About Design Ignites Change

We believe that creativity holds enormous power to spark positive social change. Design Ignites Change, a Worldstudio social initiative, supports creative professionals and students who use design thinking–the combination of unleashed creativity and executable actions–to improve the lives of individuals and communities.