Deborah Sussman

1931, Brooklyn, New York


Deborah Sussman has worked at the interface of graphic design and the built environment for more than 30 years. She has created striking visual imagery and devised its imaginative application for architectural and public spaces both permanent and temporary, including the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Seattle's opera house, and Disney World. Throughout her career Sussman has claimed an ever more expansive role for graphic design in the urban landscape.

Sussman uses graphic design to emphasize aspects of the built environment and to provide rich connections to the communities and cultures in which it will participate.

The 12-by-92-foot carpet she designed for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, for example, uses colors and motifs evocative of African fabrics and painted houses to connect the Center to the cultural heritage of Newark's predominant constituency.

In the summer of 1948 Sussman attended a summer school at Black Mountain College where she received career-defining art and performance tuition from Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and Franz Kline. She pursued painting and acting at Bard College, NY, and specialized in graphic design at the Institute of Design in Chicago. Sussman was invited to join the office of Charles and Ray Eames, and several years later she won a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Hochschule für Gestaltang, Ulm, Germany. During more than a decade of work with the Eames Office, she worked on the seminal exhibits for IBM, the Government of India, and the Ford Foundation. True to the multi-disciplinary approach of the Eameses, Sussman also participated in designing furniture showrooms, films, and printed materials.

Sussman began her own practice in 1968 and in 1980 was joined in business by her husband Paul Prejza, an urban planner and architect. Sussman/Prejza & Company created and coordinated a vibrant and playful graphic identity and environment for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which was included in Time Magazine's “Best of the Decade” special issue in 1990. Sussman used sculptural iconography, bunting and balloons in a fantastic array of vivid hues to transform the Olympic sites around Los Angeles into visually arresting moments, shrewdly conceived for televised distribution. The company has also designed the identity and myriad applications for The Gas Company of Southern California; the corporate identity, numerous traveling exhibits, and the interiors for Hasbro Inc. headquarters; and award-winning way-finding systems for Walt Disney Resorts and the cities of Philadelphia, and Santa Monica.

Sussman is a former AIGA board member and was the founder of AIGA Los Angeles.

“Although environmental graphic design started as architectural signage—hence, graphics—a flat discipline turned out to be inadequate in a round world. An exhibition, for example, is more than a book on a wall or an arrangement of artifacts under glass. It is the engagement of people as they move through space. Sussman/Prejza carries this engagement into stores and other public spaces, and into designed events—a contextual approach that brought the company international renown with the 1984 summer Olympics.”

—Ralph Caplan, “Beyond Sussman/Prejza: Jungle Rhythms in Environmental Graphic Design,” Process Architecture 124, 1994.