Sylvia Harris: A Citizen Designer Who Made a Difference

Sylvia Harris—an accomplished information design strategist, former director on the AIGA national board and active member of the AIGA community—died this past weekend at the age of 57. She was the principal of Citizen Research & Design, a communications firm balancing “policy and design in order to serve people.” Through her private practice, her involvement in initiatives such as AIGA Design for Democracy and her role on the U.S. Postal Service’s Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee, she was a “champion of good design for the public realm” for more than 25 years.

In 2010 AIGA celebrated Harris’s achievements in the exhibition “Design Journeys: You Are Here,” in which her personal and professional path to becoming a designer was spotlighted. Her passing comes as a great shock. AIGA Executive Director Richard Grefé comments, “Sylvia was a touchstone at each shift in the direction of AIGA and the profession. She was supportive, active and deeply committed to AIGA and the entire profession, to the potential of the creative mind, and to design as a calling, not simply a vocation, in which we all could contribute to a higher purpose. To say Sylvia will be missed is an understatement.”

Jessica Helfand was with Harris in Washington, D.C., for a Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee meeting when Harris was taken ill. A brief notice is published here. A longer remembrance will be published on Design Observer later this week. Most recently Helfand and Harris worked together on the “Pioneers of American Industrial Design” series of commemorative stamps, recognizing the contributions of designers to American life.

When Harris was interviewed for the “Design Journeys” project in 2007, we asked how she would like to be remembered 100 years from now. Her response: “A citizen designer who made a difference.”

Harris is survived by her husband, Gary Singer, their daughter, Thai, and her sister, Juliette Harris.

Updated July 26: Obituary for Sylvia Harris Singer in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.