At End2End Media, we always find it’s important to reflect back and see how far we have come – personally, professionally, as an industry, as a society. In honour of Black History Month, we are looking back in the foundations of company and at a very inspiring graphic designer – Sylvia Harris (1953-2011).
Sylvia Harris was committed to using design to improve the civic experience and for influencing a generation of designers as a teacher and mentor. Her work is featured in a number of places – Central Park Zoo in New York, the 2000 U.S. Census and icon stamps, to name a few. Throughout her 25-year career, she partnered with high-profile clients in business, nonprofit and government – to yield rewarding projects and a life’s work dedicated to removing barriers by ensuring that public information systems are accessible to everyone.
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 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.
In 1994, she established Sylvia Harris LLC, focusing on design and strategy. One of the highlights of Sylvia Harris LLC was working as the Creative Director for the United States Census Bureau, Census 2000. Sylvia was tasked with increasing participation in the census – including the under-represented populations. Census 2000 was distributed to 80 million households. The Census presented an opportunity to study how a redesigned form might boost participation as well as public awareness of the Census brand.
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.
The AIGA established the Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award to honor her legacy by supporting others dedicated to public design.
The more we learn about Sylvia, the more we all admire her. Thank you for all you’ve done for the industry Sylvia.
To learn more about Sylvia, the AIGA has a great Biography by David Gibson.