Remembering Sylvia Harris
By Michele Y. Washington design critic and friend
The process of paying tribute to the passing of my dear friend Sylvia Harris is an honor, but at the same time it’s perplexing. It is with profound sadness that the design community mourns the lost of Sylvia who passed away on July 24th at the age of 57. On Thursday, July 21st, she collapsed during a meeting in Washington, was rushed to George Washington University Hospital where doctors put her on life support. Surrounded by a host of family members and heartfelt friends who rallied by her side, she later passed due to heart complications.
Sylvia was a beacon, one of those luminous stars whose brilliance encapsulated the design profession at a time when black women designers were few in numbers. I first stumbled upon an article in either Print Magazine of Communication Arts featuring Sylvia with her partners at Two Twelve Associates, a firm she helped cofound with several classmates from Yale Graduate School of Design. It was her smiling face beaming from the photo, a fluke phone call that lead to us meeting. And thus our 20-year friendship blossomed.
Her vibrant career spans more than 25 years. Sylvia functioned in the design community more like a cultural ambassador, serving on the AIGA national board, the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, and was the recipient of a Design Trust Fellowship for Taxi 07. Much like that fluke phone of us meeting planted the seeds of friendship, the same scenario replayed when Sylvia joined forces with a group of designers that ignited the charge for the first OBD conference,“Dogon to Digital,” held in Chicago. Known as a kind-spirited person, Sylvia could always be called upon to mentor and inspire numerous designers, whom she counseled to keep forging ahead and they too could make inroads in the design profession.
Recently, Sylvia rebranded her firm from Sylvia Harris LLC to Citizen Research & Design a name befitting of her commitment in communicating the needs of public programming and design policy for government, educational and non-profit institutions. Last summer 2010, Sylvia participated in Design Journey: You Are Here, exhibit held at the AIGA national headquarters in NYC. (click this link: http://www.aiga.org/design-journeys-sylvia-harris/)
Yes, I can boast of the mountainous accolades and awards as an acclaimed information designer, however her biggest rewards were being a loving wife to Gary, an attentive mother to a teenage daughter Thai, and fabulous sister to Juliette Harris, and a gracious friend to many. We will all miss Sylvia’s fortitude for life, her spirited walk, sparkling smile, inquisitive chats, and her brilliant mind. (Above image from AIGA Design Journey opening, Spring 2010).
Please share your blessings as Sylvia’s spirit walks through the starry night skies along her journey.
Details for a memorial service will be posted during the fall on http://citizenrd.com/