Women in Design: Sylvia Harris


It’s Women’s History Month and to honor women’s contributions to American history, we are excited to bring back our Women in Design series! Each week we will shine a light on women trailblazers in the design industry. You might not know them all by name, but definitely by their work and influence on the design world as a whole.

Virginia native Sylvia Harris was a strategist, educator, and graphic designer. Harris attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where she graduated with a BFA in Communication Art and Design and an undergraduate focus in film and photography. After college, Sylvia moved to Boston where she discovered graphic design as a career path. She felt that there was still more for her to learn about the art world and design and decided to attend Yale School of Art where she graduated with an MFA.

Harris’ experience as a Black woman during the desegregation in the 1960s instilled in her a strong belief in social justice and a calling to help others that were disenfranchised by social systems.

Harris established Sylvia Harris LLC, a design and strategy company with a focus with on using design to solve problems for civic agencies, universities, and hospitals.

Notably, Harris was the creative director behind the design of the 2000 Census for the United States Census Bureau. With the goal to increase participation, especially among under-represented populations, she had the opportunity to study how and what design could do to get more citizens engaged.

Source: https://segd.org/2021-segd-fellow-sylvia-harris
Source: https://osarcia011.wixsite.com/pioneerwomen/sylvia-harris

Among her may accomplishments, Harris worked with New-York Presbyterian and the Columbia Medical Center as an independent project leader creating information master plans for the hospital designed to improve communication with patients.

Source: https://www.aiga.org/

In April of 2014, Harris was awarded AIGA’s highest honor and most distinguished award, the AIGA Medal. Sylvia Harris will always be remembered as a pioneer of vital inspiration to the field of social design. After her untimely death, the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) established the Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award to honor her dedication to the field of social impact design.

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