Remembering Sylvia Harris


Sylvia Harris, our founder, passed away on Sunday, July 24th, 2011. She was an esteemed colleague, an insightful mentor, and a true advocate for design. We welcome your thoughts and memories below.


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Adriano Bonafede wrote 8 years 11 weeks ago

I and my family are very very

I and my family are very very sorrow for what happened. I can only say that people whom we loved remain in our hearts forever. Their love never disappears. So Thai and Gary will save this love forever
Adriano and Isabella

David Bamford wrote 8 years 13 weeks ago

I was lucky to hear Sylvia

I was lucky to hear Sylvia speak once at a NYC UPA meeting and was impressed by her intelligence, wit and knowledge. I am sure she has left a mark that will not be forgotten and that we can all take inspiration from her example.

Arlene wrote 8 years 13 weeks ago

I am so very sorrow to hear

I am so very sorrow to hear this news. It is shocking since Sylvia was sucn a rising stars that was shining so brightly. I knew here mother and older sister quite well and I certainly considered them like family. Sylvia called me several times last year since she was doing a survey on how people who became eligible for social security were being treated. I responded to several emails that verything was going according to the proper timelines. It is so terrible that she will never live to get her own...

Juanita Dugdale wrote 8 years 13 weeks ago

What can I say? I think about

What can I say? I think about Sylvia every day and still haven't processed her loss. I wrote this in a tribute for SEGD: "...we were blessed to be classmates, housemates, business partners, collaborators and friends for over three decades. Sylvia sang at my wedding and, full circle, performed 'Forever Young' at my husband’s recent memorial. I can still hear her clear voice resonate, cheerfully encouraging a roomful of strangers to sing in unison."

She is now in a place filled with light, peace and joy.

Steven Lutvak wrote 8 years 14 weeks ago

I've been trying to figure it

I've been trying to figure it out: did I really know Sylvia for thirty years? If not actually, then close to that....Sylvia was a member of a group I ran for people who wanted to keep music in their lives, but didn't do it professionally. The group was called "The Ladies," and we had men women, straight, gay, of lots of different stripes of all kinds -- and, rather remarkably, we were a self-generating organization that met every other week, and sometimes weekly, for about fifteen years.

Sylvia was, among everything else, a wonderful singer, and a fine musician to her bones. But to anyone who knew her, that wasn't a surprise. She was so eminently capable in her life: smart, talented, beautiful, gifted, and modest. Also kind. And deeply connected. I will miss her so; I do already. It was a privilege to know her.

Jean Lambertus wrote 8 years 16 weeks ago

Sylvia was a wonderful person

Sylvia was a wonderful person and a true inspiration.
She was warm and always found a way to help others.

Thank you for touching our lives Sylvia.
You will be missed by all.

Harriet Spear wrote 8 years 17 weeks ago

I consider myself so

I consider myself so fortunate to have known Sylvia. She was supportive and generous, and her intelligence and grace will always be an inspiration.

My deepest sympathies to her family and friends.

RitaSue Siegel wrote 8 years 17 weeks ago

What a shock. This lovely,

What a shock. This lovely, gifted, intelligent person is gone. I met Sylvia at the beginning of her career. We didn't see each other often, but it was as if no time had passed when we did reconnect. Sylvia was an original, and, yes, an inspiration. She generously shared her love, excitement and engagement with life. I will never forget her.

David Vanden-Eynden wrote 8 years 17 weeks ago

Why is it that the really

Why is it that the really good among us always seem to leave us too soon? Sylvia was just getting warmed up. She was one of those amazing people about whom you could honestly say had forgotten more about design than most of us will ever know. Sylvia impressed me. Her untimely passing has reminded me pause and smell the roses. Peace.

Jake Barton wrote 8 years 17 weeks ago

Sylvia was such a guiding

Sylvia was such a guiding light in public design for the civic good. She was and is an inspiration to all designers to aim higher and better with the work that all of us do. I did some workshops with her and was always struck by her generosity of thought and spirit. My condolences to all of her family, friends and collaborators.

Jill Wagner wrote 8 years 17 weeks ago

I'm sorry for the loss for

I'm sorry for the loss for all who knew her well and those who did not get a chance to know her such as myself. I admire her work and accomplishments!

Valerie Pettis wrote 8 years 17 weeks ago

I first met Sylvia many

I first met Sylvia many years ago as a designer at the Architect's Collaborative in Boston. She was GRACE personified. Her untimely death is a blow to the design community. My deepest sympathies to her family, friends and staff.

Stella Tan-Torres wrote 8 years 17 weeks ago

I remember when I first met

I remember when I first met Sylvia- I had answered an ad that she posted in the Park Slope Food Coop in search of an editorial assistant. I came to her lovely home for an interview, and the first thing she asked me was, "Tell me what you really want to do." I told her earnestly that I didn't know yet, but that I knew what I loved- reading, writing, creating, learning- and told her I would work hard and learn fast. Towards the end of the interview, she paused for a few minutes to take a call from a friend; I overheard her saying something about coming to the parade for a minute, "just to say hi and give everyone some hugs and have some roti." And for some reason, seeing and hearing her warmth and energy made me think, "Yes, I want to work for this woman."

Throughout the year I worked with her, Sylvia was nothing but generous, insightful, and inspiring. I always tell people that Sylvia was the best first boss a girl could have right out of school. She genuinely cared about my professional development, suggesting programs to join, people to network with, books to read, all to help me find my path. When I decided after a year to leave and travel around the world for several months, she was absolutely supportive and excited for me, throwing me the sweetest goodbye party. On my way out, she gave me a huge hug and said, "Come back any time. You're family now."

Thank you for everything, Sylvia. It has been a privilege and a blessing to know you and your wonderful family. You will be missed always.

Rob Monroe wrote 8 years 17 weeks ago

I only met Sylvia once, at an

I only met Sylvia once, at an SVA Interaction Design lecture. However, her humanity, charm and brilliance was obvious to all in the room that night. Rarely does anyone make such an impact upon first impression; she will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to her husband and family; may God's peace be with you in this time of mourning.

Holly Hampton wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

I shocked and deeply saddened

I shocked and deeply saddened at the news of Sylvia's sudden passing. From the time we met we were like family- two women designers of color searching for a soul-mates, we embraced at the first Organization of Black Designers Conference so may years ago, and never let go..always looking for a way to reconnect in life and design. On the recent occasion when I received and viewed the video on the re-branding of her firm, Citizen Design I found myself admiring her intelligence, wisdom, savvy as she took her company to the next level, filling a niche that was so very natural and unique to her, creating a life where her business and family coexisted in harmony-something I deeply admired.
At this moment my heart has a hallow emptiness, which I must fill with the smile and virtue that were Sylvia.

Linda Bissoondath wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

Sylvia, You left so suddenly.

Sylvia, You left so suddenly. It hurts me so to think that you no longer with us. 14 years ago I met Sylvia, Gary and then Baby Thai and became Thai's babtsitter for three years. Our relationship continued on and was turned into one that that was more than friends. We became an immediate family. My girls has known her to be their mama Syl. Both our families have shared many meaningful occassions together. Sylvia was my mentor, an inspiration to me an my entire family. Her Kindness with words listening ear, and woman time with a cup of coffee will be greatly missed.
Sylvia you are at Gods right hand, a place you rightly deserve. My heart goes out to Gary , Thai, Sister Juliet, Friends and the Village you created.

Jim Hemmerly wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

All who knew Sylvia loved

All who knew Sylvia loved her. It's hard to imagine that she is gone. I met Sylvia through my daughter who became friends with Thai at summer camp. Two Brooklyn kids who had to go to the Adirondacks to meet each other. For the past five summers the highlight of our summer has been the parents' weekend spent with Sylvia and Gary visiting camp. This coming weekend we will visit again.

I feel so fortunate to have known her. My heart goes out the Gary, Thai and Sylvia's family.

Claudia Polley wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

Such a loss to this world,

Such a loss to this world, but a light such as Sylvia will shine on. Let us remember her grace, her brilliance, her ability to help. It will be her everlasting tribute to us all, and for the world.

Phil Pollack wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

Sylvia was a vital member in

Sylvia was a vital member in the 1970's of the Crossroads Coffeehouse, an acoustic music collective in Richmond. Both her songs and her presence were a joy to share. I know I speak for all Crossroads folks in saying that her artistry and friendship enriched our lives.

Diana Amsterdam wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

What? Why? These are my

What? Why? These are my thoughts as I read of this untimely death. What a beautiful woman. I only spoke with her a few times altho we had promised to meet for lunch. I knew instantly that she was a woman of courage, vision, and action. I am very sorry and send my regrets to all for whom her passing will be hard.

Marie wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

I am completely distressed to

I am completely distressed to hear of the passing of Sylvia Harris. She was such a fine woman, smart and talented.

My colleagues here at Cornell Medical College send our heartfelt condolences to Sylvia's family and friends. Sylvia will be sorely missed, but always thought of with a smile.

Anisha Mittal wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

The passing on of Sylvia

The passing on of Sylvia Harris comes as a great shock to many, self included. I came to know Sylvia through the Taxi: Roads Forward project. Her warmth and kindness were unlike what I had ever seen in NY...her manner, unassuming and her self confidence, inspirational. I liked her instantly! She was always full of encouragement and kind words. And her work reflected the same approachability, thoughtfulness and careful consideration that I have come to associate with her.

Words fail me when I think she is no longer here. Sylvia- I wish we had that cup of coffee in Brooklyn that we missed having so many times.

Marc Littlejohn wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

Sylvia's untimely passing is

Sylvia's untimely passing is a shock to us all, I don't think it will help to try to make sense of it because there are no answers as to why things like this happen.
I also think Sylvia would not want us to dwell on her passing, she would want us to gain quiet acceptance and continue on with our lives.
Sylvia has been a dear friend for over 14 years, our families have shared and created traditions that helped shape the identity and perspectives of my children and myself,
she was truly the matriarch of "our village".
Her strong commitment to friends, family and life were contagious and inspiring to us all.
As a friend I will miss her energy whit insight and her ability to make us look at things from new perspectives.
As a designer I am inspired to use my talent for the betterment of society, " to make a change"

Virginia Gehshan wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

Like many on this blog I saw

Like many on this blog I saw Sylvia recently; we had dinner at the recent SEGD conference. She was as positive and engaged as ever, full of plans for her newly-named firm. As always she looked like an Eileen Fisher model, healthy and athletic, which is why it is especially hard to fathom her untimely death.

Sylvia had the remarkable ability to herd cats, which I observed first hand when we worked with her on complex projects -- people listened to Sylvia. I appreciated her desire to make the world a better place through design. I feel especially sorry for her daughter Thai. I hope we can all pay tribute to her life and spirit in some meaningful way.

Richard Broadbent wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

I knew her as a singer,

I knew her as a singer, someone to sing with and to listen to when she sang. She sang at our wedding with Celeste. On our 20th anniversary I found her and coerced her into loaning me the only recording of the song she had sung for us to play for my wife. We cried at the wedding, we cried at the anniversary and we cry now. So many things in her life since we knew her when we were all young. But I think no matter what she was doing, she was always singing.
Gary and Thai I know she will always be in your hearts as she is in ours. love to all, Richard

ayana baltrip balagas wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

I became aware Sylvia Harris

I became aware Sylvia Harris about midway through the first part of my path ony way to becoming a graphic designer, and though I never met her, I looked to her as a sterling role model.

Thanking her for her shining example. She will be greatly missed.

Sending her family and community love in this difficult time.

David Harris wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

I had the great fortune to

I had the great fortune to meet Sylvia at a critical time in my life. She was a friend, a mentor and a loving spirit who radiated what is best in life. As fate might have it, and after six years of not having seen one and other face to face, we ran into each other on the street just days before her untimely passing. She was the same: radiant, statuesque, beautiful in every way. We chatted for a few months and got caught up on each other's lives. She was enormously proud of her daughter and showed me a picture of the young child I last remembered clutching her mother's hand on Prospect Place in Park Slope, but now a beautiful young woman in her own right. Sylvia leaves behind an enormous legacy never to be forgotten.

Bud Kraus wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

I am shocked and sadden to

I am shocked and sadden to learn about Sylvia's passing. I heard her talk last year at the World Usability day event in NYC. She was terrific and I'm sure she was an inspirational leader to all who knew her.

Anna wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

I knew Sylvia when we were

I knew Sylvia when we were members of a quaker youth group in our teens and early 20's. Our lives took us different directions and to completely different sides of the country. We didn't keep in close touch, yet I am so deeply saddened by losing her. Words don't really seem to express what a loss I feel. Sylvia had such a great, generous spirit.

My heart goes out to Gary, Thai, and her family, and I send my blessings.

Steve Jones wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

R.I.P. dear Sylvia... gone

R.I.P. dear Sylvia... gone too soon. I echo the sentiments of all the other comments. It speaks to the Sylvia's genuine character, how all that met/knew her - speak of the similar and wonderful qualities she possessed and imparted to everyone she met. As an African American grad student, Sylvia was my mentor and inspiration, and continued to be so after school. Sylvia's observations/advice was always clear and spot on. I included correspondence/advice between Sylvia and myself in my thesis—this letter really motivated me:
I understand your position and you really have to focus on the work, not your teachers. That will drive you crazy. If you come up with something good and clear they will come around. If your work is fuzzy or not well thought out, they will be justified in dismissing you. So concentrate on getting real clear about your topic and then chose an audience.

You will be missed tremendously, but not forgotten. Condolences and blessings to Gary, Thai and your family.

Robbie wrote 8 years 18 weeks ago

I heard Ms. Harris speak at

I heard Ms. Harris speak at the SEGD conference in Montreal just last month. Her lesson was an inspiration that has truly changed and guided my work ever since. I am truly grateful that I was able to experience her philosophy of selflessness within the design process. Its all about the end user, she said. Its not about how pretty it is, its whether it works or not. Thank you for that lesson. I will never forget it.

My deepest condolences to her friends and family and to all those who knew her much much better than I did. I know she will be missed dearly.

Wendy Ruyle wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

We here in Minnesota invited

We here in Minnesota invited Sylvia to speak at Design Camp, our local AIGA conference, back in 1997. As a young designer at the time, I learned from her the value in appreciating the journey of our lives. She was inspiring, kind, smart, and oh so very talented. I know she will be missed even more by those whose lives she touched on a daily basis.

Margaret Egan wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

Those calls that said 'time

Those calls that said 'time to gather the village', the many opportunities sitting around that beautiful table in your warm and welcoming home where always the spirit of love, creativity, equality and community flourished. The night of Obama's election and the tears shed will forever be among my most treasured memories.

Whether movies in the backyard, learning to play Rock School on a stoop, making holiday cookies where our daughters, so small then, would put flour on their faces and say 'ho, ho, ho' or supporting each other as mothers ... always a sharp and knowledgeable colleague who never was to busy to listen and a teacher, mentor to so many.

Our hearts are broken by this profound loss ... yes we are enriched by the many memories, her legacy will continue through her family and all of us blessed by knowing her. But that voice, that voice of reason, humor, wisdom, patience, grace and music ... that absence will be a void beyond measure ... I will try to honor your memory Sylvia by keeping up the essence of humility, humanity and service-driven energy that you modeled. We will always love you and what you have given all of us and the world.

Jan Fornéy wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

It is with a heavy heart that

It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge the passing of my dear friend, Sylvia Harris-Singer. Our friendship was instant and constant. We connected on so many levels and shared so many common experiences, it is hard to believe that her bright and wonderful spirit will no longer enhance our lives. She (is) was positive, loving, visionary, generous, creative, sweet, caring of others and the planet, a giving and wonderful friend, wife and mother. She weathered life's storms with philosophical largess and an incredible open spirit. I will always remember the kind and tender way in which she embraced my Mom, including her in all things big and small, sharing her light with a smile. Thank you, Sylvia, for being my friend for over 35 years. It's hard to say goodbye, but I will hold you forever in my heart. Gary and Thai, I love you and send you my heartfelt condolences.

Jan Fornéy

Anonymous wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

When I first became aware of

When I first became aware of who Slyvia Harris was my eyes widened and I smiled from ear to ear. Because here was a lady who was a highly successful graphic designer, worked with the biggest clients, collaborated with other design giants, and was a respected and powerful figure in the design community. Knowing this and seeing she was my race, helped expand my own vision I set for myself as a designer.

Trumbull Family wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

This was a beautiful person

This was a beautiful person who gave so much. There is an empty hole in this world right now that cannot be easily filled.

You will be missed....

Juan Matiz wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

Thoughful, intelligent,

Thoughful, intelligent, sensitive, talented...where do you stop describing Sylvia?
We only collaborated briefly, but it was obvious to me that she was contributing to the BIG PICTURE of this world and doing it to benefit others ahead of herself. She is already missed, but fortunately her influences will carry forth with the portfolio of work that remains for all of us to experience and admire. I can only imagine the loss for those who were fortunate to know her beyond the professional realm...

Peter wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

Sylvia and I met in the fall

Sylvia and I met in the fall of 1974. She was on stage playing the guitar and singing. We were young and the world seemed like it slowed and came to a full stop. Shortly afterward we married and years later we went our separate ways. In early January of this year my second and current wife came home to tell me a story of having lunch at a friends house and how after relating part of our holiday adventures her friend called to his wife. “You mean my Peter” is what my wife said had been Sylvia’s reaction when everyone’s tale had been told. Sylvia’s husband and my wife were colleagues and involved in a class together. Not long after that Sylvia and I decided to meet for the first time in more that twenty years. It was a good meeting with surprises for each of us. It is difficult to express my thoughts and feelings on learning what has happened. Sylvia was unique and her loss to her husband Gary and daughter Thai is I am sure immeasurable. She was a guiding light in her field and for those many friends who loved her. It is with a profound sadness that I accept that she is gone.

Curtis Davis wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

Sylvia and I met in the fall

Sylvia and I met in the fall of 1975 at the Architect's Collaborative in Cambridge, MA. It was my first corporate architecture job out of college. She worked in the graphic design department, I was an intern assigned to various departments. Our lives were on similar trajectories. "Young, Gifted and Black"... May graduates, June newlyweds with gifted spouses and excited about the world of design. We have been friends since the day we met.

As those of us who knew her know... Sylvia was easy to know and will be hard to forget. She was an easy friend. Its not often that one meets (let alone befriend) a person of such substance that was so easy to know. Others will reflect on her wisdom, humility and intensity. The depth of her design insight, care for others and attention to detail is renowned. However, the thing that strikes me the most when I think of Sylvia is how easy it was (is) to be her friend and how hard it is to accept that she is no longer here.

By God's grace, she resides in our hearts. I offer prayers of peace to Gary, Thai, Juliette and all those who are blessed to have been loved by her and to have had her as friend.

Sylvia, thank you for being God's Peace in my life and the lives of so many.

One of Your Fortunate Friends,

Udo Schliemann wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

As the chair for the SEGD

As the chair for the SEGD conference in June 2011, I had the pleasure to meet Sylvia and to enjoy her excellent presentation. She reminded us that whatever we do in design we should not forget the human aspect.
It is incomprehensible that such a lively, pleasant and energetic person is no longer with us.

My sincere condolences to her family and friends.

Monona Yin wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

I knew Sylvia as a friend and

I knew Sylvia as a friend and neighbor, rather than as a design visionary (although I did notice her home is gorgeous). Now I see what an amazing impact she had as an innovator, teacher and leader in a field she virtually invented. Sylvia's ideas for engaging and empowering people through good design are so important that I'm sure her colleagues will carry them forward. But what a huge loss to everyone who cares about democracy, beauty and justice. Sylvia, I wish I had had the privilege of working with you but I so appreciated your positive energy in every interaction, no matter how small. You embody this quote by Emile Zola to me:

"If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I will tell you, I came to live out LOUD."

Peace to all who loved her.

Nancy Oarneire Graham wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

The news of Sylvia's death is

The news of Sylvia's death is devastating. She was one of the most vibrant people I've ever met. Our children attended a home-based preschool together and our families had a few fine times together while our children were young. When my family moved from Brooklyn, Sylvia and Gary threw us a farewell party—just a small example of their generosity and warmth. My condolences to family and friends whose loss of her will reverberate for as long as you live. I love this picture of her—it brings to mind her laugh, which was easy, hearty, and infectious.

Michelle Davis wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

I am so sorry to hear about

I am so sorry to hear about Sylvia's passing. She was a beloved friend to Curtis and I, a honorary godmother to our children, Jordan and Amalia, and an esteemed designer in Brooklyn for all of New York and the world to marvel. My prayers go out to Gary , Thai, and all her family during this time of grief. May God watch over you all!

Cathy Towle wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

I am so sad and shocked to

I am so sad and shocked to hear about Sylvia's death. We were colleagues, moms and coop shift workers together...she slyly talked me into to being a Park Slope Coop member to help her design the signage there! We had a great time doing that. She was a brilliant designer and had a real knack for getting the best out of people. And a great sense of humor. My heart goes out to Thai and Gary, and the rest of the family. We will miss her.

Keon Pettiway wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

I didn't have the pleasure of

I didn't have the pleasure of personally knowing Sylvia Harris, but she was an inspiration as I read about her and saw her work from afar through the web. She continues to be one of my heroes and her work will carry on the in the tradition of seasoned and budding citizens that happen to be designers. To her family, my deepest condolences and wishing peace to you all through this shock. The world and the design community lost a great citizen and colleague, but she will not be forgotten.

Karin Bacon wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

I had the privilege to work

I had the privilege to work with Sylvia last year for the first time. Her presence lit up the room at every meeting. Her thinking about design was both broad and incisive. I am glad to have known her, however briefly and terribly sorry for her loss.

Shel Perkins wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

For a number of years, I knew

For a number of years, I knew Sylvia only casually through AIGA. Then in 2008, she asked me to consult with her on the evolution of her business. That's when I learned what an absolutely amazing person she was - brilliant, kind, funny, talented, and totally dedicated to the public good. She truly made the world a better place. It's been an absolute honor and joy collaborating with her over the past three years. I will always hold Sylvia in the very highest regard, both as a professional colleague and a genuine friend, and it's extremely difficult to believe that she's gone. What a horrible shock! Gary - my thoughts are with you and Thai.

Chaz DeSimone wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

A deep dark hole has been

A deep dark hole has been left in the promising future of elightening the public about design: what good design is, how beautiful design can enlighten and raise the value of its environment, how powerful design can bring joy and hope to the heart and soul, how any design was fabulous if it was touched upon by Sylvia Harris.

Condolences to Sylvia's family and to the design community.

Sally Minker wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

Adjectives that describe

Adjectives that describe Sylvia: brilliant, vibrant, vital, open, generous, gracious, fun, fabulous, warm, inspirational, positive, wonderful, beautiful. She was a pleasure to work with because she was so open to new ideas and other ways to look at a problem. I always learned something new from her. I would have worked for her for free.

I send my heart-felt condolences to her family, friends and colleagues. This is a huge loss. She will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

Paul Shapiro wrote 8 years 19 weeks ago

I saw Sylvia speak at World

I saw Sylvia speak at World Usability Day earlier this year (2011), where she gave the example of the US voting ballot and asked for design suggestions from the audience. I was impressed by her involvement in and dedication to design and the increasing need for understanding about usability as a part of our daily life. I was shocked to hear that she has passed and wish to offer my heartfelt condolences to her family, those with whom she worked, and those who knew her.