• Lead

    Deborah Sussman

The List

Looking back over the life of designer Deborah Sussman

Posted by James Cartwright,

The death of legendary designer Deborah Sussman earlier this week has been keenly felt by the creative community at large. For someone who’d reached the very respectable age of 83, she was still ever-present in the public consciousness both for her continued influence over the visual landscape of Los Angeles and her seemingly boundless energy. She’d recently been the subject of a Kickstarter-funded retrospective at Woodbury University’s WUHO Gallery – proof if any were needed that she still had the ability to excite an audience – and as a result has been the subject of numerous magazine editorials over the past nine months.

Deborah was fortunate to have lived long enough to enjoy this critical acclaim. As a woman embarking upon a design career in the mid-1950s the odds were stacked against her, yet she managed to carve out a remarkable career early on in an industry dominated by men.

Some of that success can be attributed to her early work with Charles and Ray Eames. As a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology (or the “New Bauhaus” as it was affectionately known) she was mentored by the likes of Hugo Weber and Konrad Wachsmann, who recommended her to the Eames when they visited the school in 1953. She would later go on to champion the contribution Ray Eames made to the creative endeavours of the studio – a fact often overlooked by design scholars at the time.

But it wasn’t simply here relationship with the Eames that afforded her success, she was a unique talent in her own right, and in honour of that we’ve picked out some of the best moments from her career.

The Film Assistant

In true Eames style Deborah had numerous creative roles while under the employment of the studio; from model-maker and graphic designer to film assistant. Day of the Dead is taken from her early days at the studio and tells the story of the Mexican festival through beautifully-shot still images, surreal animated scenes and the gravelly soundtrack of Charles Eames’ narrative.

The Retail Revolution

  • Deborah_sussman_wuho_la_14

    Standard Shoes 1970

By 1970 Deborah was running her own studio in LA and had started to take on large-scale commissions, collaborating with studio neighbour Frank Gehry. Together they worked on the interior of Standard Shoes where Deborah was granted free rein over the aesthetic. Her bold use of colour, pattern and abstract geometric forms was an instant hit with a client keen to push the boundaries of what a retail space could be.

The Olympic Commission

  • 1984-olympics-scaffold

    Sussman/Prejza and the Jerde Partnership: Los Angeles Olympics 1984

  • 852e8526d85a6d61a6cf2dd408913903_large

    Sussman/Prejza and the Jerde Partnership: Los Angeles Olympics 1984

  • Olympic-arts-village(1)

    Sussman/Prejza and the Jerde Partnership: Los Angeles Olympics 1984

By 1984 Deborah had built up a respected reputation for her studio and was working on a multitude of high-profile, public-facing projects. She’d designed brochures for the Hollywood Bowl, created exterior graphics for Joseph Magnin Stores and designed catalogues for the LA County Museum of Art. The Los Angeles Olympics came along and her bold super graphics seemed the obvious choice for an event designed to put LA on the global map. Though initially they were poorly received by some critics, Deborah’s designs for the Olympic branding remain some of the most respected to date, along with Otl Aicher’s work for the 1972 Munich Games and those for the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

The Retrospective Show

In late 2013 Woodbury University’s WUHO Gallery posted a fundraising page to Kickstarter asking for $15,000 to cover the costs of hanging a retrospective exhibition of Deborah’s work: “a month-long celebration that includes a panel discussion, gallery exhibition and poster publication.” The money was raised inside of a month and a renewed interest in Sussman’s work started up throughout the design community. In this interview from WUHO Gallery’s Kickstarter page you get a real sense of what an infectious personality she had and how passionate she was about design as a whole, even after a career that spanned over half a century.

The Contextual Obituary

  • Obit

    Deborah Sussman in 1965

Design lecturer Elizabeth Guffrey posted an obituary on Design Observer on 21 August that places Deborah’s career within the specific context of gender politics, examining the way she built a reputation for herself in an intensely male-dominated environment. It recalls her time managing the Olympic project that “thrust her into an uneasy leadership role." As she remembers, being in charge of some 150 designers — most of whom were men — required subtle but firm leadership. ““The male mafia” with whom she worked were dubious.” She was, Elizabeth asserts, “a pioneer in the fullest sense.”

Jc

Posted by James Cartwright

James started out as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our two editors. He oversees Printed Pages magazine and content wise has a special interest in graphic design and illustration. He also runs our online shop Company of Parrots and is a regular on our Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: The List View Archive

  1. List-postcardbadges1-0606_987

    FL@33’s graphic arts label Stereohype is celebrating its tenth birthday this year, an occasion that also marks the launch of its 1,000th button badge. Over the years, these have been designed by the likes of Supermundane, Jon Burgerman, Lawrence Zeegen and Luke Best, to name but a few, and they’re currently on show with some brilliant posters at London College of Communication in an exhibition running until 8 November.

  2. _list-rlr50_cover_subs

    Cycling magazine Rouleur has always been about much more than spokes and lycra. The publication – which in 2012 released previously unseen photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson – boasts a considered design aesthetic and stunning imagery, and is now celebrating the launch of its 50th issue with a cover designed by Sir Paul Smith. To mark this milestone, Rouleur’s assistant editor Andy McGrath talks us through some of his favourite cover images and the stories behind them.

  3. List

    Most of merely dabble in the world of fashion and recycle what little knowledge we have by saying phrases like “yah that’s so hot right now.” But recycle no more as SHOWstudio will be your fashion education forevermore.

  4. List

    Earlier this week we mined our collective knowledge to see what advice we could offer those starting out at art school this autumn. Then we realised why stop there – what about all the amazing creatives we know and love around the world; what advice would they give those embarking on this exciting, and sometimes scary new chapter? So over the next few weeks we’re going to hear from a whole host of them, starting today with Jon Burgerman, Stefan Sagmeister, Carol Morley and Johnny Kelly…

  5. Main1

    There’s a reason why girls like me used to babysit, and it sure wasn’t for the £2-per-hour wage and free Cheese strings. SNOOPING, dear friends, is one of the most seductively naughty and curious pastimes of the world. Walking past a home with all the lights on at night gives me the same sensation as finding a fiver on the floor and here’s why – how others decorate and personalise their places of dwelling is infinitely interesting, and the chance to cast your own judgment on their choices is addictive.

  6. Main

    It may surprise you to find out that the It’s Nice That Bookshelf feature has been going strong since 8 January 2011. Yep, it’s old, and like a grumpy old uncle it’s rarely actually been celebrated. The weekly sneaky peek into the bookshelves of the creative and famous (sing to tune of Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous by Good Charlotte) is a long-term favourite of many an It’s Nice That reader, and we decided to do a few posts to celebrate some gems within it.

  7. List

    This week marks the halfway point of Fashion Month, AKA the queen of all trade shows, with Spring Summer 2015 collections being shown in New York, London, Milan and Paris respectively from mid-September to mid-October. Exciting though it is, rummaging through the masses of fashion coverage the internet has to offer can sometimes feel like drowning in an ocean of show reports and final walks, so here’s our rundown of the five best alternative places to see the best of the collections this season.

  8. List

    Just before Christmas I like to go through the bumper two week issue of The Radio Times and circle (neatly!) the things I wish to watch over the festive period. This annual ritual engenders mixed feelings; excitement and anticipation on the one hand and an almost palpable anxiety of deciding what, unavoidably, I am going to have to miss. I have a similar feeling as London Design Festival rolls around every autumn. There is so much going on that it’s very easy to spread yourself too thinly, so with that in mind here’s ten things I am looking forward to at this year’s LDF. I make no apologies for including some pretty obvious selections, as well as hopefully a couple of more individual choices.

  9. List

    Last night Apple launched the iPhone 6, the iWatch and Apple Pay amid more fawning than a Tumnus family gathering. We may have reached peak mania around Apple’s launches, but then I’m sure I thought that last time. Because of the tech giant’s insane success, many have studied the (winning) formula by which Apple seem to conduct their public pronouncements, and this in turn has led to many spoofs skewering the Apple approach. IKEA were the latest to produce a spoof Appple ad – coincidentally released just days before yesterday’s press conference – but as you’ll see below they certainly weren’t the first to go down that route. My money’s on them not being the last either…

  10. Gwmain

    For me the commissioning, content and tone of The Gentlewoman are absolutely unparalleled in the magazine industry, and it gives me nothing but sheer joy to open a copy and have it satisfyingly flop on to the table to devour. Here at It’s Nice That we look forward to seeing the new cover and the choice of woman featured on it more than any other publication. The new cover of the bi-annual must-have magazine is out, and this time the star is Swedish electronic music artist, Robyn.

  11. List

    The death of legendary designer Deborah Sussman earlier this week has been keenly felt by the creative community at large. For someone who’d reached the very respectable age of 83, she was still ever-present in the public consciousness both for her continued influence over the visual landscape of Los Angeles and her seemingly boundless energy. She’d recently been the subject of a Kickstarter-funded retrospective at Woodbury University’s WUHO Gallery – proof if any were needed that she still had the ability to excite an audience – and as a result has been the subject of numerous magazine editorials over the past nine months.

  12. List

    Desert Island Discs is a British institution. First broadcast in 1942, the premise is super simple – if marooned on a desert island which songs would you take with you (as well as a book and a luxury item). Of course the show is about much, much more than music and thanks to the incredible guests the show attracts (being invited on DID is a real cultural badge of honour) and the skills of the interviewers, each show becomes a fascinating insight into some of the most interesting minds around. You can (and really should) spend some time exploring the incredible archive but here we’ve picked out a few shows featuring castaways from the art and design world that we recommend.

  13. List

    After seven years as Creative Director of British Esquire, David Mckendrick is off to set up a new venture with Wallpaper* art director Lee Belcher. As his final issue hits the newsstands, David reflected on his time at one of the UK’s leading magazines and picked out a selection of his favourite covers…