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Friday, August 22, 2014

Back to Work: Design Still Gives Me Hope

Pioneer Place
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

The return from our three-week holiday in France and the United Kingdom has been more disorienting than usual. First, we had to give up wine at lunch! Then we gave up wine on school nights. Being self-employed means I can’t travel without internet access at each hotel, house, or apartment we stay in. So we never really get away from the tumult.

Before we left for Europe, the battle for Gaza upset me tremendously. While it is pretty clear to me who is occupying whom, it still means civilian deaths on all sides. It’s hard to see a peaceful resolution, given the violence. Trying to make sense of the conflict practically requires a degree in Mideast history.

We returned home to the tragic news about Bay Area resident Robin Williams, who was universally adored. It seems that everybody here has a story about meeting him, seeing him live, or working with him. Although his politics were always left, he volunteered to perform for U.S. troops overseas. It didn’t matter whether he agreed with the politics of a specific conflict, he empathized with the situation the soldiers found themselves in. They didn’t start the stupid wars; they need support. Of course, they need it when they get home, too, but that’s another story. It is strange how ubiquitous Williams was, and yet none of us knew him or the depth of his struggles. Let’s remember his lesson: compassion.

Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

The Gas Company
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

Museum of the African Diaspora
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

The images from Ferguson are connected to the historic oppression of African American males by largely white male forces. This is old news to black folks, but maybe this time white folks will get it too. I remember years ago attending a reading at Black Oak Books with Walter Mosley. An audience member asked innocently, if naively, whether indeed the situation in America wasn’t better for African Americans than it used to be? And Mosely said something like, “No. Every night in America, a black man is beaten by a white police officer.” Not only has the systemic mistreatment of African Americans been pointed out, we are also seeing how our police have become militarized. Another outcome of the Military Industrial Security Corporate Complex that the Republicans built in the wake of 9/11. The enemy has been misidentified.

1984 Los Angeles Olympics
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

And then yesterday, in the design industry where many of my friends work, the death of Deborah Sussman, the noted graphic designer. She was 83, though that was hard to believe. She was a protégé of the Eameses and grew to become a brilliant designer in her own right. Her graphics for the Joseph Magnin stores illuminated my childhood and adolescence. What she could do with mall architecture! During the 1990s, she used to come to the ELS office to work on retail projects, and the whole place felt a surge when that little lady came up the stairs. Those spectacles! Her work for the 1984 Olympics not only branded the Olympics, but it also helped rebrand Los Angeles. Although her work was temporary and largely based on color, it had a permanent effect. Los Angeles became a leading global city after the Olympics. Amazing what a bit of colored paper can do. Looking at Sussman’s work cheers me up and helps me get back to work, which means sharing the work!

Deborah Sussman
Photo by Laure Joliet for the NY Times

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