Deborah Sussman
Principal and Founder

Deborah Sussman (1931-2014) was a pioneer in the field of Environmental Graphic Design. Her contributions to the discipline have been internationally applauded, and have influenced generations of designers.  Her passion for the marriage of graphics and the built environment has led to extensive collaborations with planners, designers, architects and her many clients. Her vision, informed by perceptive observation and rigorous documentation of communities and cultures, found its place in designing projects for cities, the arts, entertainment, education and commercial venues around the world.     Her work is populist and exuberant with a special gift for color.

Born in 1931, of immigrant parents from Warsaw and Belarus, Deborah grew up in Brooklyn. Her father was a successful commercial artist and her mother was a linguist – speaking 3–4 languages fluently. Both parents were influential in developing her interest in the arts. In her youth in New York, Deborah took classes at the Art Students league, attended Young Peoples Concerts at Carnegie Hall, edited and drew illustrations for the high school arts journal, participated in weekly high school radio broadcasts and visited the many museums and galleries of Manhattan.  The summer she graduated from High School, she attended Black Mountain College witch offered a cutting edge curriculum in the Arts.  There she studied and worked with painter Frans Kline, musician John Cage, dancer Merce Cunningham and others.  These experiences solidified her decision to study painting & acting at Bard College.

Deborah thrived in the liberal and open program at Bard but quickly decided she would not be an actress.  Exercising a junior year option to study at a different school, Deborah chose the Institute of Design in Chicago; there, she became infatuated with design. When Charles and Ray Eames visited the campus and presented their work, she determined that design would be her career.  Describing that event later in life, she said: “the work of the Eames Office made the ordinary, extraordinary”.  In the summer of 1953, Deborah was chosen for a summer internship at the Eames Office in Venice, California – it lasted until the fall of 1958.

In 1958, Deborah was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Hochschule fur Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany. Touted as the “New Bauhaus” she found it rigid and dull after the freedom and excitement of the Eames Office and her college years.  She spent most of the semester photographing vernacular architecture, signs and markets around Ulm and travelling to Pairs and Milan.  In Milan, she worked several months for Studio Boggeri doing graphics, and in Paris she worked for the Galleries LaFayette department store, doing a significant body of work before returning to New York in 1961.  She settled into an apartment in Manhattan and began doing freelance work, but after some months, Charles Eames lured her back to Los Angeles to work on the Mathematica Exhibit for IBM. This began another phase of work, with a much larger Eames Office, which would last through 1967

During more than a decade with the Eames Office, Deborah worked, and gained experience in, different disciplines: toy design, packaging, photography, film, print media, exhibits, signing, color and showroom design. She immersed herself in the aesthetic playfulness of the Eames multi-disciplinary style, and became a mature designer who could direct others and keep a project on track.  She also became a sophisticated traveler, working in Mexico on the Day of the Dead film and spending over two months in India on the Nehru exhibit.

Deborah began her own business designing print pieces for the newly repositioned Los Angles County Museum of Art.  In 1967 she moved into her first studio on San Vicente Blvd. in West Los Angeles, which she shared with Frank Gehry and Gere Kavanaugh, and established herself as Deborah Sussman & Co.  In 1968 she met her future husband/partner, Paul Prejza, an urban planner and architect. In order to woo Deborah, Paul spent most of his evenings “moonlighting” in her office helping with her projects. They were married in 1972.  In ’73 they moved to a studio space of their own, and by’74 Paul had joined the office full time.  The office was renamed Sussman/Prejza & Company when it was incorporated in 1980.

During their 40 plus years of working together Deborah and Paul led the firm in designing over 340 notable projects of every type, for a wide range of clients, that took them to most of America’s major cities and to major cities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  Many of the projects were awarded and/or written about; the company bibliography contains over 400 listings and the awards are numerous.  In some way, Deborah touched most of these projects.  She had a flair for color and detail, but she was also conceptual.  She was as comfortable and secure when she was designing a brochure as she was when she was coloring a fifty-story office building.  No project was too big-nor to small.

Deborah was bright and sunny, with a sharp sense of humor, a quick wit and an infectious laugh that could fill a room; When she walked into a room, always fashionably dressed, and flashed a smile, the place lit up.  And she seemed ageless. A series of photos taken six weeks before she died picture her as someone with twenty more years in her future.  She was sui generis – one of a kind.

Honors include:
Laureate, Art Directors Global Hall of Fame New York (ADC), 2012
Golden Arrow Award, Society of Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD), 2006
Medalist, American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), 2004

Doctor of Humane Letters (Bard College), 1998
Honorary Member, American Institute of Architects (AIA), 1988

Elected Member, Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), 1987

Elected Member, International Womens Forum (IWF), 1987
Fellow and Founder, AIGA/LA, 1986
Fellow, Society of Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD).

First woman to exhibit in New York’s School of Visual Arts’ “Master Series.”