Lucille Tenazas (1953)


Recognized for her role in translating many post modern ideas into design practice, Lucille Tenazas is a professor at Parson’s New School of Design in New York as well as a practitioner in her field. She was born in the Philippines in 1953; later travelling to the United States in 1979 equipped with a degree in fine arts and a curiosity of design. She was looking for advanced study and found it at the California College of the Arts (CCA) and then later at Cranbrook Academy of Art where she earned an MFA in Design. After working in New York for many years she moved to San Francisco and began a firm entitled Tenazas Design; since then it has now been relocated to New York.

During those years in New York she undertook some 65 interviews before she finally scored a job as a staff designer at Harmon and Kemp Partners. She first made an impression with a series of pieces for a line of commercial-grade tags and bond papers. Her style of work was refreshing and humorous, holding an energy that really expressed the inner meaning of the type. In 1985, she left Harmon and Kemp, after which she moved to San Francisco and joined the faculty at CCA.

When she first arrived from the Philippines, the postmodern questioning of the authority of language and the relativity of meaning really struck her. She found it interesting and that it was a way to understand and liberate herself from the colonial nature of her own grasp of the English language. She took this and created experiments where she reconstructed the type and broke down its meaning in a way to assume power over language. This is explained beautifully by the author, Lorraine Wild, in her AIGA biography of Tenazas:

“… her graphic design, where images and text interweave and bounce off one another, and where multiple readings are deliberately engineered, is not only beautiful, but also intellectual and heartfelt.”

Her philosophy on type would best be described when she said:

“As a designer, you’re put in the position where you have to respond to somebody else’s needs or problems. If you’re aware of who you are, you can take on the identities and problems others may pose and not lose your own.”

This statement of hers is greatly exemplified in an excerpt from her biography on the Parson’s website:

Lucille Tenazas had scarcely arrived at Parsons before she was telling her students to “get lost.” For a class assignment she devised, students walk to a random point ten minutes from home, departing from their normal route. Their senses, awakened by unfamiliar surroundings, observe, navigate, and interpret the landscape keenly and freshly—valuable abilities for designers, who encounter new terrain with each new client or project. What they notice during the exercise might show up in a book or a film or a series of posters expressing students’ experiences as newcomers.


Parson’s New School for Design

Her Portfolio can be viewed at: