Sue Colberg

Sue is passionate about making the world better through design, by shaping and preserving culture and contributing to the education and wellbeing of people.

Designer, typographer, and professor  Sue Colberg was born in 1961 on World Graphics Day, now International Design Day, in Montréal, Québec to immigrant parents, who arrived there after World War II. Her father was a communications design engineer and an inventor and builder of gadgets. He was also an accomplished artist. Her mother was an avid reader, a skilled seamstress, and an enthusiast of all things cultural. Growing up near Montréal, in Deux Montagnes, with a Danish mother and a German father made for a multicultural, multilingual upbringing, and a creative one. There were always stacks of books in the house along with records, sewing patterns, art supplies, paper, fabric, building materials and diagrams in publications like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. There was also a lot of Letraset lying around in very neat piles.

Sue studied visual communication design under GDC Fellows Peter Bartl, Jorge Frascara and Walter Jungkind, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication Design (1983) and a Master of Visual Arts in Visual Communication Design (1991) from the University of Alberta. She was inspired the impact made by her professors and mentors as they built and strengthened design education, research, and practice through their national and international activities. As a student she became the Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) Next Generation Representative for Canada. 

After graduating with a BFA, Sue worked as a designer in the Communications Department of the Walter C. McKenzie Health Sciences Centre (University of Alberta Hospitals), and as a designer for the University of Alberta Visual Identity Team headed by Professor Walter Jungkind. She also established Colberg Visual Communication Design in 1983, beginning her professional career as an art director/designer for several small trade and academic publishing houses. She became known for her elegant typography, sophisticated layout structures, and evocative imagery. During that same period, she designed visual identities, signage/wayfinding, and information design for several large institutional clients as well as for many small cultural and non-profit organizations with projects relating to the arts and culture, health, safety, and wellbeing.

Sue began teaching as a part-time sessional instructor at the University of Alberta in 1987, was hired as Assistant Professor in 2001, and is currently Professor in the Department of Art & Design, where she has served as Coordinator of Visual Communication Design, as Associate Chair and as Director of Undergraduate Programs for the Department. She teaches typography, information design, and the practice of design, incorporating her interest in social, cultural, educational, and health-related issues into the classroom. Sue also teaches Concepts, Analysis & Criticism in Design and Theory & Research in Design to graduate students, and she supervises grad students in the Master of Design program. With senior undergraduate and graduate students, she has carried out community projects involving people with visual and hearing impairments and physical challenges, the application of psychiatric research in treatment, recognition of cultural excellence, sustainability issues, pharmaceutical labeling and safety, pediatric weight and health issues, medical student health initiatives for the inner city, publicity material for Studio Theatre and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. She has lectured and participated in roundtable discussions and workshops on topics related to design education and practice, book and publication design, and typography. Her teaching has been recognized by a significant undergraduate teaching award from the University of Alberta, and a national teaching award from the RGD (Association of Registered Graphic Designers).

For more than twenty years, Sue has been involved with The Alcuin Society as a juror and as curator and exhibitor of the Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada, the only national competition for book design. Winning books are exhibited nationally and internationally and are nominated for the Best Book Design from all over the World competition in Leipzig, Germany. She first brought the exhibition to the University of Alberta’s Fine Arts Building (FAB) Gallery in 2003, and annually since then, helping to raise the standard and awareness of Canadian book design and book culture locally, nationally, and internationally. Sue’s service to the profession and the University included the significant honour of being invited to serve as 1 of 3 expert panelists for the 2020 Frankfurter Buchmesse/Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest and most prestigious international book fair in the world, as well as on the international jury of the 2018 Stiftung Buchkunst Leipzig book design competitionthe only representative from the Americas.

Sue’s practice-led research in book design and typography includes innovative, contemporary, and experimental design practices rooted in the traditional. Focussed mainly in the cultural sector, her work is concerned with book designs not as mere artifacts, objects or delivery mechanisms, but as media in their own right. Her work in the areas of research publications that are created as hybrids of the scholarly journal and the exhibition catalogue, and artist books that prioritize immersive reader/user experience through a focus on physical structure and materiality, have been recognized with design awards from the Alcuin Society, Graphic Designers of Canada and the American University and College Designers Association. 

Sue has worked with institutions, industry, and the private sector developing projects that include 

exhibition catalogue designs such as Seeing the World of Sound: The Cover Art of Folkways Records for the Smithsonian Institution (Smithsonian Folkways Records, Washington, DC) for which she wrote a chapter concerning Visual Identity. This publication was recognized with two major design awards, one national and one international. This publication design inspired two exhibitions of the same work, also designed by Sue, that were shown at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, as well as at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in DC.

Sue’s clients have included a variety of institutions and publishing houses in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain including Bloomsbury, University of Rochester Press, State University of New York Press, the University of Toronto Press, and the University of Alberta Press. She has won over 30 national and international design awards for her work and has served on the juries of the United Nations Development Program, Stiftung Buchkunst Leipzig’s Die Schönste Bücher aus Aller Welt (Best Book Design from All Over the World), the Association of American University Presses, the Alcuin Society for Excellence in Book Design in Canada, Book Publishers Association of Alberta, and the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada among others. Her book designs have been exhibited at the Frankfuter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair), and her work has been exhibited across Canada and in the United States, as well as in Australia, China, Cuba, France, Egypt, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Korea, Poland, Turkey, and New Zealand. Her visual identity projects have been featured in Worldwide Identity: Inspired Design from 40 Countries(Icograda/Rockport, 2005) as well as in Graphis Logo (Graphis Publications), and Trademarks and Symbols of Canada (Éditions Picador). Examples of her book designs can be found in the permanent collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the German Book & Type Museum in Leipzig, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the E.H. Norman Library of the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Banff Centre. 

As a professional, she served on the executive of the Graphic Designers of Canada for nearly 30 years, in various roles, including two terms as president of the Alberta North Chapter. In 2000, Sue was designated as the official delegate and international liaison representing Canada to Icograda, the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (now ico-D, the International Council of Design). She served in that position for 10 years, representing the GDC at General Assemblies in Amsterdam, Beijing, Copenhagen, Havana, Montréal, Nagoya, and Nice. She has served as the education liaison for the University of Alberta to the icograda/ico-D Education Network since 2001. In 2009, the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada named her a Fellow in recognition of her work in professional development, practice, and design education. Sue continues to be active as an educator, designer, mentor, juror, policy advisor, and advocate for book design culture in Canada. She is passionate about making the world better through design, by shaping and preserving culture and contributing to the education and wellbeing of people. 

Sue lives in Edmonton, a stone’s throw away from the University of Alberta, and she owns a lot of books.

Awarded Fellowship 2009