Dannell MacIlwraith

Virus causes festering creativity

By Ann Lemon

As my graduate school professors constantly reminded us, designers are “artists, first.” Our intuitive response to life is to observe it, imagine it, and record it visually.

Around the world artists, musicians, writers, illustrators and designers are responding to and documenting the Covid-19 pandemic. These artifacts are accumulating as a collective journal and will become part of our American (global) historical record.

I wanted to give our students in Historical Survey of Graphic Design (B) a chance to process and express their thoughts, opinions and emotions about the crisis we are all living through.

For their final assignment I asked students to collect facts from credible, scientific sources such as the C.D.C. and W.H.O., and identify a favorite specific piece of design discussed in the course. They then replicated their chosen artist’s style to create a poster that deals with some aspect of the pandemic.

The practice of trying to dissect and match a designer’s style (I call it “match the hatch” – as in fly fishing) gets students to discern small differences in typography, color, and other design elements, and discover the principles used by their predecessors. Dissecting and then replicating the elements of another designer’s work expands our design vocabulary.

I believe that if a student REALLY understands and identifies with the work of just one or two artists they hadn’t heard of before this class – really deeply integrates them into their consciousness – the course is a success.

A designer friend says she will never forget the exact place she was sitting in a classroom when she first saw the work of William Morris. I still remember the student project I did as an undergraduate, about Alexey Brodovitch. To this day, when I come across his work, or a reference to it in a contemporary piece, I feel like he is “my” guy.

The resulting posters delighted and amazed me. I honestly did not expect this level of ingenuity and creativity. Some of them are funny, some are deeply insightful, others convey important facts in surprising ways.

I hope that by “standing on the shoulders” of these design giants, these students will never forget the spring of 2020, or the artist they learned about in the middle of the strangest semester in history.

See if you can identify their references!


HERE IT IS! Your KUCD Yearbook!

A giant THANK YOU to Rebekah Fair for her hard work. She designed the cover and many of the interior pages. Thank you to her internship mentor at First Generation, Liz Harer (KUCD) for overseeing the project. Thank you to the faculty and students who contributed pages. It has certainly been a labor of love.

Download Yearbook!

If you would like a printed copy, there are two options available on Blurb, a hard cover version (
and a soft cover version (
We are making $0 on this.

Congratulations to all of you who are graduating!

Meet Rebekah Hanover Pettit —MFA student

Hello. My name is Rebekah Hanover Pettit.

After a previous life in audio visual production, I went back to school to become a designer. I’m an obsessive learner, and now work as a senior graphic designer at a D.C. cultural site and non-profit.

Why I decided to go back to grad school…

I decided to go to grad school for two reasons. I’ve taught as an adjunct and LOVE it. But I also believe in design and designers. Because design is experience and perspective and interaction it has the potential to bring positive change to individuals and communities.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance to pursue my MFA. Most programs require you to go full-time, uproot your family, or take on astounding amounts of debt. Finding KU is helping me fulfill a dream I didn’t think would ever be possible.

Tell us about/describe your KUCD MFA journey thus far…

So starting, actually starting, has been and emotional rollercoaster. I already had a full life with work and family, and the week before I started I was given some big, additional responsibilities at work. So I really questioned if I should perhaps delay another year, but I decided to not let circumstances and surprises derail my plans. It’s going to be a lot of work, and I’m carving out every minute I can find. I’ve also discovered a lot of support, from coworkers who share research or offer to assist with editing to artists I’ve commissioned who just provide that extra boost of encouragement and reassurance.

Honestly, Journey Week might be a little bit of a blur. It’s a lot of work. It’s exhausting, and it’s a bit of a shock to the system. But it’s also about getting your head in the game at the level you want to be and pushing each other to dig deeper and go further. I just need to remember to bring a much larger refillable mug for my coffee refills.

What has been your favorite project to date? Please tell me why.

I’m currently examining how experiential design can include or exclude cultural diversity, as well as taking a deep dive into non-Latin-based typography. Both are topics that are important to me and immediately relevant to my day job.

Fun fact about you.

  • I can’t whistle. Although I try, frequently, when working out a problem. I’m surprised none of my co-workers has complained…yet.
  • I have far too many interests for any one individual: I like to pretend I have a green thumb, and so far the blueberries have survived to year 2. I’ve tried to make most everything from scratch at least once. The crackers still need some work. I’m great with bread. Yogurt continues to be a complete failure.
  • I also play or played several instruments. Although those skills have been getting a bit rusty prepping for this program, they have served me well. I am able to make up silly songs for my preschool daughter on command.

  • And I don’t care what anyone says, the “old fashion” or “cake” donuts are the BEST. I consume a fair amount of coffee (don’t we all!). I prefer it black and keep a remarkable amount of equipment at home to make it…none of which require electricity.

Meet Jen Pepper—MFA student

Hello my Name is… Jen Pepper!
I am a graphic designer and wedding stationer living on the coast of New England with my husband and our corgi. I’ve spent my design career branding small businesses, designing catalogs, creating a line of home goods, and illustrating crazy-cool wedding invitations.

Why I decided to go back to grad school…

I decided to pursue my MFA in design so that I can pass on my skills and knowledge by becoming a college professor in graphic design.

Tell us about/describe your KUCD MFA journey thus far…

I am thrilled to be on the MFA journey, and it already has made me look at life a little differently. There are only so many hours in a given week, so what I choose to take on has to be worth it. Finding a work-life balance has always been a little tricky. Add school into the mix, and it has forced me to think more about what I can fit on my plate, and what I can feel good about declining.

Journey week is the first week of the semester, and it’s a little bit of a mystery coming into the program. Will I be the oldest person there? (our group is well balanced with those who are starting their design careers and those who have been in the business for a while) Will I be intimidated by other people’s design skills? (everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, don’t compare yourself to other people. Stretch your abilities and yourself!) Will I survive this? (Yes. You may be exhausted, but you will love it!) Think of it as a process that will guide you to what you will ultimately be working on for the rest of the semester.

Throw caution to the wind, let your guard down and get to know the people who make up your crazy little pack of grad students. You’ll laugh, you might cry (totally cool if you do!), and you might end up telling these people way more about yourself that you ever thought you would! It’s kind of like starting a secret club with a random group of strangers who end up having way more in common than you thought possible. There will be late nights, there may be early mornings, but most of all, it will be a process that you need to trust.

What has been your favorite project to date? Please tell me why.

During journey week, one of the concepts I ended up exploring was the overwhelming popularity of making products pink to appeal to women. I don’t like the color pink and it got me asking, why does this happen so often? The history behind the color pink being for girls and blue being for boys is a contrived one. At one point it was dependent upon which department store you shopped in. This semester I’ve been writing an article that showcases a few additional ways women are often marketed to, why they don’t work, and what could be done to correct this behavior. I’ll also be examining the packaging of body products that are sold to men and women with different packaging. I hope to determine that gender-neutral packaging would attract more consumers.

Fun fact about you.

When I’m not stuck at my desk working, you might find me at a local bar hosting pub quiz or playing Ms. Pacman. I wear flip flops until it snows. I am also mildly obsessed with…Polar Seltzer (Yes, to Cherry lime-ade, and a hard pass on plain lemon). Walt Disney World (if you ever need an unofficial tour guide, I’m all yours). Those cheese and meat gift trays that appear during the holidays (who designs those geometric arrangements, and can I please shadow you for a week?) And binge watching repeats of Parks and Recreation.

Meet Sarah Sterner-Hausknecht—MFA student

Hello my Name is… Sarah Sterner-Hausknecht!

Hello! My name is Sarah Sterner-Hausknecht. I know. It’s a crazy long name. My name, like my life, used to be simple…and then I got married. Let’s back up a little. I discovered not only a love for art, but also a sense of belonging, during an advanced art class in high school. As someone who thrives on and enjoys being busy, I was involved in a lot of activities and had many friends and close acquaintances within the groups of people I participated in those activities with. But I never quite felt right and was often plagued with a feeling of not “belonging”. That all changed as soon as I stepped foot in an art class. I immediately felt welcomed and that I was “home” and had found my place. Closer to graduation my art teacher urged me to pursue Graphic Design. I started out at a local community college and then transferred into the undergraduate KUCD Design program at Kutztown University. My experience in the undergraduate KUCD program solidified my love and passion for design. I enjoyed every moment of the “design-butt-kicking” and plentiful “creative-boot-camp” sessions. Upon graduation I freelanced at a couple of companies and then accepted a full-time position with an in-house design group. Fast-forward 10-years and this is where it starts to get crazy Got married and had my first daughter. I was un-prepared for the conflict of feelings I had of being torn between my love and passion for design and for my newborn baby girl. I drug myself back to work after 3 months of enjoying non-stop, blissful, snuggle moments. I felt as though my heart wasn’t with design anymore. After 6-months, I took a leap off the cliff of comfortability and quit my full-time job in order to spend more time with my family. Then I missed art. I decided to start my own freelance-design business which quickly became a happy balance that consisted of my love for design AND snuggles with my daughter. The move away from my full-time career also opened my schedule up to include teaching a communication design course at a community college. I discovered that I loved inspiring a passion for design into others as much (perhaps even more) as I enjoyed creating. A love for teaching became the initial catalyst in my decision to go back to school and apply to Kutztown University’s M.F.A. program in Communication Design.

Why I decided to go back to grad school…

Over time, my career journey has grown and taken various paths that has led me to KUCD’s MFA program. I decided that if I were to enter the full-time workforce again, I wanted it to be teaching full-time, which will require the next level degree. I also found my freelance career becoming stagnant, stale and uninspired. I am attending KUCD’s MFA program to build on my teaching capabilities, to re-fresh the perspective that I bring to my freelance business and also for myself. I am now a mother of two amazingly magical daughters. Outside of art & design, they are my entire world and I am their primary caregiver. I find that I give so much of myself as well. Attending the program is as much for me for self-care reasons as it is for growing my freelance business and teaching careers.

Tell us about/describe your KUCD MFA journey thus far…

I feel like the squeal of joy, that emitted from me on day I received my acceptance into the KUCD MFA program, could have been heard around the world. Excitement quickly turned to panic as I pondered what would be instore for me during that first Journey Week of the program. Journey Week was AMAZING! Emotionally it was a roller-coaster journey from anticipation to defeat; enthusiasm to self-doubt. Journey Week can be described as an intensive of collaboration between other students enrolled in the program and the professors. They are there for you every step of the way, supporting and inspiring your work. There are deadlines (homework) every day. But this is to ensure the proper amount of exploration and growth of your work while on-campus. That work will act as the springboard for your work starting week two. You can expect a tour of the Sharadin Art building and all their printing/fabrication capabilities. During journey week you can get to know your peers, collaborate, and experience a letterpress adventure where you take a hands-on approach learning the basics of how to set type and work a table-top letterpress.

What has been your favorite project to date? Please tell me why.

I am very excited about the projects I am currently working on. Shortly before starting journey week I became sick with Lyme Disease which inspired me to formulate a field guide approach to identify and understand common vector-born diseases regionally. I also plan to include an “on-the-go” kit that will have a quick reference card, materials to repel insects and treat bites, and tick extraction tools (featured for this region). Another project I’m working on is a “Try Kit” that parents can use to work with their children to get comfortable with and celebrate failures. Experiencing failure fosters growth for success and instilling that concept in our children can be beneficial to how they approach failure in the future. The kit will contain literature for parents and chart style positive reinforcement for each time your child continues to try a task, whether they have failed or not, by earning stickers and badges. There will also be trading cards to explore with your child that each feature well known people throughout history that experienced failure in order to achieve that great accomplishments your child may be learning about in school.

Fun fact about you.
In general, I consider myself not to be very interesting. I purposefully keep myself very busy, constantly on-the-go, and absolutely positively cannot live without CHOCOLATE! I practiced ballet for 26 years of my life and of the many activities I have tried and practiced throughout my life the ones I continue to enjoy doing are basket weaving and practicing calligraphy.

Meet Kim Rader—MFA student

Hello my Name is… Kim Rader!

Hello, my name is Kim Rader. I have a lot of labels for myself…I’m a graphic designer in Pittsburgh. I’m a grad student at Kutztown. I’m also a wife, a mother, a Girl Scout, an avid reader, an animal lover.

Why I decided to go back to grad school…

I decided to go back to school for my MFA because I want to push my design skills to the next level. Working in corporate design can sap my creativity, but the program at KUCD encourages me to explore unconventional ideas, try out new techniques, and get out of my own head and challenge my habits. The program at Kutztown made sense for me because I can continue to work full-time, but still pursue a degree that will both push me creatively and allow me to teach after I earn my degree.

Tell us about/describe your KUCD MFA journey thus far…

Journey Week is my favorite part of the program (so far). It’s amazing to me that I could work from 9am until midnight or later every day and still feel so energized. Being with such a talented group of designers and professors, collaborating, and pushing each other to be better…it’s invigorating. (Yeah, the Diet Coke helped too.) This is the kind of creative experience that was missing in my life and one of the reasons I went back to school. I’m so inspired by students in the cohort above me. Seeing their work, I know there is a lot of fun in store for me. I can’t wait to see where my KUCD journey takes me!

What has been your favorite project to date? Please tell me why.

Right now I’m working on a project about empowering girls to make a difference in the world-a subject near and dear to my heart as both a Girl Scout leader and a mom to two girls. I plan to focus on girls 18 and under who have made the world a better place through their actions. Working through the idea during Journey Week, the feedback I received from classmates and my professor really enabled me to hone and improve the idea.

Fun fact about you.

  • I’m an avid reader. I try to read 50+ books each year.
  • I of course love my family and friends, and all the cute fuzzy animals in the world, but my true loves are Diet Coke and my iPhone. You will almost always find me with both on my person.
  • I’m a crier. I cry at books, commercials, tv, and movies-but especially Disney movies. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a Disney movie without sobbing hysterically. It’s so bad that my kids watch and wait for it to happen so they can mock me.

It just wouldn’t work, no matter what he did. Autumn 1994

The high tech laser printer wouldn’t put any image whatsoever on the left end of a #10 envelope, even though the second semester senior ran it through time and again.

Everything on the screen showed all systems normal…positioning was well within live area, the envelope was fed into the right tray properly and a new bottle of toner awaited whatever images would be demanded.

So, he came to me, first asking if I knew what was wrong (no, I didn’t even know laser printers could print on converted envelopes without jamming), and if I knew of any other place that could print his self-promo logo on the end of an envelope, one for this Wednesday’s class an about 49 others for use in resume mailings for a job search.

Several calls to trusted service bureaus produced nothing. Screen process printing was a considered option (he had Serigraphy this semester), but we both knew nine point type would plug the screen after just three or four prints. Photocopying on a piece similar colored paper to be pieced on seemed…well, pieced on.

And, he just wouldn’t go away. It was as if he sensed I had some solution I hadn’t yet given him. It was one of those times I just wished I could hear the successful bottom line to the problem in a few weeks when I’d be looking at a handsome comp and hearing how he had resolved it on his own and learned a tremendous amount in doing so.

Finally, a light came on in my brain when he said he needed that small production run in addition to the supercomp. Letterpress—the oldest form of printing, whereby a raised, backward-reading plate can print on a smooth surface—sounded like a solution. I sent him to an Allentown printer who still ran letterpress jobs on an ancient platen press. Custom photoengraving, a zinc plate mounted type-high on a block of pine, could lay its image on the envelopes, one for supercomp needed in class, and 49 others to invest in job-getting. And, letterpress would make a reasonably low unit cost for the very small printing run.

The moral of the story…? Sometimes you need to know when to pick up a pencil or an X-Acto knife instead of a mouse. And, as a late 20th Century visual problem solver, you sometimes need to step back 100 years instead of the usual and expected forward.

-John K. Landis