by Design

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 (
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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.