by Design

A case for the generalist

In Communication Design we often discuss whether we’re doing the right thing in education our students to be “generalists” rather than in some very targeted specialization the way some art philosophies dictate. But, I think I’ve got it resolved in my mind now…we’re doing the right thing. This era of specialization that the world is in often means people have blinders on: they’ve learned to do one thing and one thing only. While they may do this one thing well, they’re not broadly educated.

The industrial history of the United States abounds with stories where the brakeman ascends to become the president of the railroad or the linotype operator goes on to become the managing editor. These people could think in addition to doing their early skill; when the opportunity arose to advance, they were able to take advantage of it. They weren’t so locked in to their original skill that they couldn’t see beyond today. With the current trends toward extreme specialization, are those examples relegated to the past?

I think not, as long as there are schools that believe in a broad educational background with a significant amount of general education credits so that one is not just trained in an area but instead broadly educated.

What if the exact job description you hoped to get isn’t available to you upon graduation? Without your abilities to think, to adapt, to change your plans, you’d be lost. The illustrator who finds that she must do design work in addition to the illustration jobs; the designer who finds that it’s really advertising that can best use his talents; the art ed graduate who finds a rare business opportunity in buying a boutique; the B.F.A. General student who finds his real challenge is in college teaching. This cross-discipline thinking is to be commended and is quite impossible had specialization set in and done its job too effectively to constrict lateral thought and movement. We’re doing the right thing. Specialize later if you wish, but being a generalist in college will be an asset for your future.

-John K. Landis

Print Peppermint

I have been teaching at KU for more than 17 years. One class that i have consistently taught has been Print Media Production. Anyone that has taken that class with me can attest to my LOVE of paper, ink and all things printed. I could spend hours geeking out over paper, fawning over different print processes and fan-girling over printed special effects.

When I worked full time as an Art Director, my favorite part of the job was going on a press check. The point in the project when the final design is complete, approved by the client and the next step is to copy it thousands or even millions of times for the world to see. The smell of fresh ink, the rhythmic sound of the offset press, the cool mist in the air to keep the paper at the perfect humidity and the repetitive output of the design that you created as it piles up at the end of the press is an intoxicating experience.

I think the real reason I love to teach PMP is it give me a reason to hoard paper samples, printed promotions and beautiful examples of printed materials. The only thing better than collecting paper goodness is sharing paper goodness. Exciting and inspiring students by sitting around a table passing dozens of paper treasures, while explaining the intricacies of texture and the magic of special effects such as metallic ink and spot varnish is a hallmark of my course. I think the magic happens when the students can touch and feel the paper and examine the processes up close.

In the world of COVID, I was struck with a dilemma on how to teach this class online in a way that would continue to foster the love of paper an ink. Without the hands-on component, the information may be boring or at best a bit cold and detached. I began to reach out to paper companies and printers and asked them to send samples to support student learning and engagement. I was overjoyed when boxes of paper swatch books and printed samples started to arrive at my home.

While searching the web for printers that would be willing to send samples. I came across Print Peppermint, a fun online print service with quirky illustrations as part of their brand. I sent an email with the request and quickly got a response from the founder Austin Terrill. Austin offered not only to send a multitude of printed samples but also provided a link to their online videos and offered to be a guest lecturer for the class.

I was super excited that the printing gods heard my call and led my web browser to Print Peppermint. Austin hooked me up with a teacher sample pack and provided almost 200 samples for me to share with students in the class. When the samples arrived at my house, I was almost giddy reviewing the high-quality assortment of paper treasure. The samples included various paper stocks, finishes, effects and printing techniques. They ranged from professional and polished to fun and funky. I could not wait to get the samples in the hands of the students.

Very happy to report that with the help of Print Peppermint and other vendors, I was able to provide individual packs of print media morsels to each and every student enrolled in my class for the “rona” semester. Although the zoom classes are not ideal, the students still got to experience the tactile qualities of premium paper and dazzling special effects. They discovered the beauty of a rosette pattern under a printer’s loupe and transformed a sheet of paper into a 16-page booklet with only a couple of folds. Whether we are face to face in a classroom or socially distant because of a global pandemic, I hope that my love of ink and paper offsets to my students and gives them new appreciation for the beautiful world of print.

Looking for a truly great print partner who loves ink and paper as much as I do? check out

-By Vicki Meloney


Communication Design Senior Poster Workshop

On view in the Sharadin Art Building Atrium
October 26–November 8, 2020
Open to the public

Where’s the “At ease!” command?

In my first years of college, I took ROTC, in those days mandatory for male students at Land Grant institutions. I recall the marching drills and inspections we had every Tuesday at noon on the parade field. There was tension in the air as we walked, lockstep, within perfectly aligned ranks. And then we presented for inspection or rifles, old M-1’s from the Second World War. In addition, pants had to be pressed, shoes shined, and collar brass gleaming in the noonday sun.

But then, when all this pageantry was nearly over, our company commander would shout, “At ease!” What a relief…we could relax a bit, standing without the stiff tension of marching or being inspected.

Before I came into teaching, the design office for which I worked billed at different hourly rates depending upon the function’s degree of mental or emotional tension…a higher dollar figure for client contact, creative thinking, copywriting, and design, and a lower figure for doing comps and mechanicals. After wracking my brain to come up with an idea and a tense meeting to sell the client, I used to enjoy the relatively relaxing work of a traditional mechanical. But, with today’s Macintosh-based work, there’s a merging of various design and production duties and less distinction between “Attention” and “At ease.”

I will admit, though, when compared to the front lines of client contact or intense creative thinking’s earshot range of constant enemy fire, sitting at the Mac, while not exactly rest and relaxation, lets me lean back and see how the war is going, and provides chances to undo bad battlefield decisions I may’ve made.

-John K. Landis

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of…


I’ve mused how the lowly pencil can be revealing of what kind of quality its user produces. If the pencil gets sharpened shorter and shorter while the eraser stays long and square, it means the user doesn’t have many mistakes to correct. While, of course, a pencil that’s still too long, yet has its eraser worn down to nothing would imply very little is produced before it must be corrected by erasing!

I’ve often told my Communication Design seniors, about to embark upon their professional careers, that there’ll not always be immediate supervisors who’ll control their accuracy and quality: they’ll be their own quality control. Add the pressure many jobs have to work quickly, and you often have a climate that bends toward compromising the accuracy and quality in order to get the job done fast. And, think about the education profession where there’s much autonomy and the product is only as good as the chooses to make it each year.

The Japanese, who learned U.S. lessons about quality control after the Second World War, find that workers favorably identifying with the product they produce can help immeasurably to create an accurate and quality item with zero defects. We in art professions should have little difficulty identifying with our products!

Ah, speed and accuracy. Good goals to attain whether you’re on the pit crew at Indy or in the bullpen in Philly. Strive to have your pencils get short while their erasers stay long.

The Old School Tie