by Design

The “Think Method…” it still works!

Harold Hill, that charlatan professor of music in Meredith Willson’s wonderful play The Music Man, exhorts his young music pupils to learn to play their instruments, not by any formal or even informal instruction, but to simply think they’re playing, and then they’ll be able to do it. The Think Method actually worked. If it hadn’t, Professor Hill would’ve been run out of River City, Iowa, tarred and feathered by the city council!

Maybe there just are some things we learn best by the Think Method…an effective blend of common sense, some practice, and maybe even a few therapeutic failures. Who really teaches a newly-married husband and wife what to do on their wedding night? Who really teaches soccer-playing children how far to bank the ball to score a goal instead of putting it out of bounds or sending it squarely to the goalie? Life is experimental.

The other day I watched my second semester juniors in Production Processes nimbly navigating quirks of Quark and peculiarities of Photoshop. Who really teaches them how to get so good at software? Miles Decoster, a fourth year temporary who teaches high tech courses and manages our computer lab, has a theory…they’re young people who’ve learned to be deft with design software from growing up playing computer games where there are often no instructions given by the manufacturer or the other kid who loaned the cartridge. And avoiding sudden death or gaining new powers for your little virtual action figure only comes through common sense, some practice, and a few failures. It’s the Think Method!

Frustration is part of the act, to be dealt with as a matter of course. “Game Over,” while a real pain, simply means try again and maybe you’ll do better next time, just as crashed software means rebuild your file…it’s always easier next time because your own brain’s memory stored the necessary functions.

We older designers who’ve had to learn the new skills without the benefit of growing up playing computer games, not to mention the benefits of fast reaction time, still get to learn by the same Think Method…challenging but entirely possible. At any age, as long as we’re willing, we gain great powers from common sense, practice, failures, and trying all over again. Even River City’s bickering town fathers learned to get along with each other that summer after Harold Hill came to town.

-John K. Landis

KUCD Marketplace

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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