Hi. I’m Melissa Reynolds. I’m a PhD candidate in History at Rutgers University. You can read more about my traditional academic work here. In spare moments between writing a dissertation on books, readers, and the introduction of print in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century England, I create publicity materials and visual elements to accompany my colleagues’ academic endeavors.
It all started years ago when I took a first job out of college producing marketing materials for real estate agents. I learned a lot of lessons while working in a real estate office as the housing bubble burst around us. The two most relevant are:
- I hate selling things.
- I really love graphic design.
In the years since I reentered the academy as a graduate student, I haven’t lost my purist sensibilities when it comes to design. I get hung up on ugly book jackets from academic presses (you know the ones), conference posters and CFPs overwhelmed with text, and flyers or advertisements for lecture series that barely convey a message, let alone catch the attention of passersby.
Scholars aren’t meant to be marketing gurus or publicity specialists, I know. If anything, we push in the opposite direction, standing our ground against the corporatization of higher education and finding more and more compelling reasons to argue that long-form, complex ideas–and the space to share them–are absolutely critical in today’s world. On the other hand, everyone I know has an academic twitter handle, the last four conferences I’ve attended have had an official hashtag, and experience in Digital Humanities has become a coveted line on the CV. It’s a struggle to find that balance between staying relevant and reaching our students where they are (and where they are is in the digital world), while still holding on to the values we hold dear as scholars.
But just as we should commit ourselves to honoring and teaching the values of critical thinking, diligence in research, and precision in language, we can do a bit more to make our ideas accessible to the wider world. That could look like live-tweeting a conference panel, it could look like an interactive website presenting research findings, or it could look like a beautifully designed visual element to accompany that conference, lecture, or project. Visual presentation may not allow for the complexity of a monograph or article, but it can capture a wandering eye, whet a reader’s appetite for more, and invite them into a conversation.
In short: thoughtful graphic design helps our ideas take flight.