Faculty in the Spotlight – September 2012

Professor Kerstin Vogdes Diehn is an Adjunct Professor in the Pace Publishing Department.  She teaches Desktop Publishing for the Publishing Professional at both beginner and advanced levels.  The following piece by Professor Diehn describes her history in publishing, as well as her current work in the field.

I started out like a lot of students in the publishing program. My job was as an editorial assistant for a publishing company, University Press of America. Forced to read “Chicago manual of style” cover-to-cover, I soon grew bored of finding editorial idiosyncrasies, and found myself more interested in the cover mechanicals I was asked to proof. I would look at them and think, “This is awful. I could do a better job.” At that time, I had no desktop publishing skills, no typographic training, and no real design experience, just a bunch of painting and drawing courses under my belt.

So I decided to learn. I enrolled in night classes to learn desktop publishing software (at that time, Yikes, it was the now defunct Adobe Pagemaker and much maligned Quark Xpress). After honing those skills, I started working as a desktop publisher (a job that no longer exists!) in a variety of places. Once I felt like I’d reached a certain point, I went back to school (Pratt Institute) to get a M.S. in Communication Design. It was there I learned about the finer points of composition and typography, but I always had to keep myself technologically savvy as the software was constantly evolving and computers were getting faster and faster.

After grad school I worked as a designer for Blumlein Associates, Inc., a full service design studio on Long Island. But in 2001, I decided to break out on my own and freelance. I wanted more diverse projects, more diverse clients and more opportunity to learn new skills along the way.

I now do a wide range of design projects – from printed collateral to web design to logo development and branding. I really enjoy editorial work (magazine design) and currently have a regular gig art directing a few magazines for a small publisher, Sokol Media. I also design book interiors and book covers, but with the state of publishing being what it is these days, those projects are more infrequent. I’ve had to evolve with the industry and learn ebook conversion as well – recently I converted 3 books I laid out in print into Kindle ebooks (a challenge for any designer since you can’t control the font styling, sizing, and sidebars).  While I do have my hand in the publishing industry, many of my clients are nonprofit organizations with communication needs such as UNICEF, United Methodist Women, the American Lung Association, Riverside Park Fund, and NYC Parks.

I started teaching Desktop 1 and 2 at Pace about 5 years ago and my courses have undergone major changes during this time. When I started, we were laying out all of our initial designs in Quark! Fortunately, the Adobe suite has made it easier to integrate design and layout skills into a much more streamlined package. Indesign is changing with every version to adapt to ebook and emagazine design and it’s my job as a professor to make sure that I stay current with the software and know what enhancements are in each version. In my Desktop 1 course, we always focus on the core of the Adobe Creative Suite, learning a little Illustrator, a little Photoshop and a little Indesign. Students learn the programs by doing projects that relate to the book industry (e.g., laying out a few chapters of a book in Indesign, designing a book cover mechanical in Photoshop, and now, converting a document for EPUB format).  I try to have a cover designer come in and show his or her portfolio and explain how cover design works in house at a big publisher.

In Desktop 2, we delve deeper into the programs and learn more sophisticated technology skills.  This course focuses on the magazine side of the industry. First we hone our Photoshop skills by doing a large surrealist collage. Then, we develop a mock up magazine from cover to cover (ok, it’s only 8 pages…). Students must create the content, come up with the concept, find and edit the assets, and do all of the editorial design. Last semester, for the first time, we converted our designs into emagazines using Adobe’s new Digital Publishing Tools, which uses the “cloud” to save and organize files. As those tools continue to evolve, so will this portion of the course!

I’m continuously surprised that Desktop 1 is not a requirement course as basic knowledge of the Adobe Suite is critical these days in publishing! Some students may end up working on the production side (whether that is electronic or print), and using the Creative Suite will be part of the daily routine. However, it’s important in other areas as well as there will always be a need to make minor corrections to existing documents, and understanding how it all works allows people in any position to work more effectively with production and art departments. It’s good to take a little of the magic and mysticism out of the process!

As time and technology march on, I also think it’s important for students to keep up-to-date with some basic web development as well. Knowing the basics of HTML is important to understanding how an ebook is constructed and as many publishing elements move online, it becomes more and more critical to draw parallels and distinctions between web and print design.

I highly recommend students subscribe to several magazines to stay current on the industry. Personally I devour Wired, Print, How, and Communication Arts to keep up with design and technology. I also recommend students check out Design Observer (designobserver.com), a really great blog about design and culture. I also collect a lot of books that compile great designs (Rockport Publishers offers different books highlighting all kinds of materials). If students are looking for a good read from a funny and clever designer, I highly recommend 79 Short Essays on Design, and when being a designer seems too close to being a corporate zombie, I recommend reading How to be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul, a wonderful collection of essays by some of the most famous designers today. Finally, I would recommend everyone own a copy of the famous Philip Meggs book, History of Graphic Design, which details the origins of the written letterform and moves all the way up to groundbreaking work in the technology age.

If you want to see samples of my work, check out my site at http://www.kvdesign.net.