Graphic design student design concept used for book

(left) Kate Rask; (right) The cover of "Culture Politics:  The Story of Native Land Claims in Alaska" by UNL Professor of Sociology Kirk Dombrowski.
(left) Kate Rask; (right) The cover of "Culture Politics: The Story of Native Land Claims in Alaska" by UNL Professor of Sociology Kirk Dombrowski.

It began as a class project for Kate Rask’s very first graphic design class in the Department of Art and Art History. It ended with her concept design being used for the cover of UNL Professor of Sociology Kirk Dombrowski’s new book, “Culture Politics: The Story of Native Land Claims in Alaska,” which was published Jan. 8 by Syron Design Academic Publishing.

“I am thrilled with the work that Kate did,” Dombrowski said. “There were a number of interesting and insightful covers, and it was actually a difficult choice. Kate’s design really captured the spirit of the book. I was genuinely surprised at how she was able to capture the key theme of the book in simple, direct, visual terms.”

Rask, a junior art major from Lincoln, completed the assignment in Assistant Professor of Art Colleen Syron’s beginning graphic design course. It was the second project of the class to design a book jacket for Dombrowski’s book, which traces the history of indigenous land claims in Southeast Alaska and is a summation of his last 20 years of research. Syron directed the students through the design process and through the specific content.

“I was learning how to use Photoshop,” Rask said. “It was a lucky strike, definitely.”

Syron said her students began by critically examining the relationship between form and content.

“A book cover is a great design assignment because it requires the student to interpret, distill and, most importantly, communicate the heart of a story,” Syron said. “Kate’s cover managed to capture culture conflicts that Professor Dombrowski found when living in Alaska.”

The concept Rask produced included the image of a fish, inspired by indigenous artwork, on a wooden background.

“We reviewed the synopsis he had for the book and looked at the photographs they took on their research trips,” Rask said. “I really liked the art of the indigenous peoples there, so when I did the design, I really wanted to have that be part of it.”

Over the holiday break, she received an e-mail from Syron telling her they wanted to use her concept for the book. The original assignment was for a book jacket, so with Rask’s permission, the concept was re-worked as a cover, an e-book and interior chapter headings.

“She said she and her husband [Dombrowski] were looking over the covers and mine stuck out to them, so they wanted to know if they could use the concept and illustrations with credit,” Rask said. “So I said of course. I’m just a beginning graphic design student. It blew me away.”

It was even more exciting for her parents.

“They’re making it a bigger deal than I am,” Rask said. “The best part of it is seeing your family getting excited about it. For me, it was just another assignment. I was proud of it, but it was exciting seeing my family get excited about it.”

Rask appreciated the real-world class projects that Syron had her students complete in the class. They also created a logo and completed a magazine design in the class.

“I thought she had a really good approach to her projects in that she wanted us to use real-life books or companies to make projects for us,” Rask said.

Syron said real-world projects are a community service.

“As a teacher, I believe real-world assignments are a great community service,” she said. “A lot of non-profit organizations, researchers and professors are working so hard to do amazing work that they don’t have the time or resources to ‘craft the delivery.’ Designers can play a key role in bringing their stories to life.”

Dombrowski said the experience of working with the graphic design students was one he would repeat.

“I thought it was an interesting experience, and one that I would happily repeat,” he said. “The students seemed eager to try their hand at a process they had little experience in, and which requires considerable professional competence. I had a relaxed timeline, so they were able to seek guidance and learn from the process, and in turn, the job received much more creative attention than it would in a normal publishing process.”

He also had the chance to learn about the design process, too.

“There were many things that I hadn’t thought of, such as how the cover would look in thumbnail form on Kindle,” Dombrowski said. “So often the author is removed from the design process in academic publishing, and by working with Colleen, I learned a lot about why things are done in one way versus another.”

Rask’s success on this project inspires her to continue studying graphic design.

“It definitely inspires me,” she said. “It’s inspiring to see your work go somewhere and be on Amazon and have it be something to send to your family. This is actually something designers do. They have more impact on life than you can see. A huge part of why I like art is making something that you can see. It’s just another part of the process that’s really satisfying.”

Rask said she purposely waited until last Fall to take a graphic design class when the three new professors—Syron, Stacy Asher and Aaron Sutherlen—were on board as part of the Department of Art and Art History’s updating of the graphic design program.

“I was in a beginning sculpture class last spring with Professor Santiago Cal,” Rask said. “He was part of the search committee for the new faculty, and he would take us to where the interviewing people were showing a slideshow of their work. I saw all these potential teachers showing their work, so I thought I really wanted to take one of these classes and be well rounded in all things visual arts.”

She has taken classes in painting and drawing, as well as graphic design, and intends to keep her future options open.

“It’s just fun making stuff, period, and showing it,” Rask said. “And saying, ‘Yeah, I made this.’”

She intends to continue building her design portfolio.

“I definitely would enjoy a career in graphic design if it continues to be what I’ve had so far,” Rask said. “I would really enjoy it.”