How the sausage is made, part 3: Confessions of a traumatized graphic designer

On the last day of Kuviasungnerk, the College’s winter festival, students strip down to their underwear—or less—and run from Harper Library to Hull Gate (about a quarter of a mile). It’s a classic photo op, and both newspapers and TV stations cover it every year.

But the Polar Bear runners are, by definition, young students (if a professor has ever done it, we are unfortunately unaware) and the University of Chicago Magazine has to maintain a certain standard of decorum. That’s where graphic design comes in.

A former Magazine designer, who asked to remain anonymous out of her own sense of decorum, spoke about the fateful day in 2004 when she was given the Polar Bear Run assignment.

I was asked to hide the unmentionables using Photoshop®. I suppose I could have used digital pixilation, but I decided just to go with black boxes.

It raised all kinds of difficult aesthetic and ethical questions, though. Do I go with a dainty black box? In that case, what does that imply about the size of what I’m hiding? So in the end I decided to go with gratuitously large boxes.

If you look at the photos, they just look terrible. They look like a CIA document released under the Freedom of Information Act. It’s not done artfully at all.

And you know, graphic designers don’t have petite monitors. We have huge screens so we can see everything. It was definitely a case of NSFW (not safe for work), except that it was my work. I hope I’ll never have to do it again.

January 15, 2010