Arts and Architecture mourns the passing of graphic design professor Ryan Russell

Ryan Russell
Ryan Russell joined the graphic design faculty in 2007. He was known by his students for his passion for design, his brutally honest critiques and his expertise in branding, motion design and user experience/user interface design.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ryan Russell, professor of graphic design at Penn State, died on Oct. 23 at his home surrounded by family following a 17-month battle with cancer. He was 41 years old.

Russell joined the graphic design faculty in the College of Arts and Architecture's Stuckeman School in 2007 shortly after earning his master's degree in art with a concentration in graphic design from Penn State. He served as the Department of Graphic Design's graduate program coordinator and was named an Arts and Design Entrepreneurship Teaching Fellow. He was also a researcher in the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing.

"For 16 years, Ryan Russell was a pillar of graphic design at Penn State,” said Joel Priddy, associate professor and interim head of graphic design. “He was shaped by the founders of the program and represented a continuation of their vision while also demonstrating the virtues of ceaseless growth and adaptation in a changing world.”

Priddy went on to describe Russell as “a designer of elegant, impactful solutions and an incisive instructor who brought breadth and depth to his classes. He was an energizing colleague and an impassioned advocate for the students. In losing Ryan, we have lost a friend, a leader and a part of our history.”

Russell was known by his students for his passion for design, his brutally honest critiques and his expertise in branding, motion design and user experience/user interface design.

Taylor Shipton, assistant teaching professor of graphic design, spoke about the influence and impact Russell had on her as a person, a designer and a teacher. She was Russell's colleague and his former pupil, having had Russell as an instructor during her undergraduate and graduate studies at Penn State.

“Everything that I've learned about design and teaching came from striving to be like Ryan,” said Shipton. “He taught me that the love we have for our students shouldn't be gentle, but respectful, because we owe it to every student to commit ourselves to their success.”

Shipton said Russell dedicated himself to every student, with every interaction he had with them and lesson that he taught to them.

“He was always sincere and had a genuine care for everyone's passions and hardships. There are no words that can express the impact he has had, nor the feelings of those he left behind,” she said. “Every single student of his has been touched by his wisdom, and we all strive to give it back to the world just as he did. A lot of our success as designers can be credited directly back to Ryan Russell."

Graphic design students under Russell's tutelage have earned numerous design awards over the years from organizations such as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Graphis, the University & College Designers Association (UCDA), United Designs Alliance and more.

Russell's studio work, which has been both poignant and provocative at times, was widely recognized and honored throughout his career by the international design community. In recent years, his designs garnered awards from the United Designs Alliance, Graphic Design USA and UCDA.

Russell's work was published in some of the world's most renowned design publications, such as Print's Regional Design Annual, UCDA Designer Magazine, Communication Arts, Step Inside Design Magazine and various Graphis Annuals. His designs appeared in highly competitive international exhibitions including the Ecuador Poster Bienal, Warsaw Poster Biennial, Biennial of the Poster in Bolivia, CO2 International Poster Exhibition, United Designers International Biennial Design Exhibition, Hong Kong International Poster Triennial, Shenzhen International Poster Festival and the Poster Triennial Trnava.

As an author, Russell was featured in Novum, The Conversationalist and the Huffington Post. His children's graphic novel, “My Annoying, Irritating, Always-in-the-way Shadow,” will be released by Harriman House in December.

Born in Philadelphia, Russell was raised in State College, Pennsylvania, and was a graduate of State College Area High School. He earned his bachelor's degree in graphic design from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, where he was also a member of the football team.

Russell is survived by his wife Samantha and their three children: Hudson, Grace and Theodore (Teddy). Also surviving are his parents Ed and Mickey Russell, grandmother Catherine Russell, sister Kimberly (Callahan), brother-in-law Justin Callahan, nephew Will Callahan and niece Ellie Callahan, mother-in-law Mary Culovic, father-in-law Salvatore Culovic, brother-in-law Anthony Culovic, sister-in-law Mary Culovic, brother-in-law Nicholas Culovic, brother-in-law Zach Culovic and sister-in-law Emily Culovic.

The Stuckeman School will hold a public celebration honoring Russell's life at 5 p.m. on Nov. 29 in 24 Borland Building and via livestream.

Schools and Departments: Department of Graphic Design, Stuckeman School
Event Sponsors: Stuckeman School, Stuckeman Center for Design Computing