Graphic design’s Russell earns national honor for face mask initiative

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ryan Russell, associate professor in the Stuckeman School’s Department of Graphic Design at Penn State, was recently recognized by the University & College Designers Association (UCDA) for the “Mind Your Mask” initiative he launched in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Russell’s face mask designs, which use typography and scale to encourage social distancing, earned an honorable mention in the organization’s 2020 Design Awards.

“The large text [on the masks] is legible at distances greater than the 6 feet [recommended by the CDC for social distancing] and communicates a hopeful feeling and outlook on the current pandemic; however, when a viewer breaks the social distance barrier [of within 6 feet], the smaller text becomes legible and this smaller text is less optimistic and more direct in its message to encourage a viewer to back up and adhere to the social distancing guidelines,” explained Russell.

In addition, while the background graphics of the masks appear as a simple texture when viewed at a distance, they are created from relevant icons that are legible within the “danger zone” of 6 feet.

“The design community at Penn State never ceases to amaze me. Colleagues from across the University leapt into action on day 1 [of the University going remote] and my inbox was flooded with proposals, questions, all trying to figure out how to make use of resources and talents to solve the incredibly complex problems that arose due to from the pandemic,” said Russell. “Many of those questions were specific to the materials and production methods necessary to create masks so I thought, ‘How could I help? As a graphic designer what could I offer?’ This solution was a simple way to use my expertise to drive healthier behavior.”

The UCDA Annual Design Awards honor the best work in educational design — in print and digital, illustration, photography and student competitions. Winners were decided by a jury of designers, design educators, photographers and illustrators working in or doing a significant portion of their work for educational institutions.

The full list of winners can be viewed via the UCDA website.