April 12, 2016  

Purdue Profiles: Cathy Swick

Cathy Swick

Cathy Swick, graphic designer in the Purdue Research Foundation's University Development Office. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)
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For a graphic designer, inspiration can come from anywhere. For Cathy Swick, it came at a young age through the illustrations and words in her childhood picture books.

Swick, a graphic designer in the Purdue Research Foundation's University Development Office, returned to Purdue less than a year ago after being a self-employed graphic designer for more than 17 years. The impact she has made at the University in such a short time can be seen throughout campus.

What are your main responsibilities as a graphic designer in the University Development Office?

I am part of an extremely busy five-person communications team in UDO. I enjoy being part of a small unit of like-minded souls who develop big ideas. A primary responsibility for us was developing and launching the communications-related aspects of Purdue’s campaign, "Ever True: The Campaign for Purdue University," and now maintaining momentum for its duration. As the graphic designer on the team, my role is to apply creative and visual strategy to marketing materials for the campaign, President's Council, Office of Special Events and other UDO units. Aside from developing my own print-based projects from creative conception through final production, I collaborate with and assist my own team members with their digital and social media design needs, provide art direction for photo shoots, and work in cooperation with Purdue Marketing and Media and UDO freelance designers to maintain brand equity.

Where does your creativity come from?

My mother used to read books and books and books to my brother and me. I fell in love with the rhythm of the poetic words, the shapes of the letters and the varied illustration styles. However, as my own creativity grew it was not limited to putting graphics and words onto paper. I absolutely love my career path as a graphic designer, but I have always said that my alternate route would have involved architectural construction. Building just about anything is therapeutic to me.

My father is an architectural illustrator and retired Purdue professor and my mother taught Spanish and Latin and retired from Purdue as an academic advisor. My father (he was even my professor) taught me the immense value of visual precision and the soft variations of color, while my mother taught me the important details of fine-tuning my language skills and how to speak and write correctly. She molded my appreciation for vocabulary, and proper grammar -- valuable skills I bring to my design work. Great design is not great if the words and details of the message are not effective and concise. It's all part of my creative core.

What has been the most rewarding project you've worked on?

I enjoy the projects that involve all members of my team, the collaboration and brainstorming that go into each one. But I would have to say my favorite project to date is literally the largest project I have ever worked on, the Grant Street Parking Garage graphics designed for the "Ever True" campaign. It's one that became more of a solo mission. To announce the campaign last October, my team was tasked with designing a couple large, temporary banners that would be strategically hung on buildings around campus. While scouting potential locations, I glimpsed the dynamic vertical glass stairwell/elevator portion of the garage across from the Union and instantly I could visualize the massive finished art. A quick photographic sketch back at the office -- and within 10 minutes the mega-concept had been presented to the necessary people and approved for production. Not only does the fact that the finished design is six stories tall make it rewarding, but also that I was able to secure and collaborate with the large-scale graphics company responsible for the Indianapolis Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four graphic installations. Being able to see my work from across campus each day as I drive in gives me pride.

What are some examples of major projects you've worked on?

For the "Ever True" campaign, I have designed everything from paper clips and stickers, stationery and flutter flags, to graphic wraps for an entire bus and parking garage. Each year a calendar is created for President’s Council members and this year’s calendar, Touchpoints, was one of the first projects I completed at UDO. As part of the photographic art direction, I got to hold Amelia Earhart's pilot's license and see Neil Armstrong's personal Purdue University grade report and calculus notebook. The pieces I get to create for the Office of Special Events, however, are some of my favorites -- even though they may be a simple dinner menu or table numbers. These small details are, to me, part of the jewelry of an event. 

Writer: Aspen Deno, denoa@purdue.edu 

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