University of Cincinnati
on Rob Roy Kelly
Roy Kelly is a scholar, a personality, and a player. Rob is
one of those extremely rare birds whose inclusive knowledge,
pure unselfishness, unwavering sense of ethics, and infectious
zeal distinguishes him from most of us. I am one of thousands
of people whose life and career was tremendously enhanced
by his work and manner. I was a naive kid who entered the
Minneapolis School of Arts Graphic Design Department,
as Rob was forming it in the late 1950s. I
then followed his lead through Yale Universitys graduate
program, after which he invited me to teach with him at the
Kansas City Art Institute. He had moved there to produce the
second undergraduate Department of Graphic Design. I jumped
at this opportunity because I knew that I could continue to
learn from him. It was at his urging, after a few years, that
I moved on to develop the University of Cincinnatis
Department of Graphic Design. I married another of his students
and our first daughter is named Kelly, who is also a graphic
have spent forty years learning from, being prodded by, experiencing
the influence of, debating with, and admiring Rob Roy Kelly.
He is my friend and my guide but I have a lot of company.
He has had an enormous effect on our peers and on the fields
of higher education and graphic design. Ill bet that
he has counseled more young people toward graduate studies
in graphic design than has any other single person.
personified momentum from the time of his 1955 MFA from Yale.
In 1957 he established the first undergraduate Department
of Graphic Design at the Minneapolis School. Rob was omnipresent.
was an unbelievably energetic role-model who was designing,
teaching, administering, planning, and initiating. He seemed
to know the essence and the potential of each individual student.
was a bold and incisive educator/critic but always constructive
and encouraging. He favored one baggy kelly-green sweater,
good-naturedly loved his work, and knew everyone. Everyone
knows of him. His travel experiences were shared in ways that
additionally seeded our minds. We heard, for the first times,
about conferences, prominent designers,
related publications, airport architecture, and great seafood.
He brought distinguished community and design figures into
the classroom. He embraced a form-based foundation and birthed
community/service oriented student projects. My 1962 classmates
did senior projects with local organizations such as educational
television, the Zoo, Public Health Service.
the Kansas City Art Institute, beginning in 1964, Rob expanded
the sophistication of undergraduate programming through his
proactive recruitment for new faculty. This included a pioneering
effort to bring talented young graduates of the School of
Design in Basel, Switzerland. He assembled an eager faculty
group, arranged for a shared office/studio that inspired interaction,
created team teaching situations as a norm, and led the group
to operate as a design alliance doing intriguing projects
with noncommercial organizations. Often, students and faculty
worked together on civic issues such as a new city seal/identity
and a crime prevention program. It was fun and it seemed perfectly
normal to be working together in this studio every evening
had continuous access to us. This environment was a postgraduate
education for the young faculty who, despite their growing
value, Rob eventually nudged out for the sake of their own
careers. Consequently, his influence reverberated in other
places. Subsequent to Kansas City, Robs career carried
him through Carnegie Mellon University and Arizona State University.
Parallel to such full-time roles, however, he has energetically
served on numerous review panels for a variety of schools,
published continuously, and been a potent guest speaker.
is consistently admired and appreciated by his peers, community
leaders, and his students but controversy has often swirled
around his dealings with administrators. My perception is
that this is because he sees the roles of a department head
or a senior faculty member as morally obligatory. Rob represents
and promotes junior faculty and student interests, educational
and ethical ideals, and program excellence. Deans sometimes
feel that their agendas should be paramount. Rob operates
on the principle that administration exists to carry out the
needs of the curriculum rather than the reverse. Something
that has always amazed me, and probably bugs those above him,
is Robs uncanny ability to perceive and to comprehend
situations and attitudes that surround him without seeming
to be listening or asking many questions. He soaks up information
while he is talking. He spots pretension and ineptness. He
has strong opinions, no false modesty, and is not impressed
with titles or wealth, so antagonists need to be
self-confident and knowledgeable. Robs impatience and
authoritative passion have sometimes created problems for
himself while opening doors for the rest of us.
have witnessed a bunch of eager spurts by novice designers,
educators, and schools. Occasionally they blossom but too
often they fizzle after a few loud years. I hear about innovations
concerning socially minded design initiatives, educational
pedagogies, design history and criticism, team teaching, etc
Inevitably the roots can, whether the protagonist realizes
it or not, be traced back to my pal.
Roy Kelly has persevered as one of our few legitimate education
gurus, with unflagging enthusiasm, into a sixth decade. He
has done it all and was often the first to try it. Rob has
spearheaded undergraduate graphic design education, been a
consistent voice for educational standards, fathered community
projects, fertilized with integration of Swiss educational
approach, mentored many, and has dutifully documented and
editorialized about it all.
cannot help but immerse himself in any avocation (fly-fishing
to wood-type to trivets to burls to gardening). Inevitably
they gain gusto until he becomes the authority. We are fortunate
that he zeroed in on design education. There is no doubt but
that our discipline would be noticeably different and emptier
were it not for RRK. He has been a wise spokesperson and a