Elissa Roberts

Elissa Roberts

Photographer: Brad Chaffin

Roberts' book cover

Senior Elissa Roberts’ cover design, pictured here, was selected for publication with Ohio University Press’ “Series in Continental Thought”.

Graphic courtesy of: Ohio University Press

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Series design might not be the most riveting of lecture topics, but Elissa Roberts clearly recalls her class' reaction to the subsequent assignment: stumped.

It all began with a challenge from Ohio University Press Production Manager Beth Pratt, a guest speaker in Roberts’ Layout and Design class.

Pratt asked the 22 students to come up with a cover design for Ohio University Press’ Series in Continental Thought. The series publishes philosophy and scholarship inspired by twentieth and twenty-first century European thought.

The challenge, which later became a course assignment from Assistant Professor of Visual Communication Julie Elman, dealt with two upcoming books:

Transversal Rationality and Intercultural Texts: Essays in Phenomenology and Comparative Philosophy

The Intentional Spectrum and Intersubjectivity: Phenomenology and the Pittsburgh Neo-Hegelians

"We didn’t even understand the titles of the books… It was definitely very daunting," recalled Roberts. "I was unsure whether I could even produce a design that met the requirements for the project, let alone exceed them to the degree that my design would be chosen for the cover design, or the series design."

According to Pratt, the assignment was never intended to be easy.

“These are tough book covers,” she remarked, noting the difficulty of coming up with a design idea for books about philosophy. “I asked them to give me a typographic solution to the series.”

Meaningful marks

There was no guarantee that one of the students’ designs would be chosen—Pratt and Elman had agreed on that. But it turned out that many fine designs were produced.

“I was delighted at the range of creative solutions the students came up with and pleased at how thoughtful they were when making their visual choices,” said Elman. “From listening to them discuss their covers during our critique, I got the sense that they brought a sense of meaning to every mark they made.”

Roberts was no exception. After scouring award-winning designs as well as Amazon’s philosophy offerings for inspiration, her first cover design was deliberately classic and professional.

“I’d seen a lot of book covers but hadn’t thought about what went into them,” she admitted. “So I had to approach it with a new perspective.”

Roberts described the end-product as simple, modern and easily applied to other topics in the series. Pratt must have agreed because in late October she selected Roberts’ design for publication, beginning with two books in Ohio University Press’ spring and summer 2011 list of new titles.
A packed portfolio

Roberts said the recognition was a shock. But, it is not the only published work that she will have under her belt when she graduates this summer.

The Columbus Dispatch recently selected for publication Roberts' Oscar-themed page layout and story, which reviews how celebrities prepare for and how much they spend to ready themselves for the red carpet. In addition, the Athens NEWS chose Roberts’ cover design for an upcoming section on healthy sleep habits.

Both designs were created during Elman’s fall-quarter class and are scheduled for future publication. According to Elman, six student designs were accepted for publication by the Dispatch in all, while four were accepted for future special sections in the Athens NEWS.

Such portfolio pieces complement summer internships that Roberts has served at Women’s Wear Daily in New York City as well as The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.

Elman attributes Roberts’ success to an exemplary work ethic and a knack for allowing content to drive her designs.

“Elissa takes a lot of time to really think about the underlying stories or themes in the work she produces, and she finds unique ways to work that into her final projects,” said Elman. “She is a stickler for integrating words and images.”

Rising to the challenge

It’s no surprise that Roberts takes note of words. After all, it was the journalism program that convinced her to attend Ohio University in the first place. 

But over time, Roberts felt the need to expand her horizons through a second course of study. 

"I was really looking to...pursue more of my many interests, one of which happens to be design," she said. "A double major [in journalism and informational graphics and publication design] has allowed me to further explore those things about which I am passionate."

It is an opportunity that Roberts said she might not have had at other universities, and it gives her a bit of flexibility when she enters the job market in fall 2011.

When that time comes, Roberts plans to focus her job hunt on New York City’s fashion industry. With a little luck, her work will rise to the top once again.