Rush Job – Claudine Jaenichen finds exhilaration in a radiantly risky project. Claudine Jaenichen finds exhilaration in a radiantly risky project.

Years ago, graphic designer Claudine Jaenichen dived into the swift water of the Kern River in headlong pursuit of a career transformation. When she came up, she knew that the life of a search-and- rescue first-responder wasn’t for her.
woman smiling with projected image on her face

“They had to rescue me,” Jaenichen says of the training exercise. “I completely panicked.”

So Jaenichen returned to graphic design but adopted a new specialty: information design to help in crisis situations. Now Jaenichen, co-chair of the
Department of Art
at Chapman University, is recognized widely for bringing a singular vision to evacuation maps and disaster-preparedness materials.

It’s important work that makes people’s lives more secure.

Funny, then, that some of her most creative work springs not from playing it safe but from diving into the design equivalent of icy whitewater.

Jaenichen partners with Chapman English Professor Anna Leahy, Ph.D., to produce the poetry journal
, and the two aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of expression. For instance, when Leahy and her MFA student colleagues decided on the theme “light” for Volume 2 of the journal, Jaenichen let the spark of her imagination run wild.

“This is where the visual doesn’t frame content, it actually participates in it,” Jaenichen says of the
philosophy. “Graphic design has a reputation of being quiet and well-behaved. I made all the design elements behave badly.”

For the light issue, she tailored her design and images to convey the passage of time, from soft morning illumination to dusk and then night. What’s more, the spine of the printed volume bends and twists in unexpected directions, creating vertical and horizontal movement in the reading experience.

The journal’s pages are “unwilling to be turned passively,” the light issue’s design statement says. “The space in this issue challenges readers to take in more than merely text and image but also a full-body experience of holding and disorientation.”

“Until this project I would never have thought of light as a visual variable,” Jaenichen says. “It was like this gave me a whole new toolbox.”

But then
, the signature journal of poetry at Chapman, was founded on a spirit of adventure.

“Once Anna and I met, it was a creative explosion, because she’s a risk-taker,” Jaenichen says of the director of Tabula Poetica, the center for poetry at Chapman.

“She said, ‘I want to try something crazy — something that really engages the reader.’”

The light issue is “the scariest project of my life,” Jaenichen says. “The naughtiness of it — I mean we have Pulitzer Prize winners in here and we’re trying these experimental things. But we really committed to this issue.”

The designer need not have worried. Readers eagerly joined in the journey. And what’s Jaenichen’s takeaway from the without-a-net design experience of the issue?

“It’s like that time I entered the water and got swept away, except it’s a good feeling,” she says, laughing. “
work is exhilarating — a rush I don’t get from the information design stuff. But I need both things to operate as a creative person.”

Dennis Arp

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