A Life of Lessons: Dudley Murphy
Designers are influenced by many things over the course of a career: life experience, surroundings, colleagues, classmates, mentors, and, of course, professors who shape them. The ease and comfort of certain aspects of design, including medium and technique, develop over time into a designer’s “style.” I’ve known Dudley Murphy as a professor, colleague, and professional, and I’ve learned his style. Not his L.L. Bean urban lumberjack couture; rather his design style. He has an ordered, calm design sense that permeates all he creates. He adds elements with thoughtfulness and precision, and then sorts, sieves and makes sure they needed to be added in the first place.
I first met Dudley in the basement of the music department next to Clara Thompson Hall. Running water had just been installed (literally), and an anxious group of young “commercial artists” sat smelling of mold and listening to the jazz ensemble practicing above. So we waited, and we waited… and we waited. Fashionably 35 minutes late, Dudley entered the “dungeon” and my design career began.
Eager to please and even more eager to show off, I tore through the curriculum. Finishing ahead of everyone was my goal until one fateful day when Dudley had had enough.
“Carter,” he said, “Looks pretty good, and you know what you get for being the first to finish?”
Ready to receive my accolades, I slowly, quizzically, shook my head.
“You get to do this whole project over.”
I learned two life lessons that day. First, no one likes a show-off, and more important, great design can’t be rushed. I evolved through my undergrad years, a designer named Steve Jobs returned to a little company called Apple, and Drury, under Dudley’s direction, started its own “desktop publishing” Macintosh computer lab. Under Dudley’s stewardship, upgrades were made and programs of study emerged. He sensed that Mac hardware and the accompanying software would revolutionize the industry, and it did.
I am proud to say that I was part of the first Drury class to graduate in the visual communication field of study. “VisComm” as it was later called, provides a breadth of knowledge that gives the graduate highly marketable skills founded on great concept and teaching designers how to ardently defend their design or be its worst critic. These solid, broad concepts have allowed me and many other Drury graduates to dive into the workforce and into any field of design.
During my career I have had a lot of great opportunities, none of which would have been possible without Dudley’s help. One of the best things I’ve been able to do was to go back to Drury and teach graphic design, circling my relationship with Dudley from professor to colleague, and even though he doesn’t like to admit it, Dudley, too, has become the student (at least when it comes to the more pesky ins and outs of design software). I’m privileged to know him, have learned from him, have taught with him and have had more than my fair share of design sparring sessions with him. No doubt he’s old school. He quotes obscure designers and musicians. I have come to learn the meaning of one of his most repeated quotes by jazz musician Thelonious Monk: “The only cats worth anything are the cats that take chances.”
I hear that quote in my head when making design choices, and sometimes life choices. Dudley has served many important roles in my life and the lives of countless other students. He has been my professor, advisor, colleague, mentor, fan and critic—none of these is more important than his role as my friend.
Thank you, Dudley, and congratulations on your retirement.
By Chris Carter ’94