Rick Epps Brings News Design Expertise to the Classroom

In the winter of 1993, then journalism student Rick Epps walked into 239 ComArtSci for Darcy Greene’s design class. Little did he know that he would be teaching that same class in the same room 23 years later.

After graduating from MSU’s School of Journalism in ’93, Epps dove into a career in newspaper and developed his passion for design. Now he’s back for his second year as an artist-in-residence to share his tips of the trade with students. 

Shoes to Fill

“I was brought in, in large part, to take over the role of Darcy Greene, who just retired,” said Epps. “Taking the torch from [Greene] and Cheryl Pell is extremely humbling. It is an honor and a significant responsibility to keep going with what they have built.”

Epps, who is currently teaching three courses focusing on print and digital design and graphics, is excited to be back at ComArtSci. According to him, the quality of work put out by his colleagues is a constant motivating force to do better. 

“There’s an unbelievable wealth of talent here,” said Epps. “There’s a real high bar set up and down [this building].”

The Right Moves

Right after graduating from the J-School, Epps found himself working at The Record in Troy, NY, where he was a sports copy editor. He spent two years at the paper editing copy, writing headlines and formatting pages. He then did a four-month stint at The News Herald in Willoughby, OH, before being approached by the Detroit News.

“I loved working at the Detroit News for 20 years,” said Epps. “I worked up to being presentation editor, which means I supervised all of the designers and graphic artists. So I was responsible for every page that appeared in the paper. And for several years I was also responsible for the graphics. And I loved every minute of it.”

But after hearing about an opening for a designer at his alma mater, he couldn’t resist applying, admitting that he was ready for a challenge.

Real-World Experience

With his award-winning experience in the newsroom, Epps is excited to share his knowledge and resources with students in and out of the classroom. The artist-in-residence, who’s been a member of the Society for News Design (SND) for about 20 years, has also taken over MSU’s chapter.

SND is an international organization for news media professionals and visual communicators and allows members to learn, share and network. Last spring, Epps coordinated the group’s trip to the SND conference in Charlotte, NC. He hopes to take the students to the 40th Annual SND Workshop and Exhibition in New York City in April 2018.

Taylor Skelton, a journalism junior and current president of MSU’s SND, said that the experience allowed her to engage with professionals in visual journalism and design and she’s excited about this year’s conference.

“It allowed me to become more passionate about the field I one day hope to work in,” said Skelton. “The experience allowed me to meet professionals I couldn’t meet anywhere else.”

Leaving His Mark

In addition to carrying on the legacy of the professors before him, Epps also hopes to inspire his students. 

“If I have successfully taught the class, it means [students] will understand typographic terms and theories and know how to make something look good,” said Epps. “But they’ll also know how to do it in Adobe Creative Suite and, ideally, how to do it quickly.”

Skelton says that there isn’t a single student who can walk into Epps’ classroom without a personal greeting. The designer takes the time to get to know each of his students and is therefore able to cater to their specific professional needs, regardless of design experience.

“He is easily the most passionate professor I have had at MSU,” said Skelton. “He is willing to be as patient as possible with each and every one of his students and takes the time to build personal relationships with them.”

An Industry Stand-Out

Epps is well recognized in the industry, having won awards from the Society of News Design, the Michigan Press Association and the Michigan Society of Professional Journalists. What makes him stand out?

“Working hard and being relentless about trying to do more, to keep working as hard as I could to make the page the best it could be within the deadlines that I had,” said Epps. “Just never accepting the level of excellence that a page is currently at.”

Epps also promotes the importance of asking for feedback from others, because “keeping ideas to yourself is a horrible mistake.” If students are willing to put in the time and effort into their designs, Epps believes they will be successful.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a natural designer. I’ve had to work hard at it,” said Epps. “I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished and I feel a huge obligation to share my lessons with the students so they can do the same thing.”

By Kaitlin Dudlets