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In 1970, while working as a graphic designer for Illinois State University at Normal, Lee Kline became frustrated by the lack of professional development opportunities available for designers involved in the production of visual communications for educational institutions. At the time, programming provided by the American College Public Relations Association (ACPRA) — later to become CASE — was primarily related to development, fundraising, and alumni interests. The minimal programming that was offered in the publications and periodicals area was not targeted for graphic designers.

When Lee approached ACPRA with his concerns, he received a terse response indicating that the association did not see a need to develop programming for this audience.

Taking matters into his own hands, Lee convinced his friends, Gene Church from Central Michigan University and Charles (Bud) Deihl from Bradley University, to join him in planning a meeting that would bring together designers from educational institutions in the surrounding region. The meeting would offer a brief program of speakers on design topics, but more importantly, would provide an opportunity for designers working in isolation to meet and interact with their peers.

Illinois State supported Lee’s efforts and provided a budget for postage, food, and facility rental. An ACPRA regional membership list was adapted for the mailing of a letter of invitation to the meeting. Lee organized a program of speakers from the Chicago area which included Susan Keig, director of design for Morton Goldsholl Design Associates; illustrator Franklin McMahon; and a designer from the office of John Massey.

The meeting was held in late winter or early spring of 1971 at a Holiday Inn on Route 66 in Bloomington, Illinois. There were approximately 45 to 55 attendees, mostly from institutions in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan. Participants responded enthusiastically to the speakers and eagerly talked about common situations and problems over lunch. Many designers brought samples of their work to be spread out on tables for general viewing and discussion.

There was overwhelming support for a second meeting and the establishment of a professional organization dedicated to the interests of designers for educational institutions. Discussion ensued on the content of future meetings, possible speakers, questions of legal status, cost of membership, and the development of committees for conferences and competitions. It was decided that the group would be called the University & College Designers Association or UCDA, with CUDA coming in as the second choice. Lee Kline was elected president of the newly formed organization and Bud Deihl was elected secretary/treasurer. Plans were made to incorporate UCDA as a nonprofit and tax-exempt association in the state of Illinois.

After one or two informal organizational meetings, the first official UCDA conference was held in St. Louis, Missouri, in November of 1971. The meeting was hosted by Southern Illinois University and took place at the Bel Air Hotel. Entries to the first UCDA competition were judged at the meeting and the results were published in an association newsletter which was distributed in early 1972.

This statement of origins was summarized from information provided by UCDA members Lee Kline and Jack Davis.