Smile Politely

Meet new CUDO president Justin Klett

As an illustrator and designer, Justin Klett has been quietly building up an impressive body of work, continually challenging himself with technologies. You may have seen his work among the Pens for Lens posters and at the Champaign Urbana Design Organization’s (CUDO) ABCU and Pro Show. But behind the scenes, Klett has been volunteering his time and talents to help bring CUDO into the future, despite the challenges of a global pandemic. Klett is a born communicator (did I mention he does voice work?) and a generous interview subject.  After the news broke that Klett would take over the CUDO presidency, I reached out to get his thoughts on CUDO’s evolution and what he hopes its future holds.  I hope you enjoy getting to know Justin Klett as much as I did.

Smile Politely: Tell us about your design experience/education.

Justin Klett: I’m a graduate of the Parkland College graphic design Associate’s Degree program, with over 5 years of professional design experience. I’ve worked in print production, prepress, and currently work in communications at the University of Illinois Extension.

SP: What drew you to the design field?

Klett: I’ve always enjoyed creating things, but in highschool I got my first taste of design by making cast and crew t-shirts for a theatre group I was in. Each production was a different chance at a new, unique style I could try, and I kind of fell in love with the challenge of combining important information with artistic expression and finding the sweet spot in the middle. Honestly, the job of graphic designer wasn’t even on my radar until I got into college and learned that was something I could actually pursue as a career. Needless to say, I leapt at the opportunity and I haven’t looked back since.

SP: Might our readers have seen any of your work?

Klett: Possibly! One of my most glaring weaknesses as a designer is the ability to successfully market myself and get my work in front of eyeballs consistently, but I have had a few opportunities to get my work seen on a larger scale. I was featured in CUDO’s ABCU 2020 Virtual Gallery with my piece “Interrobang.” I’m incredibly proud of that piece because I made it at a time where I was feeling very stifled as an artist, and so I was able to really cut loose with it and create something that really reflected my own artistic style.

Justin Klett's illustrated Interrobang print in done in a pop art style.

Image by Justin Klett.

Another example of my work is both slightly larger scale and incredibly niche. I am a huge Dungeons & Dragons player, and I also enjoy ingesting D&D actual play podcasts and video streaming. One of my favorite examples of D&D actual play media is a show called Dimension 20 from I created a piece of fanart inspired by their first campaign, “Fantasy High,” and the director of Dimension 20 actually contacted me to say how much he liked it and asked for a t-shirt with the design on it, which I was more than happy to provide. Where you might have seen the work, if you watch the show (and you should, it’s very good), was on a livestream where the director wears the shirt and gives me a shoutout, which was mind-blowing as a fan.

In addition to these, I’ve had pieces featured in a couple of Parkland College student design shows, including a minimalist movie poster design I did for Blazing Saddles.

SP: Congratulations on your election! What will your responsibilities and goals be as CUDO’s new president?

Klett: Thank you so very much! I’m incredibly excited to take on this challenge and learn as I go. Coming into this position in the middle of a global pandemic both complicates and simplifies my goals, if I’m honest. My goals are to get CUDO back to a more stable and sustainable place of active engagement with the local art and design community, including providing more networking opportunities, publicly available events, gallery shows to showcase professional work, and becoming a more active resource in general for CU artists and designers and the community at large. My responsibility is to do all of that safely and in a way that is accessible to everyone, which is logistically challenging, but is something I refuse to budge on.

SP: Recently CUDO has had a bit of a shift in its overall approach as younger designers and makers have joined. How would you describe CUDO’s current direction?

Klett: We’ve certainly had to pivot and modernize our approach over the last few years, especially given the sudden turn to an almost fully digital existence in 2020. I think our current direction is focusing on diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. While CUDO was started as a professional organization for graphic designers, it has since evolved to be an organization for everyone who loves both art and design, whether you are a professional, student, or enthusiast. For the professionals and students, we want to help make exposure to professional opportunities, such as resources and networking, more accessible. We want to help facilitate more people getting their foot in the door of the local art community, and help them gain access to information they might otherwise struggle to obtain. A top priority for us is to continue to be a diverse organization that truly reflects the diverse backgrounds of our community and the artists within it.

Additionally in the realm of inclusion, we’re also wanting to start highlighting local examples of mediums and styles that are not just solely traditional graphic design, and are less recognized, even within the art and design community. If we’re able to bring attention to more diverse mediums, such as tattoo art, short form social media content, and others, it allows for a more accessible entry point into our local art and design community. I think, at the end of the day, our ultimate goal is to show that art and design are not for a small, select group of people, but instead are for everyone, regardless of background or artistic discipline.

SP: For those unfamiliar with CUDO, what’s your “elevator pitch” for making people aware and getting them involved?

Klett: Oh, goodness, an elevator pitch means short, right? Well, for those unaware, CUDO is the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization, and, in short, our mission is to cultivate a vibrant art and design culture that engages and enriches our local community. In slightly longer, CUDO is about bringing together artists, designers, and enthusiasts in a unifying network in the Champaign-Urbana area, and building a stronger community through the sharing of resources and information. If that sounds like something you would like to help create, there are plenty of ways to volunteer, and we would love to have you on board! Additionally, if you want to support us, but don’t have the time to volunteer (or if you want to want to support us AND volunteer), we’d love to have you join us as a CUDO Member through our Patreon. When you become a member, you’ll have access to polls, free entries to PechaKucha Nights, and more! Visit to learn more.

SP: What events and opportunities can we look forward to in 2022?

Klett: We are working to bring back the CUDO Pro Show, which is a gallery exhibition of professional and student design work. Whether it will end up being in-person or virtual is still being planned out, but we are actively working on that for later in the year. CUDO is also going to be involved in Web Con 2022 through the University of Illinois. In addition, we are wanting to bring back ABCU for 2022 and revive Pecha Kucha Nights C-U for Volume 32. CUDO Plays, a board game design competition, is looking forward to their Season 8 Grand Exhibition in the spring and their Season 9 Kickoff event in the fall. We’ll also be looking to keep doing our regular monthly Happy Hours (as safety allows), and we are brainstorming other events, socials, and virtual hangouts as well! 

SP: How can people learn more about CUDO?

Klett: We are always available to answer any questions you may have! You can reach us on either Facebook or Instagram, email for more information at, and you can visit our website.

You can check out more of Justin Klett’s work on his website.

Top image from CUDO’s Facebook page.

Arts Editor

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