Heinz Klinkon: Man, Myth, Legend

Heinz tastes his first smore
The man who’s constantly referred to for his great stories that he tells or creates has passed. He pushed more than anyone else to generate new ideas and to think about the work you do and to “GO! Go out and do it!”. He taught us more than we know. He will truly be missed, but never forgotten.



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18 responses to “Heinz Klinkon: Man, Myth, Legend

  1. Walking into any critique with Heinz was always a treat and worth the price of tuition. While a student at RIT I was always told, take a class with Heinz when you have the chance, you will never forget it and I never have even to this day.

    Now 10 years since I had a class with Heinz I can still remember walking into my first critique. He had push-pins on the desk and he would say to all of us entering the room, in his thick, almost hard to understand German accent, “Hello”. Then we would all hang our work around the room.

    As a group of students we would spend the next hour or so sitting either elated or confused. Heinz would look over the work, make some comment that seemed mumbled and then talk about the work that solved the problem.

    Then he would then sit down and tell us a story, provide us either with an interesting analogy or some comments. All the while, just trying to listen and focus since some times it would be hard to follow him.

    His parting words after that critique would be, ok for next week, rework your assignment.

    For the ones of us in the room that understood the assignment we knew exactly what to do to better our work. For the ones that Heinz didn’t even make a comment about, and the few times it happened to me, I would sit and ponder for the entire week right up until the night before my next class pondering the analogy and the comments.

    When the light finally turned on and I realized what adjustments and the tweaks I needed to make to my ideas in relation to what Heinz had been saying.

    And in that moment I realized how much I enjoyed being pushed and pushed and pushed….it was all worth it.

    I have a lot more memories of Heinz…this is my fondest.

    Jason – ’99

  2. Heinz was an amazing man- I was fortunate to have him for many typography electives, and I even sought him out for an Independent Study during my senior year. I thought I knew a lot about type, but Heinz really opened my eyes and showed me I was only scratching the surface. His favorite word: “Concrete.” As in, “Your idea, it is not… concrete,” go back and refine it some more. Go back. Do it again. Show me. Try some more. Go back. Do it again.

    Some people said Heinz was very hard to understand- literally and philosophically. I got used to the hard German accent (which was actually refreshing after having so many professors who sounded just like everyone else and put me to sleep), and found that I listened harder to what he was saying. Let’s face it, if you were not interested in design or typography, you weren’t going to care what came out of this guy’s mouth. A lot of people didn’t like Heinz. I didn’t have many friends in the Design School, but it turns out I was friends with the same people who appreciated what Heinz had to teach.

    Heinz made one girl in my class cry. He was a harsh critic. I think part of it came from his restrained vocabulary, and part of it came from his direct, matter-of-fact German heritage. It is what it is. A spade is a spade. Heinz never intended to insult or to berate- but if you came in with work that was half-assed or nondescript, he called you out on it- and encouraged you to come back with something better. His impact was such that even my friends who were not in the design school knew him (probably because he came up in my conversation so often). They knew the accent. They knew he was crazy (about type). They knew I liked his classes.

    I remember visiting Heinz in his office, and he was surrounded by artwork. He was putting together an exhibition for the Bevier Gallery (I think it was a faculty art show). Heinz had these creations surrounding his desk and when I asked him about it, he responded with trademark shyness, “Oh, they are nothing.” Then he explained his concept and what he was trying to create, at the same time resigning himself to the fact that no one would like it anyway. People said a lot of things about Heinz, but “arrogant” and “egotistical” were not used.

    I graduated in ’99, left Rochester in 2002. I tried to keep up with “hakfaa” over the years, but we lost touch. On one of my visits to RIT, I was walking around the halls and heard the distinctive glutteral utterances of hard German. I poked my head into the classroom, Heinz, in the middle of critique, looked up and said, “Oh, hello there.” I said hello and looked around the room. I apologized for the interreuption and told the class, “Listen carefully to what this man has to say. You will thank yourself for it in the future.” Heinz laughed his awkward laugh and said, “I’m still not changing your grade.” We laughed and he asked if I could stop by later. I told him I would, but other errands on campus got on the way, and I never got to visit.

    With his departure, RIT has truly lost one of its greatest assets.

    -otto- ’99 JADC

  3. I was there on the day he made that student cry but afterwards Heinz shared an interesting analogy with the class. He told us, “Anyone can bake a cake. If we all used the same ingredients some of us would have great cakes and others would have horrible cakes.”

    Then I think if I remember this incident correctly he leaned over to the girl he was harsh to and said to her while she was crying, this is not a good cake. I laughed inside.

    At that point she left the room crying.

    I, on the other hand probably would have stayed since that kind of impact just made me think harder and allowed me to push myself farther with my work and ideas.

  4. nancy ciolek

    Thank you for posting the tribute to Heinz. Luckily, I spent some time with him last week at the hospice. I will miss him dearly. I knew him for 20 years and he was a fantastic teacher and wonderful human being.

    Nancy Ciolek
    Associate Professor
    School of Design

  5. It’s been really hard dealing with all of this, but I have to thank everyone who writes such wonderful things about him. Heinz was such a special person. It’s not enough to just call him a professor, for he was a good friend to me too.

  6. Pete Bella

    I also am thankful for this post. I too am saddened by this unfortunate news.

    The best memory I have is one; which is actually avery common occurrence during his critiques. He would walk along the wall diligently looking at each students work. Once the one-on-one discussions would start he’d often come across a work that caught him at a loss of words. After about a minute of awkward silence, he’d lift his head, swing his fist in an uppercut motion, and with a hard German accent he’d shout out load, “WOOOOW.”

    It was the moment I’d wait for each time he’d hang his head and try to find the right expression. I will always hear and see that in my memories… like it was just yesterday.

    Thank you… and God bless.

  7. Dan

    Im so sad about this. Heinz was my favorite professor of all time.

    He taught me to be honest and sincere in my work and always encouraged me to find my voice and understood where it was coming from, while the other professors seemed never to “get it”.

    Thanks Heinz. I’ll miss you alot.

  8. Greg Firestone

    I graduated in 02 with a degree in Design and I was fortunate enough to have taken a couple classes with Heinz.

    He was a great teacher. I remember the moments of silence when he was in deep thought. He’d stare off into space and the whole class would be waiting for him to talk. The finally the words would flow from his mouth. Or the time he asked is “Is there a monkey on my shoulder?” He trying to explain how a item can be distracting and take away from the true subject nature.

    He’ll be missed by many.

  9. I just came across this a little late. Heinz was one of my favorite professors at RIT and certainly the most memorable.

    He made a student cry in my class as well. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, and I know he wasn’t necessarily trying to do it. I took personal satisfaction from the whole ordeal (I’m a bad person, I know) – I’d watched this student float through other classes with shoddy work all week, and had been anxiously awaiting our class with Heinz, and he did not disappoint me.

    I remember that he was a brutally honest critic, and I loved him for it. I myself would phone-in most of my assignments by the time senior year rolled around in my other classes, but not in Experimental Typography. I spent more time on my work for that class than all the others combined – if you can get by Klinkon unscathed you’re OK.

  10. Owen Christian

    Heinz didn’t just mix his metaphors, he turned them inside out and wrestled them into something completely new every time he wanted to make a point (“Nobody wants to eat Easter bunnies every night”). It made for difficult going until you learned to crack the code and follow his train of thought, but once you “got” the man he was pure gold. Like so many of his students I went from snickering at his accent and completely missing most of what he was trying so earnestly to teach us in Intro to Typography, to eventually being in awe of his talent, knowledge, honesty and humility. At the end of senior year, a group of us took him out to hoist a stein or two as a small way of thanking him for his relentless efforts towards helping us evolve into designers, and although I am deeply saddened by his passing, it will always make me happy to remember the smile on his face that night that said he knew we had come to appreciate him as a friend as well as a teacher.

  11. Jennifer Dowdell

    I had a weird feeling about Heinz lately. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since I graduated in 1986. But I’ve thought of him often over the years and recall some of his famous lines… “YES, dis is it! Vow!” I thought to google him just now and am so saddened to learn of his passing.

    He was hands-down the best professor I’ve ever had. It didn’t start out so great though. The first project I did for him was a major learning experience. During the critique he looked at my piece through his famous thick glasses….i held my breath, taking great pride in my work. He gave me a D- and wrote “see me”. Yikes. During our private conversation he told me I should re-think the graphic design profession. Yes, I went back to my room and cried. Determined to prove him wrong, I took every class I could with him. My favorite was the Saturday Typography class. Heinz was more layed back and talkative during those classes. He liked to joke around. One day he asked if we could help him name his son that was soon to be born. One of my classmates suggested Lincoln…as in Lincoln Klinkon. He belly laughed at that one. I’m not sure what he finally named him – but it was a great moment of discovery that Heinz actually had a good sense of humor. Anyway, at the end of my senior year, during my final review with Heinz, I’ll never forget the moment he looked up at me over his thick glasses and proclaimed “Jenny, I sink you will be a gwate gwaphic designa.” I have tried to live up to that addage and even sent him a note of thanks 8 years later when I won my first two Art Directors awards. I owe him more than that, as he has been a constant source of inspiration in my designs. God bless Heinz and his family, and may he live on in our work forever.

    Jenny / FDAC ’86

  12. B. Gray

    “Shake-unt-Bake” Heinz! You will be missed.

    -Brian ’90

  13. Karen Hibbert

    I’ve just heard this news, and it makes me so sad. Heinz was my favorite professor ever. My most special moment was when I actually made HIM cry in class. It was a really amazing intense summer course in typography and we had to design children’s books. Mine was as simple as I could make it…since he was always encouraging us to remove every single unnecessary design element. But it was about Violet…and she didn’t really fit in, but she loved to dance. At some point in the course, Heinz told me he’d discovered how much he loved to dance, and when I read my story to the class on the final day, he had tears in his eyes. I’ll miss you, Heinz.

  14. “You can’t please everyone”

    – Heinz Klinkon

  15. Otto Vondrak

    I think it’s amazing how we all pretty much have picked up on the same characteristics of Heinz and that he touched so many people. I’m not right about a lot of things a lot of the time, but it makes me feel better to know that so many people carry a piece of Heinz with them today. I hope RIT does something tasteful to recognize what a talent they had in their midst.

  16. Gary Peters

    I’ll never forget his stories. He made me better. He made me understand.

  17. Sue

    I just recently found out about Heinz’s passing, and it makes me very sad. I can’t ad much to what some of the other posters have said about him, other than, “yes.” Heinz always left me with this sense of awe…

    I still live in Rochester, and did not hear about his passing through normal media outlets, and that upsets me. There should have been a parade in his honor.

  18. Wendy

    I realize that it’s been 10 years since Heinz passed away. But I never forgot his class or his wry smile. He was truly a designer, with a keen eye and a subtle way about him. I had his class in 1986, and was fortunate to have been his student.

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