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Design Crash Course

A big part of this blog will focus on my experiences in the design profession. I am the Assistant Director of Creative Services for the Washington State University Carson College of Business. In this role I supervise a group of designers across various disciplines and provide oversight for a number of other creative and A/V projects for the college.

Of course, the catch is, I’m not really a designer. My educational background is in music and the professional writing side of English and I’ve spent most of the last fifteen years working in the college’s Office of Technology doing Helpdesk Management and then Web and Database Administration. In fact, I came into this position—which is still housed out of our Office of Technology—because our unit saw a need and stepped in to fill it. As a musician and with some web design experience, I was deemed the most “creative” person in our office and put in charge of hiring a couple of student designers and overseeing them with a few creative projects. It was just a small part of my overall duties with limited scope.

However, over the past three years I have been able to increase that scope and capacity of what we do so that now we are budding studio with a couple of full-time employees and about a dozen student designers including two graduate assistants. For a long time, people just wondered what a bunch of tech geeks were doing trying to play designer, but now things have grown so much that most of my time was being spent managing the studio. Finally convinced, in January the college made it official and reclassified me into my current position, with it applying retroactively from September.

With that change the number of creative projects that came through our group exploded and I found myself having to rapidly change processes and workflow to accommodate the load. Overall a good problem to have. I managed to make it through to the end of the semester, and now I’m working to streamline how the group operates.

During this whole process it has become evident to me that I need to learn more about actual design. I’ve been riding this whole time on my ability to manage people, projects, and resources, which I’m good at. But, it would be even better if I could provide more direct guidance from a design standpoint.

This brings me to my other big commitment, starting immediately. I am going to put myself through a crash course in design. Doing a little Internet research I’ve found a couple of people who are self-taught designers and have put together a couple of guides on how to tackle this. I’m going to combine elements of a plan form tuts+  ( and a plan from Karen X Cheng (

Karen’s plan especially seems like something right up my alley. After six months she was able to get her skills to a level where she was able to get a job as a designer. She admits that she is not as good a designer as those that comes out of the crazy art schools, but she’s good enough to do her job and be versatile. That’s what I need. Honestly, most of my job will continue to be project and personnel management. What I need is enough skill to work with the designers, speak their lingo, and give intelligent input into specific design elements when needed. So this kind of plan is a win.

Ultimately, this is a big preamble to one of the major topics of this blog. I’ll share my experiences going the route of the self-trained creative professional as well as insights and thoughts from the management side of the profession. I’ll setup a portfolio so we can all laugh as I go through this and hopefully my background will provide some unique insights that you wouldn’t get from one of you hard core artists or designers.


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