Austin Center for Design / by Scott Magee

I started attending Austin Center for Design this week. I will learn Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship from quite the cadre of professionals in the field, with this quarter consisting of Jon Kolko on theory, Lauren Serota on research methods and Justin Petro on rapid prototyping. Part of the admission process consisted of my statement of purpose. Check it out: 

I don’t remember the first moment I seriously considered the profession of designer. In my formative years, art was a fluff discipline - a way point to sow your creative oats before undertaking a serious career. Throughout high school I found my self bridging the gap between creative and analytical endeavors. I luckily juggled a curriculum of advanced art classes coupled with advanced physics, chemistry and calculus. Art teachers encouraged my progression into the creative field but I could not comprehend “drawing pretty pictures all day.” Even after winning “Art Boy” on senior day (as voted by the faculty), I decided to pursue a career in Biomedical Engineering at a state school. Engineering allows one to make products; physical manifestations of effort and expertise. Engineering is tangible and honorable. That’s all my parents knew - that’s all my environment yielded - that’s all I knew.

Soon I discovered that engineering, in both practice and profession, was not for me. I could complete the work, but without the least bit of personal satisfaction. I felt trapped in my developing future. On a tip from a family friend, I undertook aptitude tests in Houston and the whole world changed. The results stated that I was not naturally suited for engineering and medicine, let alone combining the two in a uphill battle. I discovered my mind was naturally wired for creative thinking, with secondary strengths in logic and analysis. My advisor mentioned that the hardest challenge I would face is finding one area of focus due to my numerous interests. The following day I switched my major to Marketing.

As a practicing art director and graphic designer, I’ve always been lumped into the fluffy ether of making things unquantifiably pretty. Sure I eat/sleep/breathe kerning, ligatures, balance and Pantone swatches, but that’s only one side of the equation. I also engage my “head for business” with continuing business studies and periodic issues of The New York Times or Monocle. I have no formal design school education, but I am passionate about every facet of my professional life.  

I have typically struggled to find a balanced utilization of my aptitudes and interests. Through past employers, I explored avenues to pique my interest in different disciplines while remaining financially relevant within my originally hired position. I have always been an outsider that did not fit the mold: too pragmatic for the creatives and too conceptual for management, yet I could speak both creative and business fluently. My translation skills made my usefulness span from the front lines to upper management. 

Recently, I (unknowingly) applied design principles for a Fortune 50 corporation to solve big, hairy problems that no one else wanted to solve. I was thrust into a broken system brimming with distrust and dysfunction yet my personal output could not fall below that of my predecessor. While my hired position was Art Director, I fell into the role of facilitator when situations regularly dictated. Instead of barking inflexible myopic orders that reinforced a blatantly broken process, I researched the entire tangled system among multiple independent business units. I prototyped living documents based on observations, synthesis and trust in the process. I won fans for my honesty in fixing the process as well as actually listening to (and implementing) feedback quickly. 

 “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.”
-Thomas Huxley

My need for constant improvement led me to the RISE Conference last March where four words changed my paradigm: design is problem solving. Jon Kolko’s Design Thinking presentation began with this simple truth. One could walk out immediately afterward yet still understand the next evolution of design. Design is a multi-disciplinary approach to solving problems. Design can change awareness and behavior. Design is more than graphic alchemy. Design thinking felt like a mindset created for my perspective. 

I am currently a freelance design consultant and have the ability to shift additional focus to upcoming studies at the Austin Center for Design without considerable professional difficulty. In my opinion, an advanced design education would complement my professional expertise immediately. With an opportunity like the Austin Center for Design starting in my immediate vicinity, I would personally feel foolish not to study world-class methods and strategies with other like minded individuals in small class sizes. I am also standing at a professional crossroads - looking for the next evolution in my career. I crave knowledge and seek clarity. In time, I am certain my studies at the Austin Center for Design will function as a catalyst for exponential growth both professionally and personally.

Past social entrepreneurial studies at Saint Edwards University and parents that instilled a sense of giving back to the community have resonated with the focus of Austin Center for Design and its mission to conquer wicked problems. I want to be a part of something bigger. I want to develop and apply my skills to address problems bigger than myself and my immediate environment. My zeal for solving fuzzy problems deemed impossible complements my innate stubbornness and extreme reluctance to quit. I’m ready to “do more” by utilizing contemporary entrepreneurial business models that can generate sustainable social profit. 

My personal mission statement is to be a net creator, not a net consumer. While easier said than done, my mindset is primed and my focus is sharpened in order to leverage my unique experiences into a sustainable future. I feel that I am a qualified candidate for the Austin Center for Design and would like my name to be considered for enrollment into the Fall 2010 term.