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    Garreth Blackwell

    designer, educator, maker

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Garreth Blackwell Logo

designer, educator, maker

About Me


I am a designer and strategist interested in how design can mitigate the social issues associated with poverty, education, healthcare and nutrition. Design's role is to solve problems by creating compelling solutions delivered through engaging experiences.

  • Name: Garreth Blackwell
  • Education: Ph.D.
  • Occupation: Assistant Professor, VCUarts
  • Location: Richmond, Virginia
  • Email: blackwellgc(at)vcu(dot)edu

Who am I?

I am a designer and strategist interested in how design can minimize the effects of poverty in modern society. I have been an instructor of design at the VCU School of the Arts and the VCU Robertson School of Media and Culture. Currently I am teaching design thinking and entrepreneurship in the VCUarts Center for the Creative Economy. My interest in design comes from its practical application in the real world. I like beautiful things, and I like for them to work well, so design is the best way forward.

In 2007 I founded Wide Open Air Consulting & Design, a design firm focused on service to customers and clear communication. We focus on creative solutions to problems, especially if they make life a little more bearable for even one person. My firm has done print, digital, branding, packaging, interaction, UI/UX and even some illustration and product development. We like design, no matter what shape it takes.

Before moving to Virginia to pursue a doctorate focused on design, I was an instructor of journalism and taught courses in layout and design, photojournalism and entrepreneurial media development from 2007-2011 at the University of Mississippi. I still serve as the associate director of the Magazine Innovation Center there as well. I co-authored a book with my good friend Samir Husni in 2010 called Design Your Own Magazine, which deconstructs the process of magazine design into 15 simple steps. I am the co-editor of The Roads of Broken Dreams, the Robert Kennedy Award winning publication about the shrinking communities of the Mississippi Delta. And as Chief Marketing Officer for Masato Pearls, I used my design thinking chops to help launch an international pearl company.

I hold a master's degree in journalism from the University of Mississippi and a doctorate from Virginia Commonwealth University. My dissertation explores the changing role of design in culture creation throughout the twentieth century. I am currently working on a book outlining the skills necessary for artists to successfully navigate the entrepreneurial world of creative work.



Seasoned designer, art director and professor, experienced in design thinking methodology and graphic design theory and history.

2021 / Mar - 2022 / Apr

Vytal Studios

Vice President of Experience Delivery

At Vytal Studios, I was responsible for developing and implementing the creative systems and processes that defined our workflow, while providing direct input, feedback, and direction on every project. I was in charge of the creative studio and managed a team of two dozen employees through ideation, creation, iteration and deployment of 3D and VR experiences.

2018 / Jan - 2020 / Mar

S&P Global

Contrsact Designer, Internal Communications and Marketing

While working as a contractor for S&P Global, I was responsible for working with product managers across multiple business lines to ideate and create documents for internal communications and marketing. Ranging from annual reports to email news collateral, these items had to be turned around quickly and within the exacting specifications of the corporate brand manual.

2018 / Aug - present

Shockoe Artspace

Director of Design and Communications

As the Director of Design and Communications, I am in charge of all externally facing communciations for Shockoe Artspace, a 501(c)3 non-profit art gallery in Richmond, Virginia’s historic Shockoe Bottom. Since the beginning of my tenure, Shockoe Artspace has expanded from a single gallery and now consists of a large, museum-scale gallery, a popup/studio space, and a dedicated podcast studio. Additionally, we have grown our online presence and have increased our annual fundraising and budget by 300%.

2017 / Aug - present

VCUarts Center for the Creative Economy

Assistant Professor

My courses help art students navigate the growing world of the creative economy and how different modes of thinking enable the flourishing of communities through the application of the arts. These courses serve approximately 500 students per year and focus on building skills in creative thinking, design thinking and business accumen enabling students to step boldy into owning creative businesses that impact the world.

  • CREA 201 - The Creative Economy
  • CREA 350 - Piloting the Enterprise

2016 / Aug - 2017 / Aug

VCUarts Center for the Creative Economy

Instructor of Creative Entrepreneurship

I teach courses that help art students navigate the growing world of the creative economy. My courses examine the contribution of creative ideas to the world economy with a focus on where, how and why creative ideas are produced and consumed. The VCUarts Center for the Creative Economy promotes the creative economy as a post-disciplinary, collaborative force that disrupts status quo in order to drive innovation and new business models around the world.

  • ARTS 291 - Creative Coding
  • ARTS 350 - The Creative Economy
  • ARTS 351 - Piloting the Enterprise

2016 / Aug - 2017 / June

Burnt Creative

Creative Director

As a manager of a team of designers, I am responsible for ideation, development and final deliverables.

  • Virginia United Methodist Homes

2015 - 2017

AIGA Richmond Executive Board


As the board president, I am in charge of managing the Executive Board as well as the Board of Directors. With a $15,000 annual budget, I am charged with delegating responsibilities to plan and facilitate regional events that promote, enhance and enrich design in central Virginia. During my tenure, programming has doubled and our budget has increase by nearly 50%. We held a nationally acclaimed one-day conference for design entrepreneurs and are in the planning stage for a spring conference for in-house creatives.

2014 / Aug - 2015 / Dec

VCUarts Department of Graphic Design

Design Instructor

I taught courses in graphic design ranging from print to digital and graduate seminars. My courses examined a designer's role within and as an agent of culture. Design was taught through a historical lens that reminded students that the tools, processes, and theories that are a part of design practice are not new and did not develope within a vacuum.

  • GDES 343 - Systems in Design
  • GDES 347 - Interaction I
  • GDES 365 - Print II
  • GDES 470 - Senior Seminar: Midcentury Commercial Artists
  • GDES 470 - Senior Seminar: Design Writing
  • GDES 491 - Advanced Topics: Universality in 20th Century Design
  • GDES 621 - Visual Communication Graduate Seminar

2014 - 2019

Storefront for Community Design / mOb

Design Consultant and Mentor

Storefront for Community Design is Richmond, Virginia's community design center. Founded and assisted by a dedicated group of public servants, architects, designers and planners, Storefront is an open resource to any individual, community, neighborhood, organization or business in Richmond, and matches design talent with design needs through four programs directed by staff, but supported largely by a growing network of volunteer consultants.

As a design consultant, I have worked with small businesses and non-profit to provide design skills to organizations that may not have the budget for top-notch design. Through this pro-bono work, Storefront reinforces their belief that all businesses and organizations deserve high quality design, regardless of their budget.

As a design mentor, I have worked with groups of students to direct their work with local clients. By lending my time, I am able to provide direction and feedback for the projects they are volunteering on.

2013 - 2015

AIGA Richmond Executive Board

Education Director

The Education Director promotes and expands regional student and faculty participation in the design community, serving as a liaison between AIGA National, AIGA Richmond, the Student Group and their Faculty Advisors, and design educators themselves.

My top 3 responsibilities included:
• coordinating Faculty Advisors and their Student Groups, and arranging activities like Student Meet'n'Greets (to introduce AIGA Richmond), portfolio review, studio tours, and related educational activities;
• working with the Student Liaison to track Student Group activities, events and needs, then report findings to Board at monthly Board Meetings;
• promoting collaboration between schools.

2013 / Jan - 2014 / Dec

VCU Robertson School of Media and Culture

Design Instructor

I taught classes in media production and entrepreneurial publishing. My courses focused on connecting design to the real world through entrepreneurial business practices.

  • MASC 334 - Graphics and Production I
  • MASC 491 - Advertising Photography
  • MASC 491 - Publications Design and Production

2011 / Aug - 2013 / may

VCU Robertson School of Media and Culture

Undergraduate Advisor

I advised undergraduate students on matters of scheduling and curriculum. During this time I streamlined the advising process for the largest major on VCU's campus reducing redundant hours by half.

2008 - 2011   

Magazine Innovation Center

Associate Director

As the associate director of the Magazine Innovation Center, I serve as a member of the Board of Directors and help plan annual conferences. Each year a conference is held to discuss the importance of print media and what innovations help make it a more viable product in a changing marketplace.

2007 / Aug - 2011 / may

Ole Miss Meek School of Journalism and New Media

Design Instructor

I taught classes in publication design, web design and photography. The concentration I taught in focused on journalism as an entrepreneurial actiity with design at its core. Websites, magazines, and books were all seen as central offerings of new business ventures.

  • JOUR 273 - Editing by Design
  • JOUR 375 - Photojournalism
  • JOUR 383 - Advertising Design
  • JOUR 389 - Magazine Editing
  • JOUR 401 - Magazine Service Journalism
  • JOUR 403 - Advanced Photojournalism
  • JOUR 580 - Advanced Topics: Web Design

2007 / Jul - 2011 / May

IT Symbiotics

Art Director

Over the course of four years I provided visual consulting and art direction toward the development of websites and applications. With clients ranging from government and non-profits to educational foundations and for-profit private businesses, my work was in visual design, UI/UX development and non-CMS web design.

2007 / Jan - Present

Wide Open Air


At Wide Open Air we take pride in telling people that we actually do have jobs we love. As designers, we get to play with paper, smell ink, design websites, and help launch new brands, but most of all, we get to come alongside friends and neighbors to creatively solve problems. As the center of design, problem solving is what we do, sometimes we just call it different things: digital, print, branding, whatever. Regardless of the name, we love using research and creativity to solve problems.

As an independent design shop, we prefer coming along side clients rather than directing or commanding a certain design direction. We know that the design we facilitate and implement should create an experience with your audience and customers that communicates the passion you have for your business. And with a deep focus on researching the problem before listing possible solutions, we make sure that the choices we help you make are informed and insightful.

Our process is guided by simple concepts like honesty and openness and always follows four steps: Strategy & Research, Creative Exploration & Design Development, Production Management & Implementation, Outcome & Evaluation.

2005 / Jun - 2011 / Jun

MSPA Dow Jones News Fund Summer Institute

Design Instructor

As an instructor at the Dow Jones News Fund Summer Institute, I spent my summers teaching design workshops to high school students and faculty. As a part of each workshop students were taught the basics of the design production by utilizing a workflow that began with photo editing in Photoshop and continued through vector illustration in Illustrator and ended with final design in InDesign. By the end of each week, students and faculty were well-versed and sent back to their schools to work in newspapers, yearbooks, television stations or other creative outlets on their campus.



Degrees, certificates, and professional development.

2011 / Aug - 2017 / May

Virginia Commonwealth University

Doctor of Philosophy

Ph.D. in Media, Art and Text with a focus on graphic design.

  • Concentrations in graphic design, graphic design history, and philosophy of social responsibility.
  • Dissertation Title: Good as We Know It: Goodness in Graphic Design Discourse since 1870.
  • Directed by Professor Eric Garberson, Art History.
Awards, Honors and Activities
  • 2017 - Adjunct Faculty Research Grant - Human-Centered Design Training
  • 2015 - MoMA Summer Research Appointment - The Good Design Program
  • 2014 - VCUarts Graduate Research Grant
  • 2013 - VCU Humanities Center Fellow
  • 2013 - VCU Humanities and Science Need Grant
  • 2012 - Member, VCU Robertson School Director Search Committee
  • 2011 - Member, VCU Department of Enlish Technology Committee
2005 / Aug - 2007 / May

The University of Mississippi

Master of Arts

MA (Honors Fellow) in Journalism with a focus on entrepreneurial publishing and communication design.

  • Thesis Title: Going Against the Flow: Making the Case for Men's Lifestyle Magazines.
  • Directed by Professor Samir Husni, Journalism.
2001 / Apr - 2005 / Jun

The University of Mississippi

Bachelor of Arts

BA (Summa Cum Laude) in Journalism with a focus on entrepreneurial publishing and communication design.

  • Honors Thesis Title: CHEF Magazine: Conceptualization and Design in Entrepreneurial Publishing.
  • Directed by Professor Samir Husni, Journalism.
2017 / Jan - Present


Storytelling for Influence

2016 / Aug - 2016 / Dec


Insights for Innovation

2013 / Jun


Vinalhaven, Maine

2012 / Jun

The School of Visual Arts

D-Crit Summer Intensive on Design Writing and Criticism, New York, New York

2011 / Nov

Edward Tufte

Presenting Data and Information, Washington, D.C.

2010 / Sep

Nikon School for Photography

Atlanta, Georgia

2010 / Oct

The Newseum Institute

Fusce imperdiet nisl urna, quis elementum sapien hendrerit sollicitudin. Maecenas porttitor ultrices erat in ornare.

Honors, Awards & Extracurricular
  • 1st place innovation prize for bachelor thesis
  • 1st place for corporate logo competition
  • Co-founder and manager of "Webdesign Forum"
  • Manager of organized yearly student events



Grants, fellowships, and awards.

Course Redesign Program - $35,000 for the redesign of Piloting the Enterprise to accommodate more students in an immersive learning environment

2019 - 2020

Affordable Course Content Award - $3,000 for the creation of open source course resources

2018 - 2019

VCUarts Adjunct Faculty Research Grant - Human-Centered Design Training with IDEO

January 2017

MoMA Summer Research Appointment - The Good Design Program at MoMA

Summer 2015

VCU Humanities Center Fellow

2013 - 2014

VCU Humanities and Science Need Grant - The Designs of Shape Note Singing


Gold Ink Awards Silver Medal - Samir Husni's Guide to New Magazines, 26th Ed.

Art Director, 2012

The Associated Press Pacemaker Finalist - The Ole Miss Annual

Faculty Advisor, 2011

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association Silver Crown - The Ole Miss Annual

Faculty Advisor, 2011

Gold Ink Awards Silver Medal - Samir Husni's Guide to New Magazines, 25th Ed.

Art Director, 2011

Robert F. Kennedy Award - The Roads of Broken Dreams

Editor, 2011

Yoknapatawpha Arts Council Grant - Project Viewpoint




Professional, academic, and research organizations.

  • DHS

    1. Design History Society
    2. 2015 - Present
  • ACD

    1. Association for Community Design
    2. 2014 - Present
  • Richmond AIGA

    1. 2012 - 2014 Education Director
    2. 2015 - 2017 President
  • DRS

    1. Design Research Society
    2. 2012 - Present
  • CAA

    1. College Art Association
    2. 2012 - Present
  • AIGA

    1. 2011 - Present



Books, papers, exhibitions, and lectures.

2021 / Sep

Growth: A Manual for Professional Creative Practice

published by Shockoe Artspace, Richmond, Virginia
2021 / Jun


Solo show of Nicholas Seitz, Shockoe Artspace, Richmond, Virginia
2021 / Jun

PLEASE RE TURN CART S HERE, Exhibition Catalog

with Cody Godwin, Nicholas Seitz and Sam Taylor, published by Shockoe Artspace
2021 / Feb

Four Horsemen and the Apocalypse, Exhibition Catalog

with Ryan Lauterio, published by Shockoe Artspace
2020 / Oct

Curator, From One Thing to Another to Another

Solo show of Aamina Palmer, Shockoe Artspace, Richmond, Virginia
2020 / Feb

Dignified, Exhibition Catalog

with Ryan Lauterio, published by Shockoe Artspace.
2019 / present

Shockoe Artspeak

Weekly art and design podcast with more than 110 episodes and listeners in more than 50 countries
2017 / Sep

Fight the Darkness, Retain Wonder: Social Design in Practice

Presented to AIGA Liberty, Lynchburg, Virginia
2015 / Jun

The University and Its Neighbors

Presented at the ACD National Conference, Richmond, Virginia
2015 / Jan - 2015 / May

Design in Context Film Series

A Partnership among VCUarts GDES, Richmond AIGA and the Virginia Center for Architecture
2014 / Oct

Three Things: Design's Role in Culture Creation

Presented at the ACT 5 Conference, Oxford, Mississippi
2013 / June

Boundary, Disparity and Artistic Exploration

Presented at DesignInquiry, Vinalhaven, Maine
2013 / May

A Commercial Conversation

Exhibition in Partnership with the Virginia Center for Latin American Art
2013 / May


Crowd-Sourced Exhibition

Whatever Happened to Main Street?

Editor, Oxford: Meek School of Journalism and New Media, 2011.
2009 - 2011

Samir Husni's Guide to New Magazines, vols. 24-26

Art Director, Oxford: Nautilus Publishing, 2008 -2011.
2006 - 2011

Samir Husni's Guide to New Magazines, vols. 22-26

Editor, Oxford: Nautilus Publishing, 2006 -2011.

The Roads of Broken Dreams

Editor, Oxford: Meek School of Journalism and New Media, 2010.

Design Your Own Magazine

Author, Oxford: The Magazine Innovation Center, 2010.



Selected projects in art direction, branding, web design, interaction design, and UI/UX.
For a complete listing, check out my profile on Behance.


Contact Me


Feel free to reach out with any questions, project ideas or speaking needs. Let's make some cool stuff.