2020 SEGD Golden Arrow Award Winner, Ann Makowski

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2020 SEGD Golden Arrow Award | Ann Makowski, emeritus Interim CEO of SEGD

The SEGD Golden Arrow Award recognizes extraordinary service to the field of EGD—recipients of the award have made large and long-term contributions to the strength of SEGD as leaders of their organizations, icons in the field, or supporters of SEGD’s goals. Ann Makowski is the sixth recipient of this award, established in 2004, joining Ralph Appelbaum, Leslie Gallery Dilworth, Moira Gemmill, Ed Matthews and Deborah Sussman.

A devoted staff member for 20 years, Ann Makowski’s leadership has impacted the evolution of the organization in innumerable ways, from starting new websites and publications to growing membership and elevating the SEGD Global Design and Achievement Awards programs and events like the Auction for Excellence. Most recently, she served SEGD as Interim CEO of SEGD but has previously served as COO, Interim Executive Director, Managing Editor of the SEGD color magazine, and Director of Membership and Communications.

We recently caught up with Makowski and asked questions about her career at SEGD and herself.


How did your relationship with SEGD begin, and what kept you with the association for 20 years?

When the vice president told me that SEGD members organize the world, I was in love! I remember checking out the SEGD website and thinking that I already appreciated what our members did, before I even knew that the field existed. And, when they told me there was only a small staff and lots of work to do, I was in.

I was lucky to work with our former CEO Leslie Gallery Dilworth for over a decade. She taught me to learn something, then give it away so I can learn something else. I transitioned from hoarding work to make myself more valuable, to shedding it to make other people more valuable. Which made me more valuable and happier, and so on, and so on!

I never stopped learning about EGD either; the field is always changing and growing. Coming from a science background, I love that designers solve problems and effect change differently than I do. But, it’s the open nature of our members, who truly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, that continually inspires and impresses me.

How many jobs exactly have you done at SEGD?

Almost all of them! When I started at SEGD, we were a busy crew of four. A staff that small doesn’t have the luxury of getting someone else in the department to cover a sick day or vacation—our departments each had one staffer! So, we all learned a lot about each others’ work, which was a boon for productivity and teamwork. It’s been that way almost ever since.

You served the organization as both COO and CEO; would you give us some practical advice on building and motivating teams?

I’m a fixer by nature, so learning not to internalize a situation or take something personally was game changing for me. I also try to pursue results rather than assign processes; ownership is a powerful motivator. And, write it down, write it down, write it down so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again. (Of course, all those comments come from my best self, who is still a work in progress!)

What would you say have been your greatest contributions to sustaining and growing SEGD?

It would have to be playing the role of devil’s advocate. It’s not always fun to be the one keeping an eye out for picayune details and potential pitfalls but it pays off in the end. I prefer to take care of the little things so the big things can fall into place. 

Tell us: What are a few of your fondest SEGD memories?

Almost being lit on fire by the Vice President’s cigarette on a conference boat cruise. (More fun than it sounds!) The SEGD Renewal Chicken! (A dollar-store chicken that we squeaked when we got a membership renewal. Now there’s a small non-profit incentive strategy!) Hugging so many friends at the conference! (I’m not sure I was ever effective at the registration desk because I was always running around it to hug someone.) Going the extra mile with a member to make something happen for them. (Need something pried from the website? On it! Need a lentil soup recipe? Here you go!)

Speaking of those hugs, you’re a great friend to many in the community—how do you do it? 

Growing up as a Navy kid taught me how to be a great cocktail party guest: I focus on a person, ask a lot of questions, appreciate the interest I get back, and—KABAM!—make the connection. Back then, it was the difference between getting along at a new school and being rolled in a gym mat like a burrito. Now, it’s just fun! 

You’re a bit of jet setter. Where are you headed next, and in all of your past travels, where felt most exotic and where did you want to spend more time?

I always want to spend more time wherever I visit, but next on my list is my paternal grandparents’ homeland of Ukraine. (Mmmmm…pierogi!)
 I especially love spending time in France, especially in the East where my mother was born and grew up. She and I once followed the route she took as a teenager to escape the German invasion, and found the place where she was briefly held for hiding a gun. 

But I find something exotic almost everywhere I go! In Australia, I saw a television ad for machetes. In New Zealand, the host at our first hotel offered me a small carton of milk on check in. (I was exhausted and confused: Was I supposed to offer him one as well? Was it code for something? Turned out it was for morning tea!) 

Tell us about your interests and hobbies post-SEGD, we’re dying to know more.

My to-do list runs the gamut from “buy bananas” to “get a PhD” so that is keeping me busy! I’m hoping to do some writing and editing on the side. And I have a huge list of historical sites to visit when we can all get back on the road safely!

What’s the secret?

I once read that etiquette is the art of making other people feel comfortable and I try to remember that every day. I also try to live with no regrets. But my internal censor takes a lot of vacation days so I’m on my own way too often!

Let’s play a game: Tell us two truths and one lie about you.

  • I made it to the semifinals of the Pillsbury Bake Off.
  • I made a complete change of clothes while driving in traffic on DC’s 14th Street Bridge.
  • I’ve eaten snail caviar.

>>> More about Ann Makowski

Congratulations to the 2020 SEGD Achievement Award winners!

See past Achievement Award winners.

PSST: Don’t miss out on the fun and excitement of the 2020 SEGD Achievement Awards & Auction for Excellence—put your name on the guest listtoday!