Upward Trajectory

Whether she’s ascending a mountain or rising in the ranks at McCullough Creative, Annie Koelker’s arrow always seems to be pointing up.

This marks the latest in a series of blog posts highlighting new hires and recent promotions at McCullough Creative.




Annie Koelker started working at McCullough Creative more than a decade ago and was recently promoted to Art Director of Experiential Design. When she’s away from work, she devotes her time to family and pursues a deep love of all things outdoorsy. Creative Copywriter Jeff Montgomery sat down with Annie to learn about how she is pursuing new heights in her career and beyond.


Jeff: Hello, Annie. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and congratulations on your promotion.


Annie: No problem. I always enjoy talking about my work here at McCullough.


Let’s start with the promotion. Congratulations. What is your new title and what kind of job duties does it involve?


The title is Art Director of Experiential Design… And what that really means is, you are taking projects like museum exhibits, or displays in corporate environments, and you are looking at things from a very high-level standpoint. You’re thinking analytically about the story we are telling, how we are conveying those messages, the interactives we are using, and what we want that overall experience to be for the visitor—it’s finding ways to bring the story to life for visitors in ways that are natural, but also impactful.


Sounds very interesting. Have you always focused on that kind of thing here?


Five years ago, I started getting really involved with dimensional spaces - display and exhibits. As I got further into it, there were a couple projects that were very large and gave me the opportunity to pause and do some deep-dive thinking—those really launched a whole new way in how I approach projects. And then about a year-and-a-half or two years ago, I started diving into the interpretive stuff. The best way to describe it is, you are creating a roadmap for telling a story in a dimensional space, and then designing ways to engage visitors in that story.


Annie Koelker tree

Annie poses at the base of a tree in Sequoia National Park.


Seems like there are a lot of things to consider there. There’s the display or exhibit itself. But I imagine that you’re also considering the human element …


Absolutely. You are really thinking about the visitor first and foremost: the frequency of their visits to that space, and the duration of that visit, taking into account their knowledge base going into it. So much of it comes down to thinking about human behaviors and tendencies, which is fun and interesting to me. I like people in general, and I almost became a psychology major back in college … To me, this is a cool way to weave psychology and sociology into what I do. And for our client, it is great, because they end up with a more purposeful experience for their visitors.


How long have you worked at McCullough Creative?


I started here in 2011—came on as a designer and quickly absorbed that. I was promoted to senior designer, then focused myself later more in the display and exhibits arena. I know that growth came from launching off all the crazy, intense talent around me.


In my brief time here, I’ve felt that, too – the talent around you makes you better… How has that influenced your career?


Oh man, I don’t even know where to start. Everyone is just so incredibly good at what they do. I could honestly go around the whole office, talk about each person and tell a story about how they have shaped me... The cool part about working here is that nothing scares me from a project standpoint. I won’t always know the answer, but the people around me will, or we’ll figure it out. I can work without ever being intimidated, because the brilliance around me is a safety net. It allows me to thrive.

Annie and her husband, Jeff, during a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

What keeps you busy when you’re away from work?


I am a huge national park junkie and outdoor enthusiast. For my husband and I, it is our driving force. We’re always planning our next big adventure. A couple years ago, we went out to Yosemite in California and trained for Half Dome , which is this 18-mile hike, and then you go up the face of this granite dome on cables that are mounted into the rock. We have tent camped in Bear Country. We spent our wedding anniversary in Zion National Park. That is just how we roll.


Have you shared that passion with your kids?


Oh yeah. We have two kids: Lucy is 13 and Charlie is 8. As a family, we are always taking some crazy, off-the-beaten-path adventure. We have taken road trips with them out to Montana, and we’ve tent camped in several national parks. We are teaching them how to rough it.


Annie with her family: husband, Jeff; daughter, Lucy and son, Charlie.


By now, I think everyone in the Midwest is tired of winter. So I have to ask, for such an outdoorsy family, how do you beat the winter doldrums? Any tips for surviving this time of year?


We ski a lot and spend a lot of time at Sundown Mountain Resort in Dubuque. It’s our way of being outside and embracing Iowa winters. Other than that, we just try to have fun. Last year,  we made this giant igloo in our yard. And I love making snow forts with Charlie. So yeah, we try to keep it interesting.