“Never Be Afraid of Failing”: Noreen Morioka

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One of the best parts about recruiting judges for the Regional Design Annual: Getting a chance to browse their brilliant archives. Today, rounding out our series of six judge profiles, we bring you the words and works of Noreen Morioka, who will be judging the Far West region of the RDA this year. Early-bird registration ends Feb. 27. Enter today and save.

Official bio: Noreen is a co-founder of AdamsMorioka, leading the team in creative direction and business development. Her creative input has led to the success of multiple communications programs. Noreen believes that personal involvement with a client helps her crack the brand’s spirit. This allows her to interpret her clients’ sometimes vaguely articulated goals into actionable plans.

In 2006, Noreen was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Noreen is past president of the Los Angeles Chapter of AIGA, past chair of the AIGA National President’s Council, fellow of the International Design Conference at Aspen, chair of the James Beard Foundation Award for Design and Architecture and currently serves as a board member of the ADC in New York. She is a frequent competition judge and lecturer. Highlights include the Cannes Lions, British D&AD, and South Africa’s Design Indaba.

In 2014, Noreen and her partner were awarded the AIGA Medal, one of the highest design honors. Their most meaningful achievements, however, remain their contributions to the success of their clients.

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Originally from: Sunnyvale, California (not be confused with Sunnydale from the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV show)

Path that led you to design: I give all the credit to my sister, Marian. Unlike my older sisters that are extremely articulate and intellectual, I was a pretty average, inarticulate student with no real vision of my future. Marian, who was an interior design major, suggested that I try taking graphic design courses that could be a good match to my inability to communicate verbally, but my natural understanding of visuals. I started off at San Jose State, then transferred to CalArts, where Lorraine Wild was my mentor, and a stellar faculty that included Lou Danziger, Laurie Haycock, Ed Fella, Jeffrey Keedy and Eric Martin. Eric suggested I intern for April Greiman, which was one of the most best experiences.

Your career, in a nutshell: After graduating from CalArts, I took Lou Danziger’s advice to go work in Japan. After 103 interviews, I ended up at Landor Associates Tokyo under the creative leadership of Fumi Sasada. I returned to Los Angeles to work again with April Greiman and my CalArts friend Sean Adams. In 1994, Sean and I decided to open up our office hoping not only to build a business, but be advocates for our profession. Sean brilliantly came up with our company promise of: Clarity, Purity and Resonance. Recently we added “Trust and Loyalty.” Personally, it’s these thoughtful tenets that are one of the reasons why our company is still thriving for over 20 years.


Design Philosophy: A quote from George Lois when receiving his lifetime achievement award from ADC: “Clients will tell you that your work is wrong, ugly and even stupid, but a true creative will never fail to always come back with a better solution.”

The key to good design: Empathy and understanding for everyone involved: client, audience, team, project.

Work of which you’re most proud: I am a Wasserman Scholar and was very fortunate to be asked decades later by Lew and Edie Wasserman’s grandson, Casey, to design the signage for their new building at the UCLA Stein Eye Institute. On the lobby wall, the architect, Michael Paladino, and I were struggling to figure out a way to create a typical building lobby sign on an incredible three-story high terra-cotta wall he designed. Rather than using typesetting, I designed terra-cotta slats that protruded out from the wall that formed the shapes of Lew and Edie’s glasses. I took the shapes and angles from a famous picture of them out having dinner at Chasen’s. Although they are no longer here to see their building, it feels like they are watching over the Institute. It’s wonderful when you have an opportunity to show your gratitude with the skills they helped you obtain. Sometimes when I see the three-story high glasses, I think they are smiling down on me.


Cause that means the most to you: Our profession and making sure we grow the value of creative.

Favorite designer: Sean Adams

Favorite typographer: Doyald Young

Favorite artist: David Hockney

Favorite city (anywhere): Hanalei, Hawaii

Biggest inspiration: Nicole Jacek

What tends to make your region’s design unique? I’ve always felt there is no comparison of the West vs. East. Totally different cultures and influences. I like to think we are cowboys and we are still trying to tame the land with only a few real rules. There is freedom and a struggle that always ends up with a new evolution of what we should think. It never is boring here.

Motto: Never be afraid of failing …

Have you ever entered Print’s RDA in your career? Of course, many, many times!

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Print’s Regional Design Annual 2015: Enter TodayThe 2015 Regional Design Annual is now open, and early bird registration ends Feb. 27. Don’t miss your chance to have your work reviewed by the best minds in design today and to be spotlighted in our most popular issue of the year—the industry’s most prestigious and well-respected annual.