April Professional Spotlight: Norma Riehle, AIGA Houston Board Member


Name: Norma Riehle
Place of Employment: 2 Chairs Design, Christ Church Cathedral
Job Title: Principal/Creative/Director of Communications

What inspired you to get involved by volunteering your time with AIGA Houston?
I can’t imagine NOT being involved with AIGA. Besides the direct contact with other designers at different events and socials, there is the continual feed of inspiration that can make you feel as though you are not floating aimlessly without any direction. When you support something, it’s natural to become involved at some level. I like the professionalism AIGA brings to the field of graphic design. Since each chapter is linked to the national organization you have a sense of standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest contributors to the profession in the country. I have a strong belief that part of our responsibility as designers is to pave the way for people to come behind us – so education is also key. AIGA is not afraid to bring up the challenging issues and invite conversation. In my opinion, this is how real, positive change happens.

As one of the newest board members (web chair), how do you see your role helping you long term?

Since I came to graphic and web design as a second career (my first career was in finance), I want to be continually pushed to do things better and more efficiently. This board position is an excellent fit for me since I thrive on creating experiences and information architecture on the screen. I find a great satisfaction in learning new systems and in making content easier to understand and navigate in the online environment. I’m excited about coming alongside Communications Director, John Luu to evolve AIGA’s web site into the “go to” place for all designers in Houston.

What inspired you to become a print/interactive designer?
After having a critically ill son 20 years ago and surviving a divorce and then having new life in a second marriage, my husband asked me five years ago, “If you could be anything in the world, what would it be?” I remember instantly saying, “a graphic designer.” It was one of those moments that changed the direction of my life because I felt like I finally had permission to do what I loved. I decided to go for it and never look back. I began study at the Art Institute in 2005 and then transitioned to Savannah College of Art and Design three years ago. I graduate with a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design this May and will finish my thesis in August.

What’s the story behind your company 2 Chairs Design?
To me, what we do, at its most visceral level is communicate with others. The most intense communication happens in small groups, or in essence, two people sitting side by side. 2 Chairs is representative of the basic human need that we have – to be heard and understood by others. My husband and I started dubbing our time alone as “two chairs” when we realized that the best conversation we had was in the two chairs that sat in the corner of our living room. It became apparent that without this, the rest of the stuff really doesn’t matter. I think this is the core of what we do – help others communicate by creating visuals and experiences so that others understand. It’s really about tuning everything else out so that the message is delivered one on one.

What project do you have the most bragging rights to?
I have spent so much time in school I literally feel like I have been in a cloistered environment for the last three years. I’ve done a lot of identity (print, web, email) work for my husband’s non-profit professional choral group CANTARE Houston. I’ve recently created a web site for another group called Link2Peace which is an organization that responds to the violence against women and children in the world (www.link2peace.org). I loved working on this site and had the opportunity to create their logo and to set up a content management system for them.

When you aren’t working, what are you doing?
Well, right now I’m working on my thesis so every waking moment is spent researching and conceptualizing. My topic is the role of graphic design principles in developing navigationally sound web sites in the context of information design and applicable usability measures. I have to create a written and a visual component. I’m working on creating a blog for people to interact with and to add feedback during this process.

For complete, utter, self absorbed pleasure with no deadlines or expectations, I paint. I’m working on a painting now of a winter scene.

What is your greatest accomplishment to date as a designer?
I think finishing the course work for the Masters degree is it at this point. Next comes the “doing” of all of the things I’ve prepared for. I will still be doing this work when I’m 105.

What advice would you give to an aspiring freelance designer?

I feel like I’m the one learning from the advice of others right now. If my instincts are correct, what the world needs now is fresh, authentic design that allows the spirit of the designer to shine through. Hopefully, once this happens the work will come. I think companies are looking for unique ways to communicate who they are, so we can’t let ourselves fall into the rut of the task-driven, rote environment. We all have to do jobs that are needed and keep us employed but we’ve got to push ourselves to always keep our edge in order not to become stale.

What was the biggest challenge of becoming a cross platform designer?
The biggest challenge is to never let the little voices come into your head that tell you that you can’t do something. I remember being in a class and having a project due that needed to be created in After Effects. I had never opened the software before. I took a deep breath, opened it and started exploring. I absolutely loved it! And – received an A on the project. I try to draw on that exhilaration when I face a hurdle like that now.

Where can we find you?
I’m just starting to emerge from the tunnel vision of school, so I’m not very active on social networks yet. I’m trying to become more involved this way. Right now, my web site is my best link, www.2chairsdesign.com or email nriehle@2chairsdesign.com. I’ve reserved the domain name www.patternsoftheweb.net to do the visual component of my thesis and am trying to launch my word press blog there. And of course, webmaster@houston.aiga.org!

By John Luu
Published April 15, 2010
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