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Blogging has me feeling vulnerable as well as excited. In an effort to shape my own career as well as my writing skills, I am writing a series of stories about my co-workers at HB Design to give our readers a different perspective on what shapes individuals at HB and how and why they love their careers. I am finding out many different things, thoughts, and some dreams of those who I am surrounded by every work day!  Of course, you can visit our website and view a photo as well as a summary of our accomplishments, strengths and experience, but there is so much more that I want to share.

Noma Hanlon, Principal of HB Design

Interviewing Noma was quite fun. I have been her employee for the past 11 years, and during this interview I learned some interesting and profound things about her.

Noma is a home-grown Oregonian, growing up in Portland and attending the University of Oregon, where she obtained her degree in architecture. Knowing Noma as many of us do, you guess that she had a keen eye for design at an early age. She remembered back to her parochial school days, reflecting on her love for lettering, doing pen and ink, and calligraphy. This totally caught me off guard, because if you have seen Noma’s handwriting, this would give you pause for thought!

She spoke enthusiastically of a trip she took to New York when she was 9 and how this trip was a pivotal event in her life. She was surrounded by a city unlike anything she had ever seen. Coming from Portland, the two cities were quite different: New York was fascinating with the skyscrapers and the fast-paced lifestyles. She also noticed how the surroundings really influenced the people living there. She remembers knowing and understanding the differences between styles of building designs: the classical look of the Chrysler Building and the contemporary feel of the Pan Am Building. At that point, she knew that she would be a part of this environment, either in building design or furniture design.

As Noma grew older, her interests in design grew with her. A major influence in deciding how design would influence her life and career came from her high school art teacher, Kris Martin. Noma described Kris as relatable, young, broad-, and open-minded. “It was a time of collages and political unrest. Things that were considered art expanded.” Noma said. “In letting her students experiment within different media and use of words, she really opened up the art program.”

We know Noma as a hard-working principal of HB Design. She has been a voice in the design industry and community for over 30 years. And, true to form, she has worked hard to keep her business thriving during the recent economic challenges our country has faced. In light of these challenges, I wondered how design influenced her and the world around her. Beyond the answer I expected, she stated, “It’s in our—everything around us—from the water bottles we use to the glasses we drink out of it.” She continued, “I enjoy great design, and I appreciate great design.”

She loves the challenge of taking a problem that needs to be solved and going through the process of finding the right conclusion. “All design starts with trying to come to a conclusion, whether it’s graphic design, environment, web design… it all starts with coming up with a solution.” As our conversation continued we touched on how design has a major impact on the world, both in positive and negative ways. Though she sees both sides, she chose to focus on the positive impacts of design: how it shapes our environments, how we live and work—being a contributor to this environment is very satisfying.

As we closed our time together, I was curious whether Noma had any dreams that she would like to talk about in relation to her career—things that she would like to have happen, even if they were literally just dreams. As she began to answer this question, it became even more evident to me that this woman does not live for herself but for her company and its employees. She responded with wishing to continue a successful business—thriving and innovative. “It’s tough being in commercial design, for so much of our projects are driven by the direction of our clients. We are not painters; we do those types of things in our spare time. We are problem solvers, and I would like to feel successful in that venture. And to be able to reward all those who have hung in during the trying economic times.”