Hampton designer gets to heart of client messages

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By Tracey D. Rauh

New Hampshire Business Review, August 1, 1997

Reprinted with permission of the New Hampshire Business Review

Designer Lisa Noonis: "My goal is to create great work."

Lisa Noonis talks about clarity, communication, timeliness and pulling together creative talent when discussing the building blocks of success for her business. In the same conversation, she's likely to talk at least a bit about the importance of professional passion.

The Hampton-based Noonis loves what she does. And she takes it seriously. The combination is working nicely for the energetic, young graphic designer.

Noonis launched her business in Hampton after spending years working for others and gaining a strong background in print, production and accounts management, and art direction. Her depth of experience lends a level-headedness to her approach to marketing and communications.

It's an approach that's yielding results: Two years into business, Noonis and her creative team won top honors in the 22nd annual Graniteer Awards show.

Sponsored by the Advertising Association of New Hampshire, the annual Graniteer Awards recognize the best work coming from New Hampshire advertisers and advertising agencies. Noonis collaborated with freelance writer Ted Sink and photographer Carl Austin Hyatt on a capabilities brochure for MicroArts Inc., which won Best of Show and first-place in Self-Promotion.

MicroArts is a Greenland-based software company. Sink and Hyatt are both Portsmouth-based artists. Judges for the competition are professionals from all over the country, who made comments like, "the most complete piece I've ever seen," "evokes emotion," and "well written and well thought out, not overdone."

Noonis credits the achievement to striking the balance between Sink's outstanding copywriting and direction, Hyatt's extraordinary ability to capture the essence of people on film and her own design and art direction.

It took the fight team, she stresses. Which is what Noonis' business is really all about: Pulling together everything it takes to write, design, produce and print high-end communications pieces for a variety of small businesses, corporations and other organizations. Noonis orchestrates this process from start to finish.

"My goal is to create great work. To stay real and to stay human," she said. "To do this, I need to partner with the right combination of freelance writers, illustrators and photographers."

Success, she said, can be largely measured by the accuracy of the message, which is more difficult to deliver than one may imagine.

"To companies, the most important thing is for their audience to get the message they want to send," said Noonis. And since the audience is busy and constantly surrounded with distractions, it's difficult to even get their attention, never mind get the message across, too.

"That's part of the reason I don't like to overdesign. The message can get lost," she explained. "I tend to keep it simple but poignant."

As a rule, she works closely with clients, taking ample time to ask the right questions and to introduce them to writers and photographers in the early stages. She believes there's a lot of value in putting creative people face-to-face with clients.

"I always found that as a creative mind, I would ask a whole different set of questions than the account executive. Contact is paramount in nailing the conceptual direction of a piece," she said.

Sometimes, the result is a flashy four-color brochure with witty writing and fun illustrations. Other times, it's more serious and true-to-life, like the MicroArts brochure, which features black-and-white photographs and philosophical prose. Noonis said the design was a natural for this company of young and inspired energetics. It's a great example of the process in action.

She recalls that she and Sink went together to the initial meeting with key players at MicroArts. Brainstorming about their impressions later over coffee, Sink wrote the word "passion" on a napkin.

"It was perfect," said Noonis. "It was so obvious to us both that the people who make up MicroArts are passionate about their work. We would talk about loving what you do and take that a step further, photographing the key players doing what they love outside their jobs."

They envisioned a piece that would not only deliver the company messages, but also would give potential MicroArts clients a sense of the real people they might work with and a chance to see that they have things in common.

"Carl photographed all the key players at different locations," she said. "The president, a woman, is an avid mountain biker; the art director a serious fly fisherman; and the account executive is a bookworm. We even included the company dog -- a black lab?'

The brochure is designed so that each "spread" contains one of these photos on the left with the person's name, passion, position in the company and a favorite literary quote. Narrative about passion runs along the bottom. And on the left is copy detailing MicroArts' capabilities as a company. A full-color portfolio of work is tucked into a die-cut back pocket. Except for a deep purple cover, the brochure is entirely black and white.

"We didn't want to create a lot of noise around the message," said Noonis.

"When you're done reading it, you think you know these people and the company -- like you've already walked through the door."

On top of all the conceptual work, the team kept close tabs on meeting the other important objectives: clearly communicating what the company does; showcasing its work and client list; making the brochure sizable and substantial, so it would be passed around and not tossed away. In short, they took the time to make sure it would have a similar impact to a salesperson's call.

The response was overwhelming, allowing MicroArts access to companies that for years had been difficult to penetrate. For Noonis, such successes make being in business for herself even more rewarding.

"The benefit of having my own company is that I'm able to build it around my creativity," she said. "I've come to realize that creative energy doesn't always work 9 to 5. It can be unpredictable. So I structure my business around these creative ebbs and flows."

She might work odd hours, she said, but this allows her to work at her best while remaining self-disciplined.

"I'm a survivor. I grew up with five brothers and a sister. In that environment, you learn how to be competitive," she laughed. "And thanks to my parents' strong moral teachings, I learned to be competitive without hurting anyone -- to be fair, even though life often isn't."

Concerning her direction, Noonis said, "I have a strong urge to create, which is why I needed to pursue my passion for design. As to the future -- whether to grow my business or to stay small, for instance -- I try not to worry about it.

"I have lived a very serendipitous life," she continued. "At times, it seems magical. I try to make decisions based on my gut feeling, to wait' and see when and how opportunities present themselves."

Meanwhile, she likes the comfortable path she follows.

"I have balance in my life. I have excellent clients. I enjoy what I do. Why change a thing?" she asked.

"This allows me to do other things that feed my soul and it's part of what feeds my soul. If your work does this for you, you're way ahead of the game."

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