Recognized for bringing wit, charm and a distinctly California sensibility to design and for their commitment to leading the design profession through an era of change.
Sean Adams and Noreen Morioka are doers, not talkers. They are knowledgeable about their profession, past and present, and have clear ideas about what the
future of design should look like.
What’s amazing is that neither one of them considered careers in design when they were young. Adams assumed he’d be following in the footsteps of various
Adamses before him, going east to Harvard University. But in high school he started dabbling in design, creating posters for school events. He even
designed his Oregon town’s seal. He liked designing and he was good at it, so when he started receiving design school catalogs and realized he could make a
living doing it, he made the decision to go to CalArts.
Morioka, who describes herself as the “inarticulate, geeky third child,” wasn’t even sure she wanted to go to college. Her sister, an interior design
major, encouraged her to pursue graphic design. She eventually landed at CalArts in 1985, where she met Adams on her first day. Compared to their broody,
goth-cloaked peers, the pair looked like they had just stepped out of an Esprit ad, and, believe it or not, that’s what sealed their fate. Who knew being
preppy could help form lifelong bonds?
Adams and Morioka became fast friends and confidants, but after college they pursued separate endeavors. Morioka went to Japan in search of a design job.
After 105 interviews and no offers, she finally landed a position at Landor Tokyo. In Japan she learned the importance of teamwork and of building a
network. As she now says, “Pay it forward and it all comes back.”
Adams headed to New York after graduation, working as a designer at the New York Public Library. Upon returning to Los Angeles in 1989, he worked with some
of the best designers on the West Coast—Lorraine Wild, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and April Greiman. When Morioka eventually came back to Los Angeles in
1990, the two reconnected.
So much of what was happening in design during the early 1990s was oblique, illegible and too cool for comprehension. Adams and Morioka wanted to change
the face of design and make it resonate with a broader audience. In 1994, AdamsMorioka was born. Their early work was compelling and bold. Their clean,
modernist approach went against the grain of everything else at the time, and they began gaining respect and recognition. As friend and mentor Michael
Vanderbyl says, “Their exquisite works embody the exuberance and spirit of mid-century Los Angeles.”
They immediately took on distinct roles at the firm, with Morioka acting as the client lead and Adams directing the design. They also established a project
barometer called the three Fs—Fun, Fame and Fortune. At the onset of a project, if two of the three indicators were not met, they wouldn’t take it on.
Adams and Morioka don’t take themselves too seriously. Humor and play are evident in their design.
Working with a who’s-who client list including Adobe, Sundance, Nickelodeon and Disney, they distill and refine a cacophony of complex information into
deceptively simple design solutions. This is the essence and brilliance of AdamsMorioka.
Design writer Alissa Walker observed in Fast Company, “Sean and his business partner, Noreen Morioka, have mastered a blend of eye-popping graphics and
tongue-in-cheek wit that has made their firm AdamsMorioka into a real-life playground for their pop-culture passions. Stepping into their office is like
entering a highly saturated Technicolor world where work for an eclectic group of clients…lives together in perfect harmony. And the Disney obsession is
more than just a passing fancy: Sean and Noreen actually decided to open their firm while riding the PeopleMover at Disneyland in 1994.” In 2000, the San
Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibited their work in a solo retrospective.
But Adams and Morioka don’t just serve their clients. Both are active in AIGA at the local and national level. Morioka took on the presidency of AIGA Los
Angeles in 1999, after realizing that if she wanted things to change in the design community, she needed to lead instead of standing on the sidelines
complaining. In 2012, she jumped back in the ring to help steer the chapter. Her quick wit and sharp instincts have earned her the respect and admiration
of fellow designers.
Adams was president of AIGA from 2007 to 2009 and is currently serving as co-president with Drew Davies. He was also president of the Los Angeles chapter
in the mid-1990s. A natural leader whose enthusiasm and generosity are contagious, Adams teaches at Art Center College of Design, helping prepare the next
generation of designers.
In a field where so many covet their own work and are secretive about their path to success, Adams and Morioka enthusiastically share their knowledge and
experience, because they know if more designers succeed, it benefits the entire profession.
Sean Adams and Noreen Morioka will be presented with the AIGA Medal at The AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25, 2014, in New York City.
Meet the 2016 AIGA Medalists! The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, design educators, students
Sean Adams and Noreen Morioka were recognized with the AIGA Medal for bringing wit, charm and a distinctly Californian sensibility to design, and for their commitment to leading the design profession through an era of change.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, interview
AIGA’s design community will gather in New York City on April 15 to honor the AIGA Medalists and support national design initiatives. The 2016 AIGA Awards Gala is presented by LG.
Section: Events and Competitions -
AIGA Medal, Event, awards
Steve Frykholm (2010 AIGA Medalist) is recognized for establishing the highest standards of corporate design through his work shaping the visual identity and sensibility of American design innovation company Herman Miller for more than 40 years.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, identity design, corporate design, students
The story of how a Dallas design firm came up with a symbol for the South free from the racism and divisiveness of the Confederate battle flag.
Section: Inspiration -
branding, culture, diversity, social issues, social responsibility, Design for Good, innovation, Diversity and Inclusion
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