Designer Noz Nozawa Gets the Last Word

Published: February 12, 2024

Founder of San Francisco-based Noz Design – a woman- and POC-owned business – Noz Nozawa finds fulfillment in acting as a creative catalyst for her clients. Here she shares her perspective on building a successful design business.

How does your background influence the way you approach the design business?
Noz Nozawa: Oh, product marketing for Clorox toilet bowl cleaners very much influenced my design practice! Kidding sort of, but my first career in corporate marketing did teach me the value of writing a good, clear email, and how to present data and information visually – both of which have really shaped how my team and I communicate and present to our clients and partners. Before that, my classes in art and architectural history changed the way I see the world. I think those courses in college (which was just a minor – how lucky! I had gone to undergrad to study business!) were instrumental in showing me the infinite inspiration you could learn from looking into the past.

What has been your biggest challenge – and how did you resolve it?
Noz Nozawa: I think a part of me is always a little unsure if I’m “ready for” or if I “deserve” the next level of my business, and it takes SO much effort, planning, mental grappling, and then ultimately just telling myself this is nuts but let’s do it, before I can make the next move. This was true of hiring my first part-time contract designer, when I finally hired my first full-time employee, and the fact that nine years into my business I finally leased a real office for myself. I haven’t quite resolved this yet, but I try to pause periodically to reflect on the decisions I’ve made for my business, and how taking those scary steps have led to such better things for me and my team.

What is the most important career lesson you’ve learned?
Noz Nozawa: Broadly speaking, I’ve observed that the people I want most to be like – who love their lives in and outside of work, who are professionally successful and whose projects I really admire – have been the biggest cheerleaders for others in their industry. At the start of my design career, I met some folks who said discouraging things to me when I was very vulnerable. I realize now, the people who are successful in the ways I want to be, know that opportunity is abundant and infinite – and that attitude has informed the way I walk into rooms and how I treat designers who are new to the industry, too.

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What advice would you give someone who is thinking about entering the design business?
Noz Nozawa: Everything about being a design business owner is a creative journey – from how your proposals look to how you design your fee structure, to the design work itself. So stay true to WHY you want to be in the design business, and stay focused on exploring, developing and honing in on the most truthful, most authentic work you can bring into the world. There’s no one way to be successful here, and for me, the less distracted I am by how others are succeeding, the happier I am in my own practice.

What is your favorite thing to collect? And why?
Noz Nozawa: I collect Daruma – a Japanese symbol of perseverance and intention-setting and manifestation of good luck. There are papier mache Daruma that in Japan you’d traditionally burn and buy anew at the start of each year, and there are also (from the 1970s and 80s) painted wood Daruma. I also collect the wooden molds that papier mache Daruma are made from. For me, it was the first purely decorative thing I ever saw in my dad’s office – and the Daruma motto of “Fall down seven times, get up eight” has always meant a lot to me.

Who or what has been a seminal influence on your design career?
Noz Nozawa: I think my love of cities has been seminal to what I love most about design – how there is a reverence for preservation, but also a hunger for innovation and new ideas – and how cities can carry all that diversity. My favorite places to visit are often cities (NYC, Tokyo, Paris, London), and my coming of age was in leaving for college, where I left my childhood in the suburbs for the density of Philadelphia. I learn so much about juxtaposition, and am always being inspired by, the people and the architecture and the small businesses, of the cities I get to be in.

Photo credit: Christopher Stark

Tagged with: Design, Noz Nozawa

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