Designing a Dream

Designing a Dream

September 17th, 2010  |  Published in Business

Nor Sanavongsay is a freelance graphic designer who has worked for several major American brands and corporations. He also actively lends his talents to the Laotian community throughout the U.S. You may have already come across his work online:

By Nor Sanavongsay

I’ve been drawing since I was 5, using mainly pencils and pens. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started using watercolor and acrylic. I started out as an Illustration major at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb because I had always wanted to be a comic book artist, then later changed to Electronic Media. I did most of my studies in graphic design, animation, video production and web design. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1998.

I started my professional career with Encyclopedia Britannica as a web designer. I designed most of their spotlight sites. One on roller coasters, one on dinosaurs which was featured in USAToday, and one on the history of time. I learned a lot there and met great people whom I’ve stayed friends with through out my career. I continued working for agencies and corporations doing work for Sears, Motorola, Discover, and the State of Illinois among others. It wasn’t until 2005 that I began to take programming seriously. I wanted to do more with my websites for desktop browsers and mobile devices. I learned how to program iPhone applications just a year ago, but I was doing a lot of advanced scripting while I worked at Sears Holdings. I take up a lot of projects out side of work as well. I developed a touch screen kiosk in Flash with the help of my long time friend Dr. Steve Arounsack for the Legacies of War traveling exhibit. I created the website CHORD-C.com for guitarists with my friend Judd Younce, who I met while working at Sears.

However, my passion has always been in writing and illustrating children’s books. I have been working on the re-telling of an old Laotian fable titled Xieng Mieng (xiengmieng.com) for about twelve years now. The project started out as a skit for the Satjadham Lao Literary Group Conference in Washington DC. The Xieng Mieng project was the brainchild of Toon Papybhoun, Pom Outama and my brother Alisak Sanavongsay (one of the first members of Satjadham). They presented me the idea and I ran with it and made it my own. Concurrently, I have been developing another children’s book based on an idea that a childhood friend Dr. Poe Phetthongsy had while we were roommates living in Chicago, titled Kiwi the Green Koala (kiwithegreenkoala.com). I’m still struggling with the theme and the look of the Xieng Mieng stories, so that project has had its ups and downs within those twelve years. I do not have a launch date as of yet. You can follow the Xieng Mieng fan page on Facebook for updated news and postings. Kiwi the Green Koala, on the other hand, is going strong. We have settled on the look and a theme, and the trademark has been approved. I’m planning to launch the site very soon. The stories will be based on helping each other, solving problems and being “green”.

I personally don’t have a style per se. I take what I like and make it my own. It’s a mesh of what I see around me. When I acquire specific skills it takes no effort to use them in the right places. I’m a minimalist designer and programmer. I strip away all the unnecessary and keep what is useful. I try to approach everything with a new eye. The key thing about being creative is to see things differently, to think about it differently and to not be afraid of being wrong. With my work I’m not afraid to start over at any given time.

I don’t advertise much of my work. It has mainly been passed around through word of mouth. I’m grateful for having wonderful friends and social networking sites. My mind never sleeps. I’m constantly reading up on news and blogs from notable designers and technologists. I try to maintain my own blog as well. I love to solve programmatic and design problems. I would sometimes spend hours banging away at a problem until it is solved. I have a hard time letting things like that slide.

In my day to day, I explore new technologies, learn best practices for my field, keep my design eye sharp, mentor junior developers and designers, but try not to work too much. What’s great about my field is that it’s a mash-up of many different disciplines. Designers are encouraged to learn programming and programmers are encouraged to learn design. It’s very difficult to keep both sides of the brain working together. For me, bridging the gap is a challenge. I have to communicate with both worlds and make sure there are some understandings between the two.

I plan to keep working on my passions. I have three projects that I am passionate about. It’s tough delegating time to each one. I hope people love them as much as I love creating them. I do want to write more and play a musical instrument, as I am not very good at those things. My advice to young people is to stay focused on your dreams. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Take as many chances as you can get. Your dream becomes reality when you believe in it. Believe in yourself and you can achieve great things.


In the 1970s Nor’s father taught middle school during the day and was a soldier at night in Savannakhet, Laos. After the end of the Vietnam War and American withdrawal from the region, his parents crossed the Mekong River to his mother’s village in the Mukdahan Province of Thailand, where Nor was born. His family stayed in the Ubon Refugee Camp in Thailand for almost a year before arriving in Kingsport, Tennessee in 1979.  For more about Nor Sanavongsay, visit his portfolio site nawDsign (www.nawdsign.com)


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