Pat Hansen

Pat Hansen • Written July 2009

Pat Hansen

Pat Hansen is the president and creative director of Hansen Design Company, Inc., a firm she founded in 1980. The firm's work has been widely published, exhibited internationally and has received hundreds of awards from organizations. The firm’s experience includes work for Boeing, Microsoft, UW Medicine, Westin Hotels, and the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Pat served as the founding President of the Seattle Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) in 1986.  Hansen served for four years on the National Board of Directors of the AIGA, in addition to a term as Vice President of the Executive Committee.

In the fall of 1999, Pat was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), and in May of 2007, The Seattle Show presented her with the 2007 Legacy Award.

Three inches was a significant number in the late seventies. That was the length of the graphic design listings in the yellow pages.

Having just graduated from the UW Design Program in 1977, I was serious about design, eager to do great work, and somewhat obsessed with Helvetica and grids.

From my recollection of that time, there were few design entities in town. College professors urged graduates to go elsewhere. David Strong Design led the pack – being the most serious game in town. Spangler Leonhardt followed closely. And Ted Mader and his group of freelance folks were doing good work.

And so it was that in 1978, unable to find a job with my new found knowledge and no experience, I actually made the decision to pay for my first job opportunity –and rented a small office within Mader & Associates. Ted was doing a lot of Boeing work – corporate identities for airlines around the world. My formal training and Swiss-like approach lent itself well to organizing large graphic systems. At this time, Tim Girvin was new on the scene, and had his office next door to Mader’s in the Maritime Building. I remember how thrilled I was to get a handwritten note from him.

After about a year with Ted, I left and joined in an office space with Bunny Carter (well known illustrator extraordinaire) and Chris Brems (crazy fun ad guy). In a small building on Turner Way East, I did a little production work for them, and began doing small jobs as a freelancer. And yes, many of them were donated. My parents officially began to wonder what good would come of a degree in graphic design.

About this time, Anne Traver, Bunny and I attended the Aspen Design Conference. It was there that we first learned of a national movement for women designers – an organization called Women in Design. (It was also at this conference that I met Robert Redford and nearly died, as well as Saul Bass, a design icon).

Armed with information about Women in Design, we returned to Seattle and started a chapter of our own. Being new in the business, I volunteered to be the first treasurer. Sue Ryan (another illustrator), Bunny and a host of other women rallied to the cause, and we had ourselves an active design association.

It wasn’t too long before we had male members. We were the only active design group in town. After a couple of years, the organization changed its name to Seattle Design Association.

In 1979, after entering a book I had co-designed with Anne Traver in a design competition called The West Coast Show, I received a call from Nicolas Sidjakov, a San Francisco designer. Having just judged a show in which I had three entries, he was interested in hiring me. This was a fairy tale come true. Sidjakov & Berman flew me down for an interview and offered me the job. Of course I took it, and for the first time, I left Seattle for almost two years.

Working in San Francisco alongside Michael Mabry (now a very well known California designer), I was able to get phenomenal experience working on such major accounts as McKesson, Crown Zellerbach, Mexicana Airlines and more.

I returned to Seattle in 1980, once again looking for a job. Seattle was a much smaller, simpler design arena. There was no Microsoft. There were, literally, a small handful of design firms.

David Strong was interested in hiring me, but the timing was off. Shortly and somewhat by default, I founded Pat Hansen Design. First client: Boeing. They had remembered my work from Ted Mader days. Typical of my style, I shared office space for many years with Vic Warren, a Seattle design veteran. I was also able to help him with his work.

The ‘80s were a great time for design. Seattle was starting its boom years in the arts, development was going wild, and the city was getting, deservedly, lots of national attention. Continuing with Boeing as a major client, and adding many of the city’s arts organization – Seattle Repertory Theatre and Seattle Art Museum – Pat Hansen Design was doing well. My first employee was Paula Richards (who later joined Methodologie). My second employee was Jesse Doquilo (a successful Seattle designer on his own today). Both worked with me for many years.

Art Chantry became a national phenomenon with his grunge style design of posters and album covers for local bands, music venues and as art director for a local tabloid called The Rocket. His work was controversial in the beginning, likely due to the rampant freedom he used in his design. There were no rules. He pushed the envelope of cultural values, norms, images and typography. Art was a great influence on a design industry that was really quite guilty of being too serious. I think Art’s work showed us that we could all break the rules, and lighten up a bit. Though somewhat opposites, Art and I became good friends with a lot of mutual respect for each other.

Still suffering with being a bit too serious myself, albeit with a good sense of humor, I continued with my passion for design and my commitment to putting Seattle on the national design map. In 1985, a few of Seattle’s designers attended a national AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) conference, where there was talk of truly nationalizing the organization by creating chapters around the country. With headquarters located in the “center of the universe” (New York, not Fremont!) this was very inviting. Eight chapters had already been formed.

In 1986, that same group of designers founded the Seattle Chapter of AIGA, and became the 9th AIGA chapter. Our first Board of Directors included Jack Anderson, Rick Becker, Richard Dahn, Rick Eiber, Kathy Eitner, Sandy Ferrier, Rick Hess, John Hornall, Karen Madsen, Erik Muller, Paula Richards, Kathy Spangler, Anne Traver, John Van Dyke and Nick Zarkades. AIGA Seattle's kick-off event, held on October 29, 1986 at the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park, was attended by nearly 200 people, including guest speaker Kit Hinrichs of the AIGA National Executive Board and Pentagram.

The founding of the AIGA chapter helped to satisfy a deep hunger for national-level connection and inspiration from design industry leaders, and it galvanized the city's designers. People participated. Friendships and camaraderie grew. Collaboration ensued. The upstart chapter even launched an unheard-of fundraiser: raising over $20,000 from vendors to establish a campaign to increase design awareness within the business community.

I look back on the group's founding with pride and a great sense of accomplishment. Admittedly,
I had a personal, somewhat selfish career reason for wanting to put Seattle on the map. I also really believed in the value of design. In the beginning, we actually had to approach all of the leading designers in town, and basically coerced them to join in order to get the 20 members required to start a local chapter.

As a result of my involvement with AIGA, I was able to create an amazing network of people across the country, which I still enjoy today. A few years later, I was elected to the National AIGA Board, and became friends with people whom I had considered "American Design Gods". One of my biggest thrills was attending an AIGA committee meeting in New York and sitting between Massimo Vignelli and Milton Glaser. For a young person, that's a dream come true.

Fast-forward into the ‘90s and you had a decade of continuing growth for the Puget Sound area, when design firms prospered. AIGA sponsored regular shows and exhibits, such as the Before and After show – which awarded work based on the strength of results created for the client. That, in combination with our continuing efforts to involve the business community in our initiatives, and it seemed the corporate world was really taking notice that good design did, in fact, make a difference. As media coverage grew on companies whose bottom lines were greatly impacted by imactful design of their products and their brands, CEO’s and management took notice.

Oddly, my memory of the ‘90s is not as vivid as the earlier years. My suspicion is that we were all busy working too hard. I think everyone was doing work for Microsoft…as that is still true today. The volume of work was healthy, and those of us involved in the founding of AIGA began to see less and less of each another.

With each passing year, more and more design firms were established. Fortunately, the client base grew as well – with technology, healthcare, biotech and non-profits flourishing. With the success of such firms as Hornall Anderson, Leonhardt, Girvin and Methodologie, Seattle designers were finally competing in and being rewarded on a national level. The amount of new talent was staggering. Not only were local schools putting out talented young designers, but many of the same from around the country relocated here. The Seattle design industry was “alive and well.”

Then came the 2000s, earmarked by the bust and then the horrific events of September 11. It was a quiet and weird world in the months that followed. Both business and personal life changed quite radically, and I believe the shift is still felt to this day.

Priorities changed for many of us. And while our work is still our passion and an important part of our lives, I believe we began looking for ways to contribute more to the world to make it a better place. In 2007, I launched a second company,, a personalized gift giving business that allows people to create gifts of their personal sentiments, as opposed to just giving more "stuff.". Of course making a profit is a priority, but close behind is the desire to make a difference in every day lives of people. Our commitment to living “green” is as strong as ever.

Over the past 39 years, those three inches of yellow page listings have grown into more than a yard – to multiple pages. In part, the growth has been affected by the fact that design has lost its boundaries. Designers today are creating communications in all forms of media, for companies and organizations across the globe. We have indeed come long and far from the days of drawing tables, rubber cement, type galleys and exacto knives.

The Seattle design industry has indeed flourished, and I am proud to have played a part in it history. Here’s to the next 10 years.