In 1971, when John Thiel and his wife, Norene, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with degrees in architecture, the economy was suffering and the job market was not in their favor.

After sending out a few letters, they both enrolled in graduate school at UWM, and there they realized they had more of an affinity for meaningful graphic design and communication than architecture.

Eventually, they formed Thiel Design in 1981.

Today, John, principal and creative director of the company, is, according to Norene, the face and the ideas part of the company, while she as director of operations is behind the scenes, handling execution.

“We have been married for so long, that it is really like one person running the company,” Norene said. “We are usually on the same page in most areas, which makes decision making a lot smoother process.”

The two started the company with the philosophy of remaining small, John said.

“We have 12 people right now, and it just feels right. We like the size, and the potential for collaboration enables us to really work together,” he said.

Thiel Design specializes in brand identity, and over the years the company has developed products for UWM, Snap-on Inc., Johnson Controls Inc., Kolb + Co, We Energies, Kohler Co. and the Bradley Co.

According to John, the organization does not have a top-down kind of structure, but rather, input from the staff is highly valued and almost expected.

“We had every intention, when we started this company, to hire people who are better than we are at some things,” he said. “We can provide the leadership and some structure for them, but we very much like to collaborate rather than dictate our decisions. Team collaboration drives everything that we do.”

In that sense, it is also important to hire the right people, John said.

“We had to find people that we knew were going to be the right fit,” he said. “They had to have the skills, the passion and the focus that we needed to get the job done.”

Thiel Design is capable of providing just about everything a company needs from a marketing standpoint, John said.

“Our style of working is very attractive to clients. They like to feel like they are a part of the solution as well,” John said. “Our clients know that we are all hardworking individuals that do whatever it takes. We don’t view anything as impossible.”  

John Thiel Creative director and Norene Thiel Director of operations

Thiel Design

Industry: Graphic design

Location: 325 E. Chicago St., Milwaukee

Number of employees: 12

Leadership moment

“Our decision to form the company was probably one of our most important decisions. Deciding on the type of collaborative style we were looking for and the decision to remain small within that model was extremely shaping for our company. We didn’t start the company with the intention of hiring 12 people, but we managed to find some good people who fit well within the organization, and it worked out.”  — John Thiel

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