On The Job: One Designer, A Sewer Girl And The Clog Save Water And Money
By Warren Tenney
In the City of Avondale Noelene Richards is in charge of getting your attention. Avondale’s water division needs Noelene, the city's graphic designer, to help it reach residents with messages that can save water and money. Noelene partners with the water division and the city’s public information officer to develop quick, simple conservation messages for billboards, magazines, calendars, door hangers and handouts.
“It’s my job to get those messages across in an eye-catching, enticing and innovative way,” Noelene said. It can be a challenge because the core messages rarely change. “We have to showcase them in a different way each time so residents won’t say ‘Oh, I’ve seen that before. I don’t need to pay attention’.”
Others join the team as needed. Avondale’s Vice Mayor Bryan Kilgore, an art teacher and a comic book artist, developed the city’s Clog and Clump characters several years ago. These “sewer monsters” are used to remind residents not to throw trash, rags, paper or cloth products down their drains and toilets. This bad habit causes backups, manhole overflows and damage to wastewater treatment plant equipment. Noelene collaborated with a contractor out of California to design the Public Works Department’s team of super heroes, including Sewer Girl, who battles your urge to wash meat drippings, frying oil and bacon grease down the sink. Fats, oils and grease can stop your plumbing system and make wastewater more difficult – and expensive – to treat at the plant. “The Avondale Avongers have been very well received,” said Noelene, whose job it is to create a variety of settings for these characters that make you react, with a smile or a grimace, and remember their messages.
Not all of Noelene’s work for the water department is confined to the grotesque or the comic. She also designed the division’s logo and works with more delicate designs to attract you to the water division's free desert landscaping classes or remind you to water your grass and plants at night rather than during the day when water evaporates.
Noelene fell into graphic design by accident. She has an Associate of Arts Degree in Business Administration that she earned in Washington. To help pay tuition she worked designing ads for a newspaper. It’s there she discovered she had the gift for balancing the right colors, illustrations and typefaces to produce an attractive design with a message. When her three children were still toddlers, Noelene and her husband packed up all they owned and moved to Phoenix. Noelene’s husband was headed to DeVry University for an engineering degree but neither of them had a job.
“It was the scariest thing we’ve ever done,” said Noelene, who now lives in Peoria. It’s been 23 years, her children are adults and her husband is an engineer. Once in the Valley, Noelene worked as a graphic designer for three printing companies before opening her own graphic design business and operating it for 17 years. Eventually, Noelene spent more time managing the business than she did designing. “I was having to step aside and let the junior designers do most of the fun stuff,” Noelene said, who closed her business last year to accept a part-time graphic design job with Avondale. Noelene works on all Avondale publications, including City of Avondale’s RAVE magazine. RAVE is published three times a year and is filled with useful information, schedules and contacts for all of the city’s departments.
Noelene said she’s become an “awesome” recycler and a good water conservationist mainly because of what she’s learned working with the Avondale Public Works Department. Her knowledge has made her sensitive to her neighbors’ mistakes. “They shouldn’t have that pizza box in the recycle bin, that’s a no-no. It drives me crazy when I see run-off from neighbors who regularly water their sidewalk instead of their lawn."
For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.