Norman Ives's childhood was spent, as the son of a career naval officer, in California, Connecticut and Hawaii. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1950, and then entered Yale University as a member of the first graphic design class, studying for a time with Josef Albers, and also Herbert Matter.
After receiving his MFA degree in 1952, Ives began teaching at Yale in the Graphic Design program, progressing from Assistant, to Associate and finally Professor in 1972 (he was also a visiting professor of art at the Rhode Island School of Design). During the mid-to-late 1950s he worked with Herbert Matter on numerous design projects, including work for the New Haven Railroad, and Knoll International.
In 1958 Ives opened his own studio in New Haven, and soon after this formed a partnership with Sewell Sillman, his colleague at Yale, creating the publishing company Ives-Sillman, Inc., which for the next fifteen years was to publish a large number of important silkscreen portfolios and prints by Josef and Anni Albers, Ad Reinhardt, Dieter Rot, Piet Mondrian, Jean Dubuffet, Willem DeKooning, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and many others.
Ives's personal work, created at the same time as his design and publishing work, and reflecting the cross-over of ideas between these fields, includes collages, posters, silkscreen prints (between 25 and 30), paintings, murals and bas-reliefs (in wood etc.). He exhibited extensively from the early 1960s, incuding exhibitions at the Sidney Janis and Stable Galleries in New York, and inclusion in many museum exhibitions across the country.