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“I Believe in Nashville”: Graphic Design Work in the City

Published on April 19th, 2022, at 1:01 p.m.
By Morgan Keel

The only place where artists can draw inspiration from neon signs, cowboy boots, country accents and music is in the literal capital of Tennessee: Nashville.

Photo by Katy Anne on Unsplash

While Nashvillians might not spend all of their time walking on Broadway or attending events at Bridgestone Arena, locals embrace the Nashville culture. One way locals add to the culture of Nashville is by painting murals on the sides of buildings. The famous murals include “I believe in Nashville,” “What lifts you wings” and “Nashville looks good on you.” Tourists come from across the world to have their picture made with these works of art. This is one of the many elements that makes Nashville so recognizable. 

“The city has so much about it that is iconic and legendary like the neon signs on Broadway and cowboy boots and hats,” Katie Larson, VP of communications at Big Plan Holdings, noted.

While tourist attractions are a large part of the culture, they are not the only defining factor that makes Nashville what it is. Locals embrace other parts of the city that are not related to keeping a rhythm, especially those individuals who have pursued a graphic design career in Nashville.

“Everyone uses a touch of that [Nashville culture] — whether the background of their picture is neon signs on Broadway or a cowboy boot styled [image for a graphic,]” Larson mentioned.

So many designers turn to the heart of the city for inspiration. But when did Nashville become so influential to designers?

Photo by Chad Morehead on Unsplash

Many believe that Jack White played a critical part in bringing design into the city. According to the Tennessean, “It’s hard to dispute that [White] has lit the way to Music City for countless creative transplants: musicians, artists, designers, chefs, and maybe even a developer or two.”

Nashville-based creative Jason Skinner even gives credit to White and the Third Man Brand for bringing a “Detroit-Jack-White vibe,” which in turn brought designers from New York and Los Angeles to the middle of Tennessee.

“At that time, design was influenced by White because everything he did was branded. You go into Third Man Records, and you can feel the brand,” Skinner said.

While music is a large industry for creatives in Nashville, Skinner noted that “there are a lot of other brands [and firms] in Nashville that need designers, too.” A creative’s work may not include designing album covers for the newest country music star, but instead helping everyday companies, like Servpro.

As one of the designers for the Servpro campaign, Skinner noted that “Servpro’s purpose is to help people get back the life they had before their house got flooded or burned. That is intense to deal with on a daily basis.”

When recalling the effects of the campaign, he remarked that “the work you should be most proud of is when someone is impacted by [the work you created,] and it makes a difference [for the individual].”

Many designers consider a campaign “award winning” when it accomplishes the goal it was set to achieve.

However, campaigns do not have to win awards to make a difference in someone’s life. Skinner views the Servpro campaign as a win because the work highlights a company that can help individuals return to a normal life after a disaster.

WLLX radio station program director Steven Jenks stated that design work makes a difference in his industry, too. Designed work for social media “helps us stand out from the other radio stations in the city,” Jenks mentioned.

He went also noted that “it also helps us reach a broader audience and draw more people in through social media [since the graphics represent the brand].”

Making a radio station recognizable is a job that a designer on the team is entrusted with. Living in a multi-platform digital age, the target audience will more than likely choose the company that is “more visually appealing,” Jessica Smith, co-founder and creative director at Apple and Anchor, said.

“[Good design work] is a huge differentiator, and if I’m a consumer deciding between two products or services, I’m always going to choose the one that is more visually appealing,” Smith noted.

The city of Nashville is attractive to designers now due to the amount of “talent coming from other parts of the country bringing a different culture to the table,” Skinner said.

Photo by Haley Powers on Unsplash

With the talent flooding in, it means that the city may never face a graphic designer shortage.

Some of the more well-known firms in the city that hire graphic designers include The Buntin Group, Lewis Communications, MP&F and FINN Partners. While these companies have completed notable work for Bethel University, the Olympics, Turkish Airlines, Nissan North America and Jack Daniel’s, they have also worked with other recognizable brand names. Clients such as John Deere, Coca Cola Consolidated, American Cancer Society and Habitat for Humanity have all turned to the Nashville creative firms seeking designed work.

These companies serve multiple different clients — so, for any aspiring designer, there is an industry fit for their creative side. “In the first couple of years in [a] career to test out design, be open to learning new ideas and don’t get locked into a certain area immediately,” Smith cautioned.

“At least for me, I love to see how everyone does a little twist on the classic Southern. It is so special when you see a cowboy boot or hat and think of Nashville,” Larson mentioned.

In the end, no matter what industry a graphic designer chooses to pursue in the music city, they can always incorporate the city into the design.

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