October 18, 2018

Name: Phillip Petty

Current Title: Branded Environments Practice Leader

Office Location: Nashville

Years at Gresham Smith: 12


Meet Phillip Petty, our latest Faces of Gresham Smith feature. When he’s not spending time with his wife and three kids or working his way through every SEC football stadium, he’s busy creating experiences for passengers, patients and customers. Keep reading to learn where he finds inspiration, how he got his start at Gresham Smith and what brought him back to us after leaving us for a stint to pursue a different path.


Where did you grow up?

Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, which is a suburb of Nashville


Where did you go to college?

The University of Tennessee


When you were 10 years old what did you want to be?

When I was in first grade, my teacher told us to draw a dinosaur. I drew a T-Rex. As I looked around at my classmates’ drawings, I realized that mine looked like an actual T-Rex compared to theirs. That’s when I knew I had a different type of talent.

In the 1980s, the term “commercial artist” was commonly used. That’s what I wanted to be because I thought I could probably make more money as a commercial artist than as a “real artist”. For a short period of time I was inspired by the movie Top Gun and also wanted to fly F-16s in the Navy, but I realized I got motion sickness and I went back to plan A.


What was your first job?

I worked as a caricature artist at Nashville’s (sadly, now closed) Opryland theme park.


What drew you to Gresham Smith?

I liked the wide variety of design projects that I could work on.


You left Gresham Smith for a period, what made you return to Gresham Smith?

My first time around I was at Gresham Smith for three years. I left for three or four years, came back for another three or four. I then left again for another five years before returning in 2015.

I came back to Gresham Smith because here you can truly design your own career path. I have the opportunity to be involved in a variety of projects while working in a flexible, autonomous atmosphere. The people I work with are relatable and our executive staff are very supportive.


What is your favorite project you’ve worked on while at Gresham Smith?

My favorite project was Vanderbilt Medical Center at 100 Oaks Mall. Before joining Gresham Smith I spent years creating a variety of experiential environments, from exhibits to theme parks. I initially created some signage concepts for the shopping mall revitalization, but I really wanted to try refacing the entire building. I received support from the design team, which allowed me to step up and develop a variety of concepts for the space!


What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

In graphic design school, a professor told our class to invade “other design discipline worlds.” He encouraged us to go beyond the idea of a two-dimensional design solution.


What advice would you give for people who aspire to be where you are?

Find inspiration in everything—movies, cars, nature, products, people, etc.


What’s your personal motto?

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.


What are the top three highlights of your life so far?

My kids: Benjamin, Pippa and Gemma.

What’s on your bucket list?

I’d like to visit all of the SEC football stadiums and all of the MLB baseball stadiums. I’d also like to visit some of our national parks.


What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’ve returned to Gresham Smith three times!