Every morning as local graphic designer Matt Pfahlert and his dog Satchmo ride to their office in Hickory, they have no clue what the day’s work will include. They could be thinking of a concept for a band’s next album packaging or putting the finishing touches on a local bank’s annual report.
Matt’s local graphic design and illustration studio, Pfahlert Creative Labs, is located at The Granary near downtown Hickory and is one of the area’s leading providers of creative services. The studio specializes in corporate and music industry projects.
“Right now the work is split about 50/50 with the music industry and corporate work. It’s kind of a mixed bag of fun, creative work which comes naturally with the music industry and strict larger budget corporate work,” said Matt.
Pfahlert Creative Labs creates print and web media for bands, booking agencies and music venues all over the nation. Matt, who plays his own drumset, makes posters, merchandise, and album packaging for Grammy award-winning groups like The Black Keys and Wilco. He has also regularly created gig posters for Asheville’s famous music venue The Orange Peel.
On the corporate side of design Matt works with several local businesses and corporations. He has made brochures, product catalogues, product packaging, and logos for the Veterinary Referral Hospital of Hickory, local cable and broadband provider CenturyLink, Carolina Orthopedic Specialists and numerous other businesses. He also enjoys annual reports.
Matt’s passion for the industry and long history in both design and the arts is what allows him work on such a wide range of clients. Not only has he worked for several ad-agencies before starting his own business, but he also grew up around both fields. Design is more than business for Pfahlert. It’s also family.
Growing up Matt worked with his father who owned an advertising agency and taught advertising at Central Piedmont Community College. On the other side of the family, Matt’s uncle is a conceptual artist with a background in the fine arts. Matt’s relationship with his family on both sides allowed him to develop his traditional approach to design work.
Even with recent trends in graphic design leaning towards computer-generated and web-based work Matt stays true to the traditional hand-sketched concept approach inspired by his family and years of being in the design industry. Whether Matt is sketching scrabble pieces for a band’s t-shirt or a logo for a bank’s annual report his hand-drawn images give all of his work a personal feel that simply can’t be generated with pixels on a screen.
Most projects start at Matt’s desk with pencil and paper. After client approval of the initial sketches and concepts Matt then scans the lead or ink based image on to his computer and finalizes it with the Adobe Creative Suite and other software. Matt uses computer software every day on his projects, but feels they will never replace human creativity.
“I’m old enough to come from the day when I used to actually hand-create type. Even though the computer is a tool, the computer doesn’t make a bad idea any better. The computer will only create a cleaner version of the same bad idea” said Matt.
This process of transferring paper to computer sounds simple, but in reality it is far from it. Matt’s creative concepts and attention to detail have earned him a solid base of returning clients on the local and national level. While larger cities may offer bigger markets for Matt to explore, he makes up for it by taking advantage of Hickory’s tight-knit business and arts community.
“Hickory has afforded me an opportunity to start a business that in other markets may have been really hard to do. Even though there is a good amount of creative professionals in Hickory it wasn’t like there was this glut of ad agencies that there would be in Charlotte or Winston,” said Matt. “Also in a town the size of Hickory word of mouth gets around quickly and local jobs multiply.”
Hickory has served as a great home for his family and creative studio. Its affordability and growing creative community allowed Matt to shift from working for design and advertising companies to owning his own.