From Chattanooga, with Love: TopCon

Nick Turner is an independent graphic designer in Chattanooga, TN. His clients include the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Comfort Skateshop, and Glass House Collective. This fall, Nick and a team of collaborators are producing TopCon, a design conference aiming to unite the creative community throughout the region.

Last week, Nick was kind enough to join us for coffee, where he shared some details about the upcoming conference. Below are a few highlights from our conversation.

What is TopCon trying to accomplish?

“With TopCon, we’re really trying to create a culture of unity among creatives in Chattanooga. I see the conference as an opportunity to bring people together, expose them to some new ideas, inspire them, build relationships and foster conversations.”

“Designers are purveyors of culture. When I look around here, what I see and hear is that the (design) culture can be more than what it is. We’re trying to better shape that culture and make it what we want it to be.”

How do you think TopCon can impact the city as a whole?

“Our main goal is to try to retain and attract talent. We feel like if we can get these kinds of things rolling, people will look at us and say: ‘there’s so much good stuff going on there and I want to be involved.’ Being in a smaller place and a smaller town, it’s a bit of an uphill battle. Chattanooga doesn’t have the big client lists or the deep talent pool that a lot of places have. We’ve lost a lot of talent to bigger cities and bigger jobs. We want the talent pool to be amazing here. That’s only going to make everyone else’s work better. We look at TopCon as a real way to invest in the creative community here—to attract future talent. In our minds, getting and keeping more talent here is a way to future-proof this place.”

Who is behind TopCon?

Casey Yoshida
Michael Mahaffey
Matt Adams
Sarah Bang
Michael Kendall
Victoria Love
Allie O’Connell
Jamie Smialek
Travis Knight

Who is your target Audience?

“We’re targeting anyone who aspires to be the best at what they do. Whether or not you’re a creative doesn’t really matter to us. Though the speakers will of course be talking about design, they will also be sharing principles and lessons that go beyond design—things that can be applied to business and other fields as well.”

“We’re also trying to reach out to students at some of the local universities. The more students and young designers can get around professionals in the field the more prepared they’re going to be coming out of school.”

“And we’re targeting business owners as well. If you’re a business owner who utilizes designers you should be there. Business owners and designers need to be interacting more.”

What inspired you to create TopCon?

“Last spring I attended the Creative South Conference in Columbus, GA. It was a great event that brought together some inspiring speakers from around the region. During that conference I began to wonder why more events like it aren’t happening in Chattanooga. We obviously have a lot of creative talent here and a community that is ready to support. That event had such great energy—I just felt like we needed to try something like that in our city.”

Why is this the right time and place for TopCon?

“Chattanooga is a prime location—it’s right in the middle of several major cities—Atlanta, Nashville, Knoxville, Birmingham. People want stuff like this to be going on on a regular basis. Designers want to see events catered to them. Designers are looking for a place to just be designers—to just have those weirdo designer conversations that only designers can have. Social media isn’t always enough to make those important connections happen.”

“It’s an interesting time in Chattanooga. Right now there’s a lot of talk about innovation and the growing start-up culture. While I think it’s important to have ongoing conversations, sometimes designers are left out of the discussion. Designers are looking for more ways to contribute to these city-wide conversations. I think we have something valuable to offer. Our hope is that TopCon begins to demonstrate that designers are a valuable asset to the community and that we’d like to have a seat at the table.”

What does success look like?

“To be honest, I’m not really that concerned about the success or failure. The fact that this conference is going to happen is success enough for me right now. We’ll take what we learn from this year and make it bigger and better next year. But I suppose if we had to measure, success would like people in the seats.”

TopCon takes place on November 9th at Clyde’s Auto Glass, 122 W Main St., Chattanooga, TN. Registration begins at 12:00 PM. To learn more about TopCon, see who’s speaking, and glance the full schedule, visit:

Interview by D.J. Trischler and Megan Deal

By aigachattanooga
Published October 24, 2013
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