The Designer’s Travel Guide to Omaha, NE

Omaha is a unique place—classically Midwestern in a lot of ways, but with a large (and growing) metro area very different from initial perceptions.

I was born and raised here in Omaha, the “O” or the “O.N.E.” as we affectionately call it.
My town has long been known as a communications hub and for institutions like Offutt Air Force Base, the College World Series and Warren Buffet (trust me, he’s most certainly an institution all on his own). I’ve lived in other cities and have been fortunate enough to travel a lot as a youngster and see what other cities have to offer. I came to understand that my little town is not so different.

Omaha has served as an amazing home-base for me to come and go, bringing goodness from other cities back with me but spreading some universal love for the O everywhere I go. With the cost of living being comparable or better than most metropolitan areas in the country, it has not a bad thing to come home and set up headquarters here.

The Design Community
For the creative professional, Omaha is an amazing city. Midwest is making a name in the creative fields with cities like Minneapolis and Chicago leading the way, and Omaha is quickly becoming a more visible member of the region. As evidence of this, Omaha recently hosted the AIGA Leadership Retreat—a major boost to the city’s visibility and creative profile. The mainstay professional associations in the area are the AIGA and the Omaha Federation of Advertising (local affiliate of the national AAF). Both boast active chapters, providing a wealth of resources and activities aimed at keeping the creative community growing, informed and involved—locally and nationally.

Omaha’s creative career environment is noticeably more corporate due to the industries we have in our area. In-house jobs are a common starting point for newly minted designers to cut their teeth working in various internal marketing departments. There’re a few large advertising agencies in the area that do great work, though it tends to be closely tied to many of the larger regional and national corporate entities that call Omaha home, so it can be very similar to working in-house but with a noticeable difference in the atmosphere and projects.

Design studios are amazing here in Omaha. Award-winning and producing top-quality work, professional creative studios tend to be smaller shops of highly creative people doing incredible work. Often, a studio gets their start as a one-person shop or as  a small start-up that grows from a humble beginning. This is a very good sign of the support system and project work available here in the area.

OK, so if you plan a visit to the O, here are a few recommendations:

Where to Stay
For the best hotel stay, our revitalized downtown area would be an excellent choice, as a lot of the new and renovated hotels are centered around the amazing Qwest Center-Omaha and our famous Old Market area (loaded with lots of dining, night life and shopping). The 1920s Italian-styled Omaha Magnolia Hotel is a fine choice, nearby to the great happenings in the Old Market.

With deep history as Chicago’s rival in the meat packing industry, and yes—known for those famous steaks—Omaha is a great town for food and restaurants. My personal favorite is the small, family-owned Italian restaurant Lo Sole Mio, located south of the downtown area. There’s no wrong dish here and most are served family-style, so bring friends. You can grab a steak at Johnny’s Cafe near the former site of the famous Omaha Stockyards, hit the micro-brews and creative menu at the Upstream Brewing Company or grab the nationally recognized barbecue at Jim’s Rib Haven for takeout.

Although a modest Midwest city, Omaha doesn’t lack a good nightlife. NOMAD Lounge is the hottest spot in town and just happens to be partly-owned by an amazing Midwestern design studio. Go figure. The new Urban Wine Company is just a few short steps away from NOMAD’s front door and looks to be a hot spot to see and be seen. For the bar that doubles as the most prolific concert venue in town, The Slowdown is off the charts. Truth is, you can hit any number of great pubs and clubs all over town depending on what your preference is.

hat to See and Do
Some must-see things around town are the incredible Art Deco-styled Joslyn Art Museum, Lauritzen Gardens, the Strategic Air Command Museum and the world-famous Henry Doorly Zoo. As an added bonus, the zoo is directly adjacent to the Rosenblatt Stadium of College World Series fame.

To all of my fellow creatives, put Omaha on a short list of great places to visit and perhaps set down roots. The history and the recent growth and recognition of our city and the creative industry here is proof of Omaha’s burgeoning status as a definite place to be.

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Steve Gordon Jr. has been a professional graphic designer for the better part of a decade. He’s run the full range of the career path with experience from Fortune 1000 in-house design at internationally recognized Fortune 1000 companies, agency and studio work to now working as an independent designer and creative consultant. He is currently break-dancing around his office, developing sweet moves that you can’t even imagine!