One Minute With…
Hi Aaron, thanks for taking time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I’m a graphic designer and am working as much as possible, striking while the iron is hot. Be it on stuff that makes loot, and equal amounts of stuff that don’t make a cent. I like keeping busy and doing my best to keep up with everything. Proud to report, shit’s going good! Always on the up and up.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Aaron Draplin.
Up at around 9:00am, and down to the shop by 9:30 or so. Read the emails, clean out the junk email and figure out what’s on the docket for the day. Check all the blogs, twitterisms and news sites and then tear into shit. It might be projects, or blog posts, or shipping DDC merch. Whatever it takes to get all the shit that need to get done, well, done. There’s no science or formula. Sometimes it just comes down to forcing myself to get an album going and hammering until the document is ready to ship or whatever. Lunch at noon or 1pm, and depending what time of year it is, out of the shop by 7pm or by midnight. I work a lot so, late shifts are the going rate. Upon getting home, maybe watch some tube and chill out on the couch a bit, dozing off a little after1-2am. Something like that. Sorta changes a lot, depending on my workload.
How did you get into design?
I’ve been drawing all my life, and like a good Midwesterner, they start placing you into jobs as you are leaving high school. The forms said I’d be a good engineer. But those dorks just didn’t seem too fun to hang with, so I went after art as a focus. And within art, commercial art seemed pragmatic and made sense to me. People will always need a newspaper or logo designed you know? Fine art was too scary and risky. I liked the idea of learning a real trade, that balanced creativity, and, actually making a real living.
How do you approach a new project? What’s your creative process like?
All projects start with a research phase. Might be just a couple spirited conversations with the client, or perusing all angles of the design problem at hand online, looking at competition, see what the marketplace looks like, etc. But I try not to go too deep. I like the idea of “informed invention.” I want to know EXACTLY what the client is trying to accomplish, and then I’ll put my best foot forward with that first round of solutions.
Logos always start in my Field Notes, with a ton of sketches. Sometimes you hit it fast, and other times it takes a while to solve it. Logos are like little puzzles. I like the exploration and invention of it all.
I show simple PDF presentations, that show multiple pages of solutions. Sorta like, a big funnel. You dump a pile in the top, and out pops one little refined nugget? The whole time, in conjunction with client feedback. I like the idea of client ownership superseding designer ownership. In the end, it’s their thing. It’s my job to make them something awesome.
You co-run Field Notes, the much-beloved notebook brand. What inspired you to make it, and how have you found the experience?
Basically, not seeing stuff out there that I’d purchase. Or, stuff that existed was overly campy or had horrible typography. Or, shit just didn’t feel good in the hands. I fell in love with Muji stuff back in the late ’90s, but the austere, utilitarian cleanliness they exuded was almost a little too nice, or something. I wanted my memo books to be a little dumber. Less precious. Just good paper and good type with human liner notes.
So I made my own, at first, constructing my own with screenprinted covers and art store graph paper. I made my first run of 2000, and shit took off. Jim Coudal whipped me into shaped and Field Notes became a real thing. So proud of the brand we’ve made. American-made, and proud! By our friends, for our friends. And their friends! Hell yes!
Reading your blog, or copy from any of the projects you’ve worked on, you have a particularly wonderful way with words. Do you feel that language and writing has a big impact on design, vice versa, or are they simply two separate passions of yours?
I just like to write and don’t really think about it. My mom is the sweetest little thing and she’ll say, “You know you are a writer, too?” That always blows me away. I don’t think of myself as anything more than a designer, who likes to make shit. “Maker” is a trendy term, but hits the nail on the head. Be it a logo, an identity system, hunk of DDC merch or fun paragraph about some link I love, it all comes from the same place. I like output. Sometimes shit’s not so good, other times, I hit something. Don’t really care either way. I just like being productive, no matter what I’m working on.
And hell, the most inspiring, interesting designers are charismatic people. They know how to talk. How to communicate. How to soothe. How to sell bullshit. I like that stuff. It’s a dying art, being able to shoot the shit. I like people who like to talk. It’s a big deal in a world that is more and more about an iPhone lighting up yer face, you know?
If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?
This one is a hard one for me, cuz shit, I love what I get to do so much. I mean, how much better could it get? I work on cool shit, make good loot and don’t have to wear pants in the process. When I daydream about this stuff, my mind goes to rock-n-rollers. I want to be a roadie for the Flaming Lips. I want to play rhythm guitar with the Hold Steady. I want work in the shipping department at Sub Pop with Mark Arm. Those jobs sound fun as hell.
If anything, I’d like to work on some big identity stuff someday. But that would probably mean working for some firm, for partners who drive overpriced sportcars. And you know, that kinda sounds like it would start to suck real fast. I just want to make good stuff for good people, and eek out an ample living. And hell, I’m doing just that, and am thankful as hell for the run I’ve had.
What design tools could you not live without?
Adobe Illustrator has given me life. The big three…Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. Those champs are my conduit to so many parts of my life. I love making things come to life on a screen. I’ll hear people lamenting about computers and programs and whatever else and will just sit there thinking, “Those things you are bitching about gave me a life I thought I’d never have.” Like, I get offended. I’ve got a lot of love for my Apple products and Adobe software. I’ve had beautiful tools in front of me for my career. Can insurance salespeople say the same thing? Don’t think so!
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
STAY THE FUCK OUT OF PORTLAND! I don’t need you scrubs messing with my stock price! This line was typed in jest, so settle down you little mouthbreathers! Ha!
I tell kids the same thing all the time: Love this shit. Stop complaining and learn to roll with the punches. Some shit’s gonna suck, but, some shit will pay the rent or even a mortgage. We’re all in that boat. Do a good job on the clock, and then when you punch out, make stuff you love. That’s life. And don’t be afraid to share it with everyone. Design is a fun thing. Say it loud and say it proud.
Here’s a couple more nuggets: 01. Don’ stretch type, ever. Ever! 02. Don’t piss into the wind. 03. Respect the masters of design. All the new-fangled shit will come and go, but man, the incomparable Saul Bass will last forever!
Many thanks to Aaron for talking to us. I really enjoyed his answers, and hopefully you did too!
Why not check out Aaron’s site, and follow him on Twitter?