On Thursday, April 6, Hampton Roads will host Aaron Draplin – legendary designer, author, and founder of Draplin Design Co. Aaron has designed for Field Notes, Nike, Burton, Red Wing, Ford Motor Company, Bernie Sanders, and the Obama Administration.
We chatted with Aaron about the ins-and-outs of his design career, his thoughts on the role of the designer in 2017, and what designers and non-designers can expect to learn from his presentations.
AIGA Hampton Roads: Tell us about your path to becoming a designer.
Aaron Draplin: I am 43 years old. Raised in Michigan. Earned as Associates Degree from Northwestern Michigan Community College right out of high school, in graphic design. Hit the road at 19 with all my buddies to move out west to snowboard. Did that for five winters in Bend. Start going up to Alaska in the summers to wash dishes on a sightseeing train to make money to bring back down for the winter. Did that for four summers. Earned my Bachelor’s Degree in graphic design from the Minneapolis College of Art + Design. Took my first job in Orange County for Snowboarder magazine in 2000. Did that for two years and moved back to Portland to work for Cinco Design Office. I was a Senior Designer there until 2004, when I went out on my own. That’s when shit took off for me! It’s been twelve amazing years on my own. Each year gets better and better, and wilder.
What is it about design that most excites you?
Its ability to liven things up. Take a band. A nice record cover can make them that much more visible, and get their music heard. Design can promote things to the next level. And often, just so folks will take it seriously. Nothing hurts more than seeing a crappy record cover for a band you love.
What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
I got to do a logo with my buddy Chris Glass for President Obama through a great design group in Chicago called Mode Project. Smart, smart guys who made Obama’s campaign logo! We got to work on the stimulus project logo, rolling our sleeves up for America! Still proud of that one. I’m so sad to see Mr. Obama go. Beyond heartbroken with the new turd in there. So many scary steps backward, with that monster as president.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done in the last year?
Having the book come out on May 17th was one of the greatest days of my life! And then the subsequent book tour in the fall. It was such a fun romp around the states. 34 shows in 7 weeks!
How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
Relaxing around the house, I guess. But that’s a bit rare. I spend the better part of the day in my shop, hammering on everything. From existing projects to merch to upcoming speaking gig preparations to “taking down the recycling.” I just like keeping busy. But when I get some downtime, I love watching a couple documentaries, vegging HARD on the couch.
What would you be doing if you didn’t have a career in design?
This is a scary question. I just love what I do so much, I can’t see myself doing anything else. But if I had to pick? Let’s see…building houses, designing Lego sets or pushing chairlifts up a hill at a ski resort. I’d love to build houses. I still look at homebuilders with envy. That seems like such a cool job. Physical, tactical and functional. We all need homes, and what an incredible opportunity to make a place that inspires people to love their lives, you know? Someday, I’m going to build myself a house, and it’s going to be EXACTLY what I need. Already sketching. I can’t wait.
What do you think the role of the designer is in 2017 and beyond?
To clarify ideas, always. but on a even bigger note, to illustrate/amplify simple human truths/justice to the bad people who seek to skew them. Form posters to easily accessible websites to information exchanges, you’ll see designers speaking truth to power.
What is one good habit that every designer should have?
Good file management. From how you name the files, to how you store them. Data is a big part of our lives, and if you can efficiently wade through it, you speed up the whole process. Get smart with your files, you animals. And back that shit up. And then, back it up again!
What do you hope attendees will take away from your presentation?
That you can live a life creatively, on your own terms. Through hard work, but also, through believing in yourself, your equipment and your skill set. I’m trying, and so far so good. And I love sharing it with the world.
That’s not what I saw when I was a kid. It was very elite and exclusionary. So I got to work and made my own little world in it, aside from the cool or pretty or party line company sheep. I did it my own way. And I love showing proof of that.
Join us on Thursday, April 6 in welcoming Aaron Draplin to Hampton Roads! AIGA Hampton Roads is hosting a lecture in Virginia Beach.