One of our main intentions with starting this blog was to bring some good ol’ original content to our readers. Well here is our very first piece of just that! We were able to pull Mr. Aaron Draplin away from his busy if not chaotic schedule and simply ask his some questions, and learn a little bit more about one of our favorite designers and inspirations.
Please introduce yourself to everyone.
Hi, my name is Aaron James Draplin and I’m a graphic designer working out of Portland, Oregon. I’m 38 years old and hope like hell to make it to 39!
Your beginnings in the industry span from the Midwest to So Cal and then to the city of Portland. Can you please briefly and in your own words speak on the early days and how you ended up choosing Portland as basecamp?
I moved out west with high school buddies in 1993. Our classmates who got out of our little town of Traverse City, Michigan the year earlier all went to Summit County, Colorado. That was the hot spot for the snowboard scene. When it was our turn we passed up Colorado and kept going all the way to Bend, Oregon, where we didn’t know anyone! It was awesome. I left Bend in 1998 and headed back to Minneapolis to get a big design degree, throwing in the towel on being a snowboarder. I gave all my gear away and started a new life in the Midwest. It was an awesome time. Upon getting my degree I took a job with Snowboarder magazine in Del Taco Del Vista Capistrano Laguna Whatever Southern California. I hated it down there, instantly and did 22 long months. I got rescued back up to Portland in 2004 by the Cinco Design Office, and that’s where I’ve been ever since. Man, that was a longwinded answer. Holy shit.
I like Portland. It’s wet, gray and mellow. It’s a good place to drop out.
Where do you or would you like to see your final destination to be, or is Portland it for you?
I have grand delusions of heading back to the Midwest at some point. Someday. I loved Minneapolis and am actively scheming a move back to the homeland at some point. Maybe Minneapolis? Or Chicago? In the woods, 45 minutes from a big city so you’ve got access to the wildness, but also some quiet. Portland’s a tiny little city and never feels overwhelming. But more and more, the idea of living a quieter life in the woods sounds pretty damn good. Maybe.
What an average day from sun up to sun down.
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, tweets 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 a couple albums going and hammering until the document is ready to ship or whatever. Lunch between noon and 1pm, and depending what time of year it is, out of the shop by 7pm or hell, 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.
The DDC (Draplin Design Co) seems to be a small, tight knit studio that only employs 3 people, including yourself. Do you dream that one day it will grow to be something more?
Actually, it’s only me! I’m a one man band. My buddy Dale helps out a day a week, and if it calls for it, I’ll bring in another designer to pinch hit on a project. But that’s only a couple days a year. I guess it’d be cool to have a couple friends pitching in on stuff, but, I love handling everything from head to toe. Bit of maniac in that department. Delegating is a weird thing. I like the idea of running as lean as possible. That’s been the going rate for me for the last decade, so I’ll see how long I can keep getting away with it!
What have been your highest high and lowest low running your own studio?
Highest high! Making a shitwhack of loot, and managing to get ahead in a couple short years. And the whole time, loving it all. I was told I’d hate my job all growing up. Not necessarily by mom and dad, but more like looking at family friends and relatives and hearing about factory jobs and people getting double-crossed. All that shit scared me. Each and every day, I can’t help but just stop and think, Holy shit, this is happening! And the ‘this’ I’m talking about is simply this: I’m making a good living at something I love.
Low point? This is a hard one for me. When I look back at the last 15 years, it’s from a pretty positive viewpoint. Things have been good. There’s some dungeons and Mordor caverns here and there. You know, people ripping me off, or a project getting squashed…or falling out with a client. There’s only been a couple ugly instances, and they still hurt. I’ve met some real rotgut fuckers out there, and I don’t know how they sleep at night. I’ve paid my dues, taxes and honored my agreements. I mean, shit, like there’s any other way to go about it.
Would you say that your fascination and love with the design and craft of yesteryear dictates your current design aesthetic?
I like simple things. Innocent things. Things that sort of come out “styleless” and don’t need to compete with the latest trends or petty, forgettable style wars. Fashion comes and goes. Function lasts forever. 50 years ago, things were restricted. In very sense of the word. Not just persnickety design shit, which frankly, is simply cake decorating. But with the culture, the language, the tools they used. And with all those limitations, they still managed to make beautiful, timeless stuff. I love that. Today, we’ve got a grillion colors at the fingertip and 5,000 horseshit fonts on a zip disk. (Look that one up, you srcubs.) And wouldn’t you know it, with all that power, we still manage to blow it. Pisses me off.
Sure, yesteryear’s innocence informs my work, but hell, if the client calls for it, I have to meet their needs. And that doesn’t a damn thing to do with Futura Bold or whatever goofy thing I’m into at the time. It’s all about making good stuff for the client, and working within their timeline, budget and mouthbreathing, and still pulling off something cool. That isn’t about style…it’s about a pragmatic, adventurous way of getting the job at hand done, and done well.
What advice would you give to a designer thinking to get out on his own?
Don’t quit yer job! Save a ton and then go out on yer own. More often than not, things are gonna be rough in the beginning, so you want to have shit padded. I did just that in 2004. I had 20 grand in the bank, just in case shit didn’t pan out. That 20k would cover my mortgage and life for a good year. A weird risk. But hell, I’m proud to report shit took off, and I haven’t looked back since! Hell yes.
You are well known for being a connoisseur of all things “junkin”. What have been some of the best finds you have found from your travels?
Honestly, it’s the simplest, most forgettable shit that blows my mind the most. Like, the power of a good graphic on the simplest of items. Something you use without thinking, that looks good or feels good in yer hand or on a shelf. I like that kind of shit. I know I sound vague but, hell, go look at old tools. They feel better in yer hands! Simpler logos and chunkier, austere designs. There are lessons in the past that are destined for the dump. I’m out there rescuing shit for the ages. Or at least, that’s what I like to think I am doing. Delusional, sure. But fuck, I contribtute a lot to the design world I’ve been so lucky to work in. I’m proud of my little halfwit contribution over the years.
What is the next step for the DDC? Anything we should keep our eyes out for?
More and more awesome Field Notes stuff. More and more DDC merch. More state posters. More speaking fiascos wherever they’ll have me. The goal is to quit chasing carrots on sticks…and to eek out a living primarily on things I invented, or pulled out of my ass. I’m getting closer and closer.
If you could leave one gem of knowledge behind with everybody, what would it be?
Shit man, putting me on the spot! A good question, but this blowhard is suddenly at a loss for words. A rarity!
I’m thinking something along the lines of this: You gotta love this stuff. I love hearing people—including myself—hemming and hawing about long hours, shitfuck clients and compromises. That’s life. You gotta let that shit bounce off you. Like water of a duck’s ass! (Or is it “otter’s ass?”) Think about that one for a second. The shit that should stick to ribs is the stuff that reminds you how lucky we are to make it at this stuff. I love when that one sneaks up one me in the height of some frisky situation. Love this shit, and learn to say “Yes,” a little more than you say “No.”