Aaron Draplin is a graphic designer, author, and founder of The Draplin Design Co. (DDC). He was Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, on October 15, 1973. and now based in Portland, Oregon. When Aaron left high school at 17 he started his associate degree at Northwestern Michigan College. This is where he learned the basics of visual art. When he turned 19 he moved to Bend, Oregon to pursue his career in graphic design.
He started his career with snowboarding graphics for Solid Snowboards, this jumpstarted his career. Five years later, Draplin moved to Minneapolis to finish his design degree at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. During this time, he polished his skills, that he applied later on during his professional career. In April 2000, he accepted an art director position at SNOWBOARDER magazine. He won “Art Director of the Year for Primedia 2000. In 2002, he became a senior designer at Cinco Design Office of Portland. Here, he worked on accounts such as the Gravis, Helly Hansen, Nixon.
Draplin Design Co. was founded by Aaron Draplin in 2004, specialising in brand identity, logo design, and typography.
He has an impressive client list including Burton Snowboards, Nike, Red Wing, Field Notes, Esquire, Ford Motor Company and the Obama Administration. His book, Pretty Much Everything, is a mid-career summary and story/showcase of his work that includes case studies and Draplin also offers advice and hilarious commentary, it shows how much more goes into design than just what we see on the page. it was released in May 2016.
The Logo Creative — Hi Aaron it’s great your taking part in our designer interview you have been a real big inspiration to me over the years and looking forward to featuring you.
Aaron Draplin — Hello Andrew, Of course, man. I’m honored to be doing an interview with you.
The Logo Creative — What was the turning point in your life when you decided to become a design and how did you proceed
Aaron Draplin — Well right out of high school I just knew that I wanted to well first of all make a living you know fine art wasn’t quite gonna cut it and out of high school you know when you’re getting into school you’re picking your classes there’s this thing called visual communications and sort of associate’s degree and it was about making everything from newspapers to well just say things that people needed in their lives you know and that seemed a little more pragmatic for me so that would have been right around seventeen years old like right out of high school.
So how i proceeded, well I got a degree I started playing with it and started you know to love the programs and using it in my free time to make all kinds of cool stuff and that’s really where it took off for me, you know later on you know once you were out of school it was like this wasn’t just something to get a grade or have a job with it was a hobby you know
The Logo Creative — What does your day consist of
Aaron Draplin — Well dealing with interviews like this… it’s a little joke, just a little joke. No joke 47 questions later! okay okay wait.. wait.. wait.. well I get up and I come to the backyard and work here in the shop and you know everything from working on existing projects to doing the recycling to sending invoices to you know talking a client down from the ledge it’s all sorts of just whatever you know, I have a list every day and then chip all that stuff off that list and then you know the quicker I’d get that list done if it’s a long list while I’m in here a long long day, if it’s a short tiny little list well then I just shift gears and go do stuff for myself.
But more and more you can’t really tell there’s a sort of a blurry line between what is making me a buck and what isn’t and that is a great privilege, so yeah I’m in here all day you know at least I’d say 8:30 till 9:00 until about you know good 9:00 or 10:00 at night you know and that is awesome!
The Logo Creative — Are you a morning person or night owl and is there a reason why
Aaron Draplin — I like how is there a reason why yes there’s a reason why and the reason is 44 no I’m lying I’m probably a night owl you know getting up early stuff now I go to bed around 2:00 or 3:00 and then try to get up by 8:30 or 9:00 9:30 or something like that but i would say night owl well I think it’s just because there are less and fewer emails and shit and things you know dinging and buzzing and people sweating to know whether or not they got the email that they sent you to know an hour before that shit just becomes flies to swat you know so the idea you can hide at night a little bit more yeah I’d say night owl.
The Logo Creative — What was the first logo you ever designed?
Aaron Draplin — Well… you know I think it’s… I wouldn’t really show those things it’s stuff in high school you know, but I think you know for money I don’t know it probably something for Burton Snowboards right around 1999 maybe 2000 or something but maybe the first logo I designed was when I was in college you know were I really thought about it and went through the process for this little thing called Grizzly habitat and I mean I can show you that and that was really like where you know you go and look at competitors and start the sketching process and refining and you know the same process that I use today, yeah about 1998.
The Logo Creative — What is your favorite logo you’ve designed
Aaron Draplin — It would be the Cobra dog’s logo you know, that’s in the book Pretty much everything and that would be for my buddy Cory Grove and really the idea is that was just a little logo for a buddy but it went a lot bigger than that at least in our minds you know it was really fun to see it elevates beyond just a little hot dog cart to something a little bit bigger than was really exciting because you know it showed that not everything has to be for some you know a big brand or official brand or even a brand with money it could be for your buddy just because you love them you know.
The Logo Creative — Can you describe or give an overview of your logo design process
Aaron Draplin — yeah … well talking to the people on the phone you know discussing the problem at hand or you know the things they need solved then digging into looking at the competitors what’s the market space look like they’re getting into, who are they gonna be going up against.
You know If everyone’s doing a lot of colors it’s an opportunity to be black and white, if everyone’s really monotone then you do a lot of colours just sort of reacting to what they’re gonna be the sort of peers they’re gonna be around in their little space and then get it to work and you know after your research and understanding what the things look like out there and what they’re up against then you react to that and you sketch a bunch think through what this thing should mean and then start you know taking it into illustrator and building out a presentation.
Up until that first round and you know sometimes it takes a couple of days sometimes it takes ten weeks you know it just depends on the sort of engagement of the client and how much time they have to be on the phone and me too you know but that’s led by the client if they want to stretch it out that’s up to them to stretch.
Now me I’d like to knock them out in ten days you know but yeah it goes from discussing — you know sort of researching to sketching to vectoring and then cashing checks so something like that.
The Logo Creative — What brands do you most admire and how do they influence your creative thinking
Aaron Draplin — Well… I mean, I guess it’s like brands where you can’t really tell if it’s a big thing or a little thing they just feel tight. Obviously Apple you know there’s such a confidence there and it’s exciting to me that I love the stuff I use the stuff and I really feel that this is the best shit to use to do my job you know.
Now that might be marketing that might be just… I don’t even know! but I’m proud to use it and the stuff works, that’s like the best part the stuff works! you know so they’re a big one but you can find that with other little tiny things be if you’re an iPhone case or your wallet you’re using or I mean I don’t know which ones to list you know because there’s just so many things that sort of defy you know, that they should be really expensive and they’re not that’s probably the best stuff something where you feel like you have a good value you know, and you feel like the money that you’re spending on that thing really goes to good R&D and good products later on and I really appreciate that stuff and there’s I don’t know where do you even start with all that stuff you know!
I’m looking around my desk here and I guess I would say that’s something like that I don’t know… my field notes… we do that with field notes $9.95 for a three pack people!
The Logo Creative — What do you consider your most successful design
Aaron Draplin — Okay, let’s see here what do I consider my most successful design… Honestly, I don’t know.
The Logo Creative — How long does it take to complete the average logo design
Aaron Draplin — Well yeah, it’s… sometimes it’s a weekend, they call me on a Friday and I have it done by Monday if I’m just really cooking!, you know if we’re focused and I can spend a night and knock a bunch of stuff out and go fast and then put a little asterisks and say “you guys, you have to make this quick you asked me, you said you’re in a pinch” “well let’s knock this out quick” then we’re gonna knock it out quick you know that kind of thing.
So sometimes it’s like that but usually, I don’t know… three to four weeks something to that effect you know three to four weeks, two to three weeks something like that.
The Logo Creative — What are your recommended design books to read
Aaron Draplin — oh I have a list!
01. Lester Beall, Trailblazer of American Graphic Design — R. Roger Remington
02. Otl Aicher — Markus Rathgreb
03. Max Huber — Stanislaus von Moos
04. Trademarks and Symbols 1 & 2 — Yasaburo Kuwayama
05. Paul Rand — Steven Heller
06. Saul Bass & Associates — Idea Archive
07. Lou Dorfman: CBS — Dick Hess
08. Muji Is Good For You — Jasper Morrison & Naoto Fukasawa
09. Marks of Excellence — Per Mollerup
10. Art Chantry: Some People Can’t Surf — Julie Lasky
11. Eliot Noyes — Gordon Bruce
12. FHK Henrion — Unit Editions
13. Josef Muller Brockman — Kerry William Purcell
14. Lance Wyman, The Monograph — Unit Editions
15. Herb Lubalin — Unit Editions
16. Manuals 1: Design & Identity Guidelines — Unit Editions
17. Manuals 2: Design & Identity Guidelines — Unit Editions
18. Pretty Much Everything — Aaron James Draplin
19. Pretty Much Everything — Aaron James Draplin
20. Pretty Much Everything — Aaron James Draplin
21. Pretty Much Everything — Aaron James Draplin
22. Pretty Much Everything — Aaron James Draplin
The Logo Creative — Which software do you use frequently is there any you would recommend to designers?
Aaron Draplin — Well… it’s all the big three Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, but I’d have to say it’s the big three for illustrator first then Photoshop and then just a little tiny bit of InDesign and passed that you know, I’m using Apple pages, Apple numbers, this thing called better rename nine, font book.. the basic font book I do my internetting on Firefox you know tweet and Twitter, iTunes. I’m just going on the bottom of all the other junk I use here you know but it’s the big three you know so I don’t even know what else you would recommend it’s just the big three they have a monopoly in all this shit right! God this stuff looks good!
The Logo Creative — What’s your favorite style of logo design
Aaron Draplin — Well… I just like things that work you know, that things are sort of unfuck with ability. Things that you know sort of transcend style and transcend whatever it is, fad or trend that month you know.
I remember a couple years ago everything had antlers on it and shit was just like… why? Have you ever even been close to a deer?… no! but that’s because everyone’s looking at antlers.
Then a couple years after that everything had like… I don’t even know! fluorescent inks or some shit… whatever! what’s appropriate for the client! what’s appropriate for the problem at hand! that should guide the process way more than what’s everyone doing out there? you know, so I think that’s what I would say for the favorite style its stuff that just lasts stuff that’s you know yeah unfuck with ability!
The Logo Creative — What is your daily inspiration when you designed?
Aaron Draplin — Paying my rent! number one, number two I don’t know to stay alive, number three, being a good citizen, not a daily inspiration! …I don’t know! trying to live my life creatively… yeah that’s a daily inspiration! it’s not necessarily some website with all the latest stuff it’s more to serve life everyday I gotta kick this day’s ass!… so when I look back at my life you know I try to make good use of my time and be a productive citizen and somewhat of a good human being… yeah!
The Logo Creative — When you’re not designing you have a favorite free time active?
Aaron Draplin — I guess it’s just kind of plop down the couch and watch a documentary or we get in a car and go out and go junking! or go to the record store, but I mean it all kind of feeds what I do you know, my life which is make things… it all feeds that stuff you know it’s like we go junking and bring back little items and then draft off those things and get inspired by those little things that we found junking and you know if I go to the record store but that’s to get records to come back and listen to while I’m working you know.
I’m a designer that’s what I do so, I’m gonna continue to do you know I mean… I love it! it’s fun!!! I make a good living and I’m not really all that interested in going sitting on some beach somewhere, you want a sand in the crack? you know what I’m saying!
The Logo Creative — What was the biggest challenge you were facing a project
Aaron Draplin — It’s probably when you do too much and people don’t quite appreciate that! they don’t understand what they’re you know messing with and then they’re asking and asking and asking you for more and more and more! and the problem is they’re never gonna make a decision and that was something that was really tricky because they saw how far I would go and then kind of abused it, and I just had to kind of pull back and say “you know what I’m not the right guy for this project” even though I totally was and showed them a bunch of killer stuff! it was just kind of like “fuck off! if you can’t see that I gave you great stuff in the first couple rounds and we kept going, you’re never gonna see it! so good luck”
I just gave them all their money back so that was a big challenge you know, and there was there’s only been a couple of those usually with some good conversation some good research and then add some elbow grease you can show them a good pile, they land on something then you keep refining or refining, refining and then you have to feel around in the dark you know and you can knock that out in a couple weeks.
I think that’s a fair process and you know, it’s really removing obstacles for them let’s hear it for you! you know those things are gonna come up, they make changes and stuff but it’s how you are gracious at the moment and handle that shit! that’s the stuff, in the end…it’s theirs! and I want to get it done and I want them to love it, so that’s always the game plan you know.
The Logo Creative — In your opinion what’s the best and worst part of your job as a designer
Aaron Draplin — Hmmm… best part is getting those paychecks man and cash them all! that shit’s fun!… I went to the bank and cash it and then going paint bills and feeling sad that you know have to pay a bunch of money to some shitty government or something… yeah that’s really sweet!
Hmmm…I don’t know the worst part of being a downside er I don’t know… I don’t know! I’m just so proud and so feel so privileged to do this stuff that I really don’t look for things to complain about. I mean what would that even be… a client changed his mind… oh fuck off! boohoo, grow up and realize the world’s not just gonna let you make cool shit for your portfolio, they’re gonna make, the worlds gonna make things that work perfectly for their eye and their business and doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cool it might be effective! but it might not be cool! you want more cool stuff in your portfolio, you can feel good about? make your own shit you know!. Know what I mean?
I think if anything it’s almost like just having to talk about that, that people complaining about how hard their design job is and it’s like “you listen, you haven’t spent a day outside in 15 years, your hands are soft you’re working on cool shit! you’re insured, you’re employed, you’re alive you know, that’s kind of where I start with a lot of this stuff it’s like the worst day here what the client didn’t like what I showed him? well, get back to work too bad, do a better job you know that kind of thing.
The Logo Creative — In your opinion who is the most inspiring person to you and why
Aaron Draplin — Hmmm… it comes in a lot of forms and the first thing comes to mind would be like some rock and roller that’s you know writing good music and then going in performing good music and having the where with all to hire designers to make all that music you know I have a home and have good design and have good housing and good packaging and just seeing someone who is in complete creative control of their process and then utilizing that and sharing the wealth but that’s really inspiring to me!
Because there are too many turds out there… let’s just think of like who’s the shittest person in the world?… well that would be that fucker Don Trump and may he die in the next seven to ten minutes or you know, I don’t know be impeached we’ll take either or both, but second worst I don’t know who would that even be Kid Rock that is someone who uses all their riches for garbage that hurts! so I like when I see these people who are either a rocker or an artist or some sort of celebrity using their funds, sure they have a nice home and stuff but they’re using their money to help people that’s super inspiring!
They got the holeshot they’re not hoarding all that stuff and they’re getting it back out into the world and making it better for people that are really inspiring. I’ve seen George Clooney talk about some cool things you know, I don’t know it’s hard to answer that one.
I miss Obama he was really inspiring to me didn’t agree with everything but I miss his dignity, I miss his decorum, and I miss his sure-footedness and I miss that you didn’t feel like you were being lied to you know, I missed that I feel like I’m lied to and it’s just a disgrace and it’s so overt every time this asshole opens his mouth he’s full of shit I mean America hired a bully and I don’t like bullies so bullies fall!… isn’t that gonna feel good when he goes down!
The Logo Creative — What’s your favorite design quote or quote in general
Aaron Draplin — Hmmm… Well we say “Try to keep this shit fun” try to keep this stuff fun because there’s gonna be a lot more people that make it kind of sucky you know a lot more people that don’t quite see the bigger picture such as “wow we’re lucky to do this” “we’re lucky to be alive” “these projects aren’t that bad” “life isn’t that bad” “you don’t need to send a thousand emails” etc etc savor the ones who can get past some of that shit you know savor the people around you that do make these jobs fun, and don’t let design become a big job I mean it’s gonna become a job so you pay your rent, keep something fun in there you know so when you’re on your free time at the house this isn’t just something to make a living, this is something that you do in your life for the love of it sometimes too, because then the other stuff there’s a delineation between, I’m on the clock and now I’m just doing this for fun because it’s funny that sometimes the stuff you do just for love you can make a living on that too you know so think about that a little bit you know this shouldn’t just be for a job
The Logo Creative — In less than ten words what is graphic design
Aaron Draplin — Hmmm… good, clear, concise, communication… what that’s four or five words? I think it’s you know, decoration on the cake, “what cake did you bake? make sure the ice is good, make sure the icing tells the story the right way…. yeah I would just boil down on the two words, good communication, good creative communication… how’s that?
The Logo Creative — What steps did you take to start your design business did you have to make any sacrifices
Aaron Draplin — Yeah I had to make sacrifices it was more like “I couldn’t get the biggest computer” or “I had to work really late” but sometimes you just didn’t really feel that stuff you’re so excited to be doing this you know sometimes other times you felt it, and you wanted to be home doing what like watching TV or whatever people do in their free time but I don’t know the sacrifices were more like, “wow my friends are having an awesome summer somewhere in the mountains or whatever they’re doing and I’m up in Alaska making money to save for a computer”
Well on that day I couldn’t buy me a computer and that’s the way that I got to it, well I guess that was a sacrifice but it was also an exciting time you know, to be up in Alaska is beautiful up there and you’re far from home and that’s kind of fun too but there were things, I mean remember then in the early 2000s you know friends would go out drinking or you know chasing girls or chasing guys whatever the hell the deal was. Friends are doing things and that was kind of working a lot you know so that’s where I started to get ahead and that’s allowed me some of the creative freedom I have today was to be able to get away from a situation where I was hating life at some job and I was able to make it on my own you know that was a big one for me.
The Logo Creative — Do you have any regrets is there anything you would change early on in your career
Aaron Draplin — hmmm… I don’t know really, I mean it’s a weird thing I feel so lucky to do this it’s hard to… I mean some regrets or like taxes, I screwed up on taxes a couple times… just don’t fuck with that stuff, you have to get the help! you have to get people who know what they’re doing helping you and you can’t mess around with it you know, and there are a couple years there where I either failed to file one time and had to pay a big penalty and I’ll just forever not only be embarrassed but being in fear of that because I was just chugging along you know, but you have to be proactive you have to be really good with the dates and the times and the things and then knock that stuff out.
The Logo Creative — If you go back in time what would you tell your younger self?
Aaron Draplin — Hmmm… just to enjoy this you know, yes work hard but don’t make it something that you hate you know.
Try to stop along the way, enjoy it have fun, don’t be afraid to roll the dice on yourself a little more, not every job has to be for money necessarily, you can trade for jobs, you can do all sorts of stuff, so I mean you just do stuff because you just really like the project and that becomes a thing to, so yeah I would say to lighten up a little bit you know, maybe go outside a little more cuz I’ve been inside a lot I mean it’s what I like to do.
The Logo Creative — What’s the most important piece of advice you have ever received as a designer that’s helped you?
Aaron Draplin — Yeah I guess that would have been going out of my own you know, a guy just kind of said hey you have the energy and the work ethic you can do this on your own why don’t you jump out work from your house and you have more time to do the things you like and you won’t be pretending to like this job that you’re kind of stuck in and that was really cool you know that was really cool because it just showed me that there were a lot of different ways to make a living out there.
Some big big rewards not necessarily paychecks more like being able to sleep at night not feeling creepy that we’re beating yourself up on personal performance issues or something you know, when you’re an agency there are people measuring you, that’s fine when I got on my own the only measurement I had was the client like “hey is this cool do you like this stuff?” “yes we got it done we loved it” and you get paid that was pretty and a lot fewer steps and that’s kinda what my friend was saying “it’s gonna take some work but you don’t have to be in some place all morning long, you can sleep in a little bit and then do your job from your from your basement” and that was 2004 for me and it happened it was a bit of a risk but I didn’t go into it blindly, and didn’t go into it just kind of saying “fucking it I’m gonna quit my job and just do this” …no… no like I saved money first made sure that I had some savings you know, like a proper almost adult would do you know cuz I was a little freaked out you know, and that would have been around 29, 30 when that kind of started 30 years old and it took off and it was incredible, and I clients list started to grow and the best part is I did it from my basement you know in my underwear …yeah!
The Logo Creative — What would be your advice for a new logo and graphic designers?
Aaron Draplin — Yeah yeah… you know look around you, you’re gonna have to carve out your own way, it’s not gonna be easy! but look around, you look at the emulating you know there’s, I have a whole army a little knucklehead trying to do what I do and sometimes they do it better sometimes they can’t do it at all you think it’s just painful, but you’re gonna have to make your own way you know I had to, I had to find things that are interesting to me and became my own version of something or whatever you want to call up you know, and it’s like call it I have to make my own way!
You’re gonna have to go make your own way that’s what I would say, enjoy it! have fun! know how to like button up for the big clients and do the work, and be a good worker and then know how to fuck off and do it on your own time and enjoy, just have fun with this stuff! know those two sides you know, and have a good file structure and don’t be afraid to go for it!