Tall Tales From A Large Man - Aaron Draplin22:31 with Mat Helme
Watch as designer Aaron Draplin of the DDC explains why working hard and doing great work for great people is so important to ones career.
[This Treehouse Friend's interview contains explicit language. Viewer discretion advised.] 0:00 [? music ?] 0:05 [Treehouse Friends] 0:09 [? music ?] 0:11 Here we are at the 4th annual In Control Conference in Orlando, Florida. 0:20 I am myself Mat Helme. I'm joined by 0:25 Aaron Draplin, and we're here to talk about some design. 0:28 How you doing, Aaron? 0:31 >>It's cool, man, it's under 70 degrees. 0:33 This is a dangerous climate for a man-mountain like myself to come down to. 0:37 >>'Cause you're coming from Portland, correct? 0:42 >>Yeah, Portland, Oregon. So I mean, coming down here, anything below that— 0:43 it's just tricky. 0:47 I have like February cutoffs and stuff for— 0:49 [laughter] Yeah, you know. I went to Austin in March one time, 0:52 never again. Never again. 0:56 >>So for those who don't know who Aaron Draplin is, 1:00 can you explain or describe yourself and what you do? 1:04 >>Sure, I know, like it's going to sound cooler than it is or something, 1:07 but I make logos, you know, I work for myself. 1:12 I'm 39 years old, I'm from Michigan, but I live out in Portland, Oregon, 1:17 and I work on—cut my teeth on—snowboarding brands, 1:20 and still do, and then I transitioned over into a lot of identity work. 1:25 And then, rolling the dice, I'm making— 1:30 I have a little memo-book company called Field Notes, 1:34 I work with Jim Coudal and a bunch of people way smarter than me 1:36 up in Chicago, and we make Field Notes memo books, 1:40 and all sorts of other crusty little pursuits— 1:42 posters, bad hats, as much as I can do to get away with it. 1:46 I don't like to wear pants, right? 1:50 So, the metaphor is that in my shop, you can come there and be comfortable 1:53 at all times. Clients, all of them, you know. And sure, I'm appropriate, 1:58 but it's more this bigger idea of like—Can you work and get away with it 2:02 and keep it kind of cool? 2:07 And I've been able to do it for over a decade. 2:09 That's it, yeah. 2:12 >>So how did you get started in design? 2:14 >>I come from a family that's pretty creative. 2:17 My dad, he sold tools all his life, but he was kind of a wood worker 2:19 and worked around the house on all kinds of cool projects— 2:25 Just a creative guy in his own right. My mom, too. 2:27 Basket weaving or whatever she was working on, 2:29 there's all sorts of things over our childhood. 2:32 But instead of video games when we were kids, we had LEGOs, 2:34 and we had colored pencil sets, lots of sketchpads and stuff. 2:38 Drawing—all my life I've been drawing. 2:43 So out of high school, you have to go pick some shit. Based on height, weight— 2:46 I'm going to be, what, a plumber or something, whatever— 2:52 [both laugh], based on IQ— 2:55 I knew I wanted to go into art, but I also knew I didn't 2:58 want to go into some sort of weird, 3:03 sort of heartbreak-illusion fine art world. 3:05 So, when you got a little deeper into what visual communications sort of was, 3:11 there was a trade quality to it that made sense. 3:17 Also, 19 is really where I learned how to use a computer. 3:20 I was on the cusp of this world—this industry behind me, 3:24 1 day behind where I came in, 3:29 1 horsehair brush to make a logo. 3:31 So I got to see a pretty distant, you know, like, oh man, 3:33 this technology coming in now is changing everything. 3:38 So I have a pretty big appreciation for basically all the people that lost a job. 3:42 And I've always kind of remembered that, so every little job I've had 3:46 in design, it's been a weird step to see how to use the tools as simple as possible. 3:52 You see what I'm saying? >>Uh-huh. [nods affirmatively] 3:58 >>To answer your question, that would have been 1993. 4:00 >>That's how you got started? 4:03 >>I mean, yeah, that's it, I mean it was like, 4:05 to go start getting jobs, I didn't really get a job for about 8 or 9 years. 4:07 I went snowboarding with my buddies first. 4:11 I went and worked in Alaska. 4:14 I had a job at a newspaper doing PageMaker. 4:16 It was a trade. 4:18 I mean, I wouldn't even call it a design job. 4:23 I loved it for that, you know. 4:26 So to go back to school to learn about, that there's this really finite 4:30 different focus set of directions that you can go in with this stuff, 4:35 making it, you know, publication design, or crazy crazy skittery scad— 4:40 this is the late 90s, you know—movie title design, 4:45 or whatever the hell people were doing back then. 4:48 You know, I picked print and logos, and function over fashion. 4:50 And, you know, got my 1st job when I was about 27, and have not looked back. 4:56 >>And what was your 1st job, your 1st gig, and how did you do that? 5:03 >>Well, there's degrees to it; my 1st job was sort of like 5:10 not having to dig a ditch. 5:13 My 1st job where it was a job I completely loved was for Showboarder Magazine. 5:16 I worked with a great group of guys, and I was an art director. 5:22 The title was—I was like the maker. 5:26 I just made all the pages. I did the art. 5:28 But then I got my 1st studio job, was with Cinco Design Office. 5:31 You know, they rolled the dice on me, and it was— 5:35 You see what I'm saying, there's different degrees. 5:38 Each one was a triumph for me, personally, but then— 5:40 My 1st studio gig—Each one of them I did long enough to realize 5:46 I want to go see what's next. 5:50 But when you get to the coolest one, Cinco, can I just go make it on my own? 5:52 So 2004—I've been on my own viciously since. 5:56 And I'm never going back. 6:00 >>So you loved freelance, and—>>funlance. 6:02 >>Funlance, there we go. 6:06 >>How about this? Just being open to like, kind of whatever, you know? 6:08 Big jobs, little jobs, ugly jobs, tough jobs, great kickass big loot jobs. 6:11 I'm kind of open to all of it, and, oddly enough, 6:18 if the guy doesn't have any money, I do a lot of those, too. 6:23 Where someone just needs help. 6:26 A friend or a colleague or somebody who's starting something cool, 6:28 I do a lot of that stuff, because there's just a beauty to 6:31 making someone look a little bigger than they are. 6:35 Or giving them a fighting chance with a good idea. 6:38 There's something subversive about that that I get off on. 6:42 Because that's what we did with Skateboard, and then Snowboard. 6:45 We made our own brands. 6:48 If it's not out there, you go invent it, and, man, I'm so thankful for that. 6:50 When people come to me, and we're working on something, I'm not really— 6:55 Sure, the loot's got to be right, If they're even in that category. 6:59 But changes, extra revisions—I'm not one to get too bummed out about that. 7:04 In the end, it's not digging ditches. 7:11 I did that. It sucks. I'm never going to—You know what I mean? 7:14 If I boil the shit down, it is such—It's such a laugh track. 7:17 I did this talk like 42 times last year. 7:23 I've got 25 gigs just up until June this year; we're in February. 7:25 And I'm going to go anywhere they'll have me 7:30 and just tell the kid small is okay. 7:33 Bigger—We're all gunning for the big job. 7:38 But why? So you can work more, so you make some principal a bunch of cash? 7:42 I don't even know if they've been in situations to understand what I'm even talking about. 7:47 You know what I mean? 7:50 Every dollar I make, they are from my hands 7:53 It might not be as cool as what—big shoe company,or fashion or some shit, 7:56 but it's my buddies sometimes. 8:02 Or it's some guy that just didn't have any sort of idea what he was doing, 8:04 and I could go in and not make him something that he couldn't manage, 8:08 just make it what was appropriate for his problem. 8:12 That's good design, too. 8:14 I get talking, man, I warned you. 8:17 >>You're passionate. >>Should I be interviewing you? 8:19 Where are you from? >>I'm from upstate New York. 8:22 >>Really? Whereabouts? >>Near Albany. Cobleskill, very small— 8:25 >>God, if you're here, who's guarding the town? 8:29 >>Uh, I got a brother. 8:30 [laughter] >>I'm going to go speak in Albany in the fall. 8:33 It's going to be great. 8:36 >>But I completely relate, because I'm coming from the same atmosphere, 8:39 and I think my 1st job was pulling weeds out of a field when I was 13. 8:42 So I know bad jobs. 8:49 [laughter] >>Or just how about, I don't know, there's just a bigger elephant in the room of 8:52 listen, listen, these things cost money to go to. 8:57 And that's cool. It's fun, everyone go to them. They're cool, it's fun to go see the shit and 9:00 get a goody bag and hang out, and you'll learn a ton of stuff. 9:07 But this idea of a kid getting right out of high school and then right into college 9:10 and right into a job, and I meet a lot of people who are sort of empty. 9:18 It's not about the money they're making; they want more creative control, 9:22 and stuff—I just haven't been able to indulge in that stuff. 9:26 Every stupid little job—pizza, chairlifts, whatever— 9:29 We were creative how we tackled it. 9:34 You learned to hate your boss, very creatively, in some shitty situations. 9:36 But you make it fun. We knew it was a stepping stone. 9:41 Now I meet these kids, you know, whatever— 9:44 I'm 39, I still feel like a kid. 9:48 But now I have to remind them, are you shitting me? 9:51 You're complaining, because—First, we get to work on nice computers, 9:54 you're clean, you're dry, you make a ton of cash, or enough, 9:57 and I think they might go back to their job and 10:01 look at it a little differently Monday morning. 10:04 I just have a lot of perspective. 10:06 Every job, I—Nothing ever feels like creative control or really bump someone out of— 10:09 Someone says, you know, well shit, we didn't like anything you showed us. 10:15 Well, okay, we go back to the drawing board. 10:20 I do it so much, I'm not afraid of that. 10:23 Sometimes I strike out, you know what I mean? You got to just keep fighting. 10:26 >>Now when you present projects to clients, is it usually face to face? 10:30 Is it usually through email? 10:35 >>Oh, man, it used to be buddies in the chairlift 10:37 would come down to Portland, and we would cage match in my basement. 10:40 So every little piece that we were, let's just say, allowed to make was a triumph. 10:43 It never felt like you're having to, like—You get to make it. 10:49 You would get to make this napkin. We get to, 10:55 it's just a napkin, who cares about the napkin? Who cares about the tag? 10:57 But we would take each one of those as a little opportunity to do something great. 11:00 When you have nothing, all of it tastes good, every little piece. 11:03 Now, all these years later, I can handle the guy on the phone 11:07 at Big Company X, no problem. 11:11 I'm a nice guy on the phone, I'll watch my language, I'll dot my i's on my emails, 11:14 I'll sign all the paper work professionally, all that kind of shit. 11:21 As much as the kid will just show up in my shop, I'm kind of up for whatever. 11:24 But strategically, I kind of like that no one's in the shop. 11:28 And I'm presenting to someone via PDF, 11:33 which is just—you know, the shit looks so good. 11:38 You kind of get drunk on a nice form on a nice big wash of white. 11:41 So I always try to make a little dirty element 11:46 and pound it into some concrete, pound it into some wood, 11:48 put it on a little embroidery or something— 11:51 Show some real context to these things I make, because 11:53 there's an asterisk that comes with every little round. 11:57 Let me talk to you first before you go and not quite get this thing or 12:00 miss the context or something. 12:05 So they're not in the shop, that's this new paradigm. 12:07 I don't have to live in Portland, I could live in the woods maybe 12:11 and still do this stuff, so I don't know. 12:14 When they're in town, they come in, I talk so much, as I'm doing right now. 12:19 It's fun. I loosen them way up, so they can just enjoy it. 12:23 It's logo, it should be really fun. 12:29 >>It seems like you design and thrive off passion for design, 12:31 and a lot of yourself goes into these pieces. 12:35 So I can completely understand how you're saying— 12:39 >>I meet enough guys who don't like their job. 12:43 They don't want to work. 12:46 I like it. It's hard for me to really—Much to the dismay of 12:48 family, girlfriends, friends, whatever— 12:53 Girlfriends, that sounds horrible. 12:56 My better half—there. You got 9 or something, you know, whatever. 12:58 Cut all that shit out—[laughter] 13:03 But just, much to the dismay of people around you, I can't 13:06 really deduct work from just enjoying it. 13:10 I worked last night until 2 in the morning in the room, and 13:17 there's nothing romantic about that. 13:21 I could go out and—what do people do, dancing and shit? 13:23 We're in Orlando, what do you do? You go out and have a nice meal, 13:27 maybe you take photos of coffee with your phone, 13:30 stupid things that stupid people do. 13:35 I can't—it's all a big game of just like getting away with it. 13:38 I have a hard time, I hear these guys wish more, whatever— 13:45 professionals aping their job. 13:51 Man, you're so lucky to do that. 13:54 That's their deal, you know. I know what I've got, I know what I could go grab, 13:56 and I keep it sort of—I bite off way more than I can chew. 14:02 But it's never too much—you know what I'm saying? I just have to work late. 14:07 >>Do you find yourself forming a process to creating these logos? 14:11 Do you do anything to maybe keep everything fresh? 14:15 >>Yeah, yeah. Sorry, I'm digging around at the sound guy back there, 14:20 losing it, but—there's an unsolicited advertisement. 14:24 You talk about this with your friends? 14:29 Come on—[laughter]—put that in there. 14:32 I'm working on things I don't know if I even want to show you. 14:34 >>We just won't show them. >>Well, you know, it's the idea of 14:39 I'm working on logos at all times, some goofy idea. 14:43 I'm always sketching, so the process might be— 14:46 I actually like plane rides now. 14:49 I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm a man of size. 14:51 I fall through the cracks, sure. 14:56 The plane, it's just packed in there, but I have 5 hours or 4 hours 14:59 to chip away at email, draw, sketch, make lists, analog shit in here. 15:04 And I've learned to use that really, really well. 15:11 I feel bad when I watch a movie on there. 15:14 When I get back to my machine, I've got stuff to go start building on. 15:16 I can sit down and just start vector, too, but that's not usually the best. 15:20 I invent things a little better than I would on paper starting 15:25 or just looking at other things—I mean, it's like if someone comes to me 15:32 and they have this little company X, as part of process, I do my research. 15:36 I say, "What do you want to be? 15:40 "What could you be? And what do all the other turkeys 15:43 "that you're going up against look like? 15:46 "Great, that's what you're going up against. What do you want to aspire to be? 15:48 Who makes the big bucks but looks like shit? Let's go look at them, too." 15:50 And we look at all that stuff, and that just gives me better targeting. 15:55 I'm bearing down on all that stuff. 16:01 Sometimes the funnest part should be actually making the things, but 16:04 I think it's this weird sense of like way-finding. 16:08 To say, okay, these little pieces of vocabulary now are fair game, 16:13 are strategically—they didn't use orange anywhere else in this. 16:18 Let's use some orange—or whatever that would be. 16:22 Sometimes it's really arbitrary. 16:24 I'd like to say it's some scientific 47-point plan or some shit, 16:26 but it's nasty. [laughter] And it can come to you at any time of day. 16:30 So I keep this really close to me. >>Do you find it coming to you a lot subconsciously? 16:34 >>Well, okay, this is going to sound—Put on your surreal filter. 16:39 This is going to sound weird, but—not that all this other shit sounded proper— 16:44 I dream logos. 16:50 I've sold a couple. In my brain, you're sleeping. 16:53 Great mysteries of the cosmos, and you fall off into this dead sleep, 16:58 and I wake up and I design something in my sleep. 17:03 Now get it on paper, and then oftentimes it's out there. 17:07 But I've sold a couple of those. 17:13 Where does that shit come from? So that is some subconscious shit. 17:15 I don't think dreams are as magical as people trump them up to be, but 17:18 that's been a great little one in the quiver. 17:22 That's a real kick in the ass, you know what I'm saying? 17:24 You work all day,—Or I've toiled over shit in a dream. 17:26 Like reworked something in a dream, you know like you do that, repetitive— 17:32 It's a nightmare at that point. 17:36 I'm kind of open to all of it. What I'm not open to is sitting down at 9:01 17:39 and leaving at 4:59. 17:44 I can do it creatively, sure. 17:46 But I'll play my guitars, look at records, look at bullshit, read blogs, 17:49 look at things, and start my job at 3 o'clock. 17:54 And then do 2 hours of the most concentrated nectar you've ever— 17:57 I just turn everything off, all the phones off, and piss my girlfriend off— 18:05 I was really working, and in that little hour or 2 hours, 18:10 I solve it all. 18:15 That might happen sometimes at 4 in the morning. 18:17 So bad, so bad for your body and shit, but I love that, too. 18:20 >>It's good design. >>That doesn't happen to insurance salesmen. 18:24 Maybe it does, I don't know. [laughter] >>It might. 18:27 >>Or web coders. 18:29 We'll have a little fun with these guys. 18:32 >>If you were to give any bit of advice or the best advice to someone just 18:34 starting out in the design industry— 18:40 >>Keep it fun. >>What would that be? >>Keep it fun. 18:42 You're lucky to do it. 18:45 Before I had to sweat figuring out how to make a payment with this stuff, 18:49 I loved it because it was just like—it was a hobby before it became 18:54 a fight. So the heartbreak one experiences when they get a big old 18:58 paycheck for 3,000 bucks, Uncle Sam takes a check, you have to pay some 19:02 stupid rent, this, that, you know, and you've got 47 bucks left over 19:07 to pay for your life, right? 19:12 That's some character-building shit. 19:14 That was a little less for me, because I kind of look at it as 19:17 I've got 47 bucks to do something awesome, right? 19:21 I still do. Get a book to design. Because I've worked other stuff always 19:24 kind of waiting. 19:31 Okay, we're going to do this winter pushing chairs, because that's going to get me 19:33 a free pass. 19:37 And we're going to go west in a year or something. 19:40 We have to work all summer long to save that money, and then 19:43 when you get there, it's like this idea of being cognizant of the moment. 19:48 I'm a grass-is-greener kind of guy, 19:51 but I also know how to stop myself and take a note 19:54 and really think about that time and— 19:58 Advice: Enjoy that shit while it's going down. 20:01 Enjoy the ugly, you know, and 20:05 don't let it become a job. 20:09 It's going to, it's going to. 20:12 As my dad used to say, put shit on you. 20:14 It's a stupid thing, but it makes it rough for you, it gives you a hard time. 20:17 Part of this position that you're in is being graceful with that. 20:21 Being able to—water off a duck's ass—technical term. 20:27 Let it bounce off. Whatever. Chances are they got some title because they're 20:32 lying, cheating, and stealing to get to that point. 20:37 It'll catch up with them. 20:40 I see young kids wanting the big job, but big isn't always best. 20:42 I'm giving out a lot of little pointers—I'm just trying to think of my day. 20:48 When we're done, I'm going to go back up and work. 20:52 The things that I savor are the phone calls with my buddies, 20:54 because they're my friends. Do I want to be on the phone 20:58 splitting hairs over some ad? Hell, no. 21:00 But that's the currency of their life, and in a lot of respects mine, too. 21:04 But I'm sort of thankful it's them. 21:08 When I have to get on the phone with some professional, I'm cool with it, too. 21:10 I'm just a little different. 21:14 >>Well, I thank you, for the great insight. 21:17 >>Do something nice with it. 21:21 Say nice things about me, you guys. 21:24 Cool logo, by the way. 21:26 >>How can we follow you? 21:28 You're on Twitter and Instagram? 21:31 >>I'm on the Internet. I'm draplin.com. 21:33 I got a cousin of mine every now and again who calls me and says, 21:35 "Hey, I think it's time that I got draplin.com for a while." 21:38 [laughter] I'm on Twitter as draplin. 21:41 I think I have Facewiz—Don't go to Facebook, it's just sick of all that shit, but 21:44 come to the site, it's daily, sort of. 21:49 It's all free rad content. I number my tweets, 21:51 because every tweet means something. 21:55 And I'm real tired of having to read about coffee. 21:57 And parting your hair, and shit that says LOL or fart, 22:00 or whatever serious shit you guys are tweeting. 22:05 So I number my tweets, and you won't get any tweets about sports 22:07 and that kind of shit on the Draplin feed. 22:11 A little something, but— >>Cool. Thank you, I appreciate it. 22:14 >>Thank you guys. I was going to go in for a kiss! Shit! 22:17 Did anyone die behind us? 22:20 [laughter] That was another— 22:23 [Treehouse Friends] [? music ?] 22:25
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