aaron draplin interview


designboom talk to aaron draplin of draplin design co. about his work and influences.


DB: please could you tell us briefly about the evolution of your work?
AD: I started out in print, laying out newspaper ads. loads of information, packed into small spaces. when I started making magazines in 2000, there was a mountain of information, photos and elements. I loved the pace and the challenge. I was comfortable with taking a lot of information and distilling it down into something readable, versatile and hopefully, fun to process. as the years have progressed, my focus is more and more on logos and individual elements. so I like to think my work has evolved from complex layouts down to simplified little forms. but man, I still know my way around a grid! try me, you punks!


each year has gotten easier, and as I’ve loosened up, things have become more and more fun. it’s funny how that works. I hope that is reflected in the stuff I get to make.



aaron draplin (DDC) interview

various logos by DDC



DB: what made you decide to form your own studio?
AD: I got a brief taste of the overarching politics, pressure systems and haste that so-called ‘organized environments’ can generate. and of course, how it can make a fun place very ‘unfun,’ and fast. it scared to me to hear how people would talk to each other. like, big time clients and shit, complete animals, and man, I remember sitting there thinking, ‘this isn’t for me. I want to work with my friends.’ so I took the necessary steps and professionally bowed out. and that’s when shit took off. it was scary making the leap, but deep down, I knew had to give it a shot.


aaron draplin (DDC) interview
all tiny creatures CD


DB: how did you come to work on the type of projects you do now?
AD: I know precisely how this came to be. before anyone ‘allowed me’ to make something fun, I was already doing it for myself. but this was ‘off the clock.’ when I was punched in, I was good little worker bee. your job is your job and you do what they tell you, over exceed and be a good co-worker. that’s always been clear. I was taught that at a young age.


on one hand, there are creative shortcuts and on the other hand, good ol’ red-blooded laziness. I never indulged in doing a half-ass job. I find it irresponsible and a let down to one’s potential. when I was ‘on the clock,’ either through pride or fear, I did a good job. but this was the ‘on the clock’ stuff. and some of it was dry and very much ‘by the book’.


‘off the clock,’ is where I was able to, uh… ‘soar with the eagles!’ yeah, that sounds about right. basically, I took advantage of my freedom to explore my creativity on my own time, at my own expense. no rules. no one looking over my shoulder. no one big-league-ing me. no ‘bottom line-ism.’


and this is what people saw. they saw the stuff I loved to make on my own time. and from each gig I did I would get another gig. all the way up to the latest projects I’m working on today. this stuff was a hobby long before it was a job. to this day, it still guides the way I work, how I look at the concept of ‘this stuff as work’ and how thankful I am to get to do what I do.



aaron draplin (DDC) interview
CD cover front


DB: how many people work in your studio?
AD: it’s just me making the stuff. my gal leigh handles the DDC merch shipments. thank you, lady. so much.


I’ve been told by people much smarter than me that I need to hire a couple scrubs to help out. and I have a couple times here and there. sure, it made stuff easier, but also, it took a good chunk of time to keep them busy. I think I’m better as a one man band, sweating out every aspect at my own halfwit pace.



aaron draplin (DDC) interview

CD cover back



DB: how would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
AD: this is a tough one. I think this stuff is so open to interpretation. I’d like to think that people would see a refined sense of simplicity, a respect for the simpler days, clever functionality, an attention to detail and the ability to laugh at one’s self. I take what I do very seriously, but also, understand that in the bigger picture, you just sort of have to chill the fuck out. and, if they look really close, I took care of each point, edge and chunk of type. or, at least that’s what I’m trying to do. I give a shit. I hope that shows.



aaron draplin (DDC) interview
record sleeve


DB: what is your favorite type of project?
AD: it’s when you get the sense that the client trusts you and your sensibilities. they do what they do. and you do what you do. and they trust that you’ll make them something that’s just the right fit. there’s no question that you are the person for the job. and hell, in the case when that point person on the other end is overbearing and fidgety and all that, I work hard to make them comfortable and illicit an instant ownership for them in the process. I say ‘yes’ all the time. that’s my job. I’m on the clock for them. if they want a change, I show them options. and, I never show them something I wouldn’t pick myself. and together, we make something that solves their problem, and, if I might indulge myself for a second, kicks ass!



aaron draplin (DDC) interview
space shuttle poster



aaron draplin (DDC) interview
space shuttle stickers



DB: do you think it’s important for a graphic designer to be able to draw?
AD: of course. there’s something liberating about the pencil on paper. in a world where everything is some binary byte, there’s a randomness and vulnerability to drawing. a humanity. I feel free on paper. sure, my adobe illustrator is my second plan of attack, but I always start on paper. just fleshing out my ideas, pointers and reminders of stuff not to forget when I dig into illustrator. sketch first. vector that shit up second! then refine, refine, refine…


I recommend field notes brand memo book for your sketching needs. and penmanship practice. and loose notes. and weird schematics. and gambling debts. and treasure maps. and logo sketches. and autographs. and whatever else. field notes, people. we’re serious about this stuff!



aaron draplin (DDC) interview
field notes notebooks and merchandise



DB: how do you think the popularity of online design resources have influenced design being produced today?
AD: more and more and more, I see this incredible environment where folks can teach themselves this stuff. without art school, the pecking order bullshit and the bloated school loans. I went back to school because I thought I had to. things felt incomplete. and for me, it was the beginning of a whole new life. I needed it. I needed the guidance and some direction how to refine all the shit I taught myself into a lethal skill set. so man, I recommend school all the time.


I’m hesitant to say this — but I don’t know if going to art school is completely necessary anymore. I’ve met so many self taught, incredibly talented designers. and how’d they learn this stuff? the same way I did. by exploring, experimenting and just plain going for it. no school taught me that hunger. for me, school refined things. but man, I don’t even know where my diploma is? it all comes down to your book and how you make it available for consumption.



aaron draplin (DDC) interview
field notes notebooks



DB: besides design, what are you passionate about and why?
AD: oh man, a ton of stuff… seeing my parents as much as possible. I live a long way from home. I grew up in michigan and have to fight to get home as much as I can, or, bring mom and dad out to portland to hang out.


making time for fun stuff with leigh. my gal is a tough cookie. I work a lot and she exhibits a patience that I know I couldn’t pull off the other way around. let’s go on vacation. or, I’ll just work until I die.


seeing my nephew oliver grow up! I don’t have the words to describe the affinity I have for the little guy. to see how attentive my sister leah is raising him, how he lights up my parent’s eyes and how the little shit has brought us all a little bit closer is something that just blows me away. cycle of life! oliver james!


record collecting. I have a monster record collection, and at any time have 15-20 new records on the player, circulating through my life. I’ve always got some music playing while I work. I can’t imagine an environment sitting there listening to water coolers gurgle and all that. nightmarish.


playing guitar. I keep my martin d-35 at an’s arm’s reach at all times! lately, I’ve been getting into fender jazzmasters, weird effects pedals and turning shit up. I’ll play along with songs, learn a little part, then forget that fast. and so it goes.


sharing my story. I’ve been on one hell of a speaking tour. at these words go to print, I’m up around a 100 speaking fiascos under my belt. and the offers keep coming in! last spring spring, I did a 27 date tour! this upcoming fall, I’m up to 20 shows! so fun. I love meeting people and connecting with some punk kid who’s freaked out in school, or having a hard go. I wish I could’ve heard some of the shit I say when I was 19! I sort of had to go discover it, awkwardly. thank you to all the brave fuckers who have come the the shows. means the world to me.


self sustainability. be it through field notes, space shuttle graphics, ‘things I love’ posters, or weirdo DDC merch. items, I’ve built a little world that pays my bills. this is aside from client work. sure, I still take juicy jobs, but man, more and more, there’s this opportunity to invent ways to cover life expense, and on a bigger note, invent your own world, and path. so thankful for this.



aaron draplin (DDC) interview
festival poster



DB: if you weren’t a graphic designer what would you like to do for a living?
AD: someday, I’ll make pizza again. I loved making pizza. my first job in high school, until I graduated. I miss those days. there’s a little pizza shop down the road from my house, and over the years, I’ve gotten to know one of the managers. one time picking up a pie I asked the guy, ‘you guys ever need any help?’ he knows what I do and stuff and he gave me this weird look. I was serious! I’d love to go in on saturday nights to help out for the rush! and damn, would donate the loot or hell, just trade out for pizza. I loved making something. physical.


anytime I’ve been able to build something for an art show or around the house, I get a weird little buzz. I like wood. I like thinking through the parts and how to make them. sanding wood is insanely satisfying? wow. so, maybe some kind of woodworker? building stuff? at some point, I’d like to build myself a house. a place fit to live out the rest of yer damn life!



aaron draplin (DDC) interview
self promotional poster


DB: what is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
AD: ‘you can do this stuff on your own, man. you don’t have to play their game.’ -a portland buddy


he was referencing was the whole studio game. and on a bigger level, the idea that my take from my contribution wasn’t seven close to 1;1. I was a worker bee and in the end, someone else took the lion’s share. every dollar I make goes to me. it’s all accounted for. no mystery.


DB: what is the worst piece of advice you have ever been given?
AD: nothing really comes to mind. I’m not easily led. I think shit through, hemming and hawing on decisions a little too much. so anytime the advice felt bad, I quickly shed it and made my own stupid, little plan.