Draplin’s talks are actually full-blown multimedia shows, and they’re intoxicating. At 11 am on a Saturday he accompanies his text-heavy slides with roaring rock music and makes them flicker by way too fast for you to actually read. Just a few minutes of this get your heart pumping much better than any morning coffee.
Repeat After Me
Aaron Draplin is pretty exciting. That’s maybe because he is very excited. When he speaks, he often repeats things three times.This “working class graphic designer” represents the good kind of American, the I-can-become-anything-I-want kind of American. Even his patriotism is adorable. He says: “This man-mountain worked for his country” when he tells the story of how he got a call and was asked to work on a logo for a huge campaign of the Obama government. The call came on a Wednesday, the logo was due on Monday. Draplin did 140 versions of the logo over night. Because he says: “Remember! Remember, remember: vectors are free!” And: “Then I get this email that says: “They like it” and I’m like: “Who’s they? Is it The Man or is it just the staff?!” He has worked for “the pres” but he still comes across as that kind of humble, blue-collar, approachable Midwestern guy who says he mainly works for friends and that those are the kinds of projects that stay around the longest. Like everyone in Portland, Oregon, Draplin has done work for Nike, too, but the logo he designed for his friend’s hot dog stand means a lot more to him: “He comes to me, he has no money. Before he comes to me, he went to the cool guys, the hipster guys, but they don’t take the job, because there’s no money involved.” Draplin takes the job: “I try to stay open to just helping people out – not everything is about money.” The Cobra Dogs Logo is 11 years old, it’s all over the American west and it made the friend’s mom happy.
Draplin says: “I kind of Saul Bass that thing and Paul Rand it a bit.” He also says: “That David Carson Bullshit of the 1990s”. And he advises us to know our heroes but to still “go junkin'” to search for and preserve examples of vintage graphic design created by unsung heroes, these relics of bygone times, times when there were still technical restraints, not a million typefaces and when nothing was ironic yet.
Invent Yer Life
The version Draplin gives us of his biography is all-American, too. A son of “counterculture hippies”, he grew up in a tiny town in Michigan. He wasn’t on a sports team, so he was a nobody. When he was 12, his family moved to a bigger town where he had more options: skateboarding in the summer, snowboarding in the winter. Moved to Oregon after high school, because that’s what you do if you’re serious about snowboarding. His first job was some snowboard graphic for 300 dollars. Didn’t have a computer so he went to Alaska in 1996 and washed dishes for four summers to be able to buy one for almost 10000 dollars.He picked Minneapolis to go to design school, even though everyone said New York and L.A. were way, way cooler. Minneapolis, that’s where the underdogs of design were, and the crusty bands. Had a couple of day jobs after college, started doing his own work on the side, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera … Eventually made more money freelancing than on his regular job, quit that job in 2004 – “And basically that’s when my life exploded. I got free.”
Graphic Designer, Draplin Design Co. (Portland)
Aaron Draplin reminds us: “You can start your own stuff!” And then tells us to go out there and get dirty. He knows we can do it, because he did. Eight years ago he took 2000 dollars to print 2000 notebooks, inspired by agricultural memo books that American farmers already used in the 1920s. Field Notes are sort of the American version of Moleskin, minus the Picasso-used-these, plus some prairie dust. And with a similar success: “Today we’re a real company, we’re all over America.”Draplin shows us a 84-item slide show of his work. Because it is like Erik Spiekermann said at the beginning: “He doesn’t just tell funny stories, but he actually backs them up with work.” The slides rush by to more guitar rock, which Draplin conducts nodding his head and punctuates with the occasional arm thrown up in the air. The audience air drums along.
As if that was necessary, the 84-item slide show is supposed to prove that Draplin knows what he is doing – even though he claims to have no credentials or professional accolades, he never won an award and has no book to sell. Awww, a book! The ultimate accolade. Well, actually, he just signed a contract: “I got a book deal! I got a book deal! I got a book deal!” The book will come out next year.
Draplin’s final words of advice:
- Work hard and love the shit you do
- Say yes a little more than you say no
- Do good work for good people