I can't really decipher anymore between what was work, and what was just fun to make.
Aaron Draplin just wants to make stuff that his dad will understand. Stuff that’s simple, shows a sense of restraint, and looks good on a billboard and on a 1-inch button. He is a man with a bold mouth, who shares his opinions freely, and puts out work that he believes in. He is the founder of Draplin Design Co. (DDC), and Field Notes Brand, a DDC / Coudal Partners collaboration. Earlier this month he gave a talk at the Walker Art Center as part of the museum’s Insights 2012 Lecture Series.
His lecture breakdown was listed under the title, “Shit we’re discussing for the next 76 minutes,” so we knew we were in for a good time. He talks about his history, his love of the Midwest, and the path he took from the time he washed dishes on the railroad in Alaska, to the time he realized he was making enough money from freelance to go out on his own. He founded DDC in 2004, with the motto: “Work hard and do good work for good people.”
If you look at DDC’s work—product design for Coal Headwear, snowboard designs for Ride, and a wide range of identity, tshirt, and poster designs—it’s easy to see a style emerge, one that is authentic, clearly conveys ideas, and is simply, fun. In his talk Aaron presents a series of ideas and challenges that get to the heart of why he loves the work he does. In the first, “What Really Matters: $$$ vs. 0.00 and What Means the Most in the End,” he tells the story about Cobra Dogs. Aaron branded Cobra Dogs, a hot dog cart business, for his friend Cory, with no cash involved—but it was a fun idea. He said, “We made the time to make him something cool. I look back now, at all this work, and this is the kind of work that I want to keep doing. It’s what matters. I helped my buddy. Did I make any cash? I helped my friend out, I didn’t make a cent. Think about that, think about what you want to make.”
In his second challenge, “Invent Your World: (Or, “Be The Client”) (Or, “Make Shit Happen”), Aaron recaps how he conceived Field Notes. Aaron has always collected vintage memo books (they remind him of a time when things were slower), and he has used them for years. So, he decided to make his own. He set Field Notes in Futura Bold (Aaron’s go-to “underdog font”), screenprinted a few hundred memo books, cut them, rounded the corners and gave them to his friends. He decided to give a stack to Jim Coudal—described by Aaron as “the amazing entrepreneur and general design and art badass”—and the rest is history. Jim saw something in the Field Notes Brand, believed in it, and helped take Aaron’s “goofy idea and make it a real idea.” At just four years old, Field Notes is now beloved, by designers and dads alike, for it’s straightforward design, functionality, and for the sense of fun the brand embraces. Check out the Field Notes short films that celebrate special-edition releases.
When Aaron thinks about the work he’s made, he says, “I can’t really decipher anymore between what was work, and what was just fun to make.” We love that. We hope that we always have as much fun as we’re having now with Kern and Burn and The People’s Pennant, to us it’s less like work and more like a daily adventure. We’re thankful that we get to discover things that we love about design, entrepreneurship, or the world in general, and share them with our readers.
Aaron’s talk is one of the most entertaining we’ve seen in a long time. It’s not often that we find ourselves laughing out loud when we listen to talks about design. So please, watch the talk, you’ll be happy you did. We’re pretty sure you’ll leave ready to accept Aaron’s challenges to “Invent Your World” and “Get Out There (And Get Dirty).”
Read up on Aaron’s daily antics on his personal blog over at the DDC.