Episode 14: Aaron Draplin
In this episode, Dan and Aaron discuss dropping the jargon and talking about graphic design in normal terms, how Aaron uses Instagram, why he doesn’t waste time policing the internet, why he believes everyone deserves great design, who inspires him, and the challenges of shipping merch and managing work while touring.
This episode is brought to you by MyFonts, the world’s largest font marketplace. The MyFonts team is always on the lookout for talented folks like yourself to bring into the MyFonts family. If you’ve always wanted to sell your fonts but didn’t know how to get started, drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how they can help walk you through setting up shop.
Links Mentioned in Overtime:
- Aaron Draplin’s Website
- The Big Orange Van
- Draplin Design Co. on Twitter
- Aaron on Instagram
- Aaron’s book Pretty Much Everything
- Nick Slater
Dan: You’re listening to Overtime, Dribbble’s official podcast. I’m your host Dan Cederholm. This is Episode 14, and we’re talking with Aaron James Draplin of the Draplin Design Company. He’s usually based in Portland, Oregon, but he’s currently on the road on tour promoting his new book: Pretty Much Everything. We were fortunate enough to be able to grab some of his time while he’s trucking along in his orange van through the heart of America. It was really fun to talk to Aaron, who’s just been a powerhouse in the branding world. Tons of insight, lot of laughs, wonderful episode. I hope you guys enjoy it.
Today’s episode is brought to you by MyFonts, and if you’re a regular Dribbble user you know that interesting, high-quality typefaces come from designers of all stripes, whether they’re full-time type designers or graphic designers and illustrators trying their hands at things. There’s a vibrant community out there making incredible letter forms.
Over at MyFonts, they love designers who are out there creating awesome fonts. In fact, they’re always on the lookout for talented folks like yourself to bring into the MyFonts family. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or first-time type designer, MyFonts is a great place to sell your designs, with millions of customers and a team of type-loving industry experts to help you get up and running. The MyFonts team will help you market your fonts to customers all around the world.
So if you’ve always wanted to sell your fonts, and I know a lot of you do but didn’t know how to get started, drop the MyFonts team a line at email@example.com to learn how they can help you get setup and start selling some fonts. Brought to you by MyFonts, the world’s largest font marketplace. Special thanks to MyFonts and our friends at Monotype for sponsoring this episode.
Now let’s get back in the orange van with Aaron James Draplin.
First of all, thank you so much for doing this.
Aaron: Sure. I know you guys have weight behind you, of course.
Dan: To some extent, but I know you’re really busy. I know you’re in high demand, and the fact you were just –
Aaron: Just say something like Draplin told me there’s not even enough time to stop and use the Skype at fucking Panera Bread. No, the whole new window was from Ohio, something stupid like that. I have to say it’s kind of true. It’s so stupid. I’ve been looking forward to it.
Dan: We should just get into it because we’re going to miss some stuff. Welcome to Overtime, Aaron Draplin.
Aaron: Hello, everybody.
Dan: This is a special episode because you’re literally calling in from the road, from your van, right?
Aaron: That’s just a filter I downloaded. Don’t worry about it. It’s a filter that I went and got from some new filter site where you can make it sound like a shitty orange van doing north on I-75. You can hear all the ambient noise, all the rappers, and Starbucks shit, ice clinking and stuff. That’s happening right this second. I feel embarrassed because it is so nuts out here. We didn’t even have time to stop at our beloved Panera Bread. Aren’t you in Boston or Massachusetts or something?
Dan: Salem, Massachusetts.
Aaron: We were there. I’ll tell you now some of the most ferocious parking I’ve had to deal with. It’s not necessarily Massachusetts that the drivers are old people. It’s not necessarily trying to park on some shitting Boston or Boston suburb street. No, it’s trying to park at a Panera Bread in Massachusetts north of Boston. That’s been the worst. These people cut you off, giving you dirty looks, flipping you off. And that was just in a Panera Break parking lot.
Dan: So north of Boston is where I am. That’s interesting.
Aaron: Were in Salem for the day.
Dan: No kidding? So your book came out. You’re on tour. You’re driving across the country in an orange van, which by the way is – I don’t think anyone brands better than you do. I think the fact you’re driving an orange van with the DDC branding on it is pretty amazing.
Aaron: We were pulling through some Starbucks drive through the other day and a guy pulled up, Stanley Steemer. Those things are all yellow. Me and him were looking at – we were trading notes, looking at each other, nodding at each other, and shit. I was like dude, that’s a nice paint job. He’s got the all-yellow Stanley Steemer. Got a little hand wave, like how you doing. When I see a white stock Econoline Ford van, I don’t even look—Some day when you’re at my level, when you go to Maaco where you get the factory paint job, then we can talk. So stupid. I’m sorry.
Dan: This is going to be a nightmare to edit for me because I’m just going to be laughing.
Aaron: Oh, yeah.
Dan: I remember seeing your talk a couple of times over the years, like it’s full of your personality and just humor is a big part of that. But also talking, speaking normally I should say, or talking normally about this graphic design profession you’re doing. It’s really refreshing to be honest, because you can get bogged down in so much process and academic speaking about making logos and stuff. Your approach and the way you describe it, the process is really refreshing.
Aaron: Thank you. Here’s the deal. I remember being in school. We would bring people in, and we would have a lecture or workshop or something. And they weren’t fun. They were very guarded. Then the semantics for let’s say the verbiage, the output in that workshop was different than their lecture that night. Yet it was different than how you talked to them before the workshop and between the lecture. You would see sort of four different kinds of people. Yes, sometimes people get up and talk about their work, being recorded, and transmitted and official, it’s different than how you would talk. I want to diffuse the idea that – here’s the deal. I could get up and try to talk about the mechanics of how to make a logo and the process. Or I could give them a pencil and pen and say see what happens. Let’s just see what happens. There’s something about that. When you see someone invent something, and then I say great, that crusty little thing you invented, now I’m going to show you how to make kinds of logos.
Now that’s giving away a lot of secrets but I don’t give a shit about that. I want a kid to feel like he could be infinite the way I feel infinite an illustrator or designer, the way I felt because I bought the programs – no, I got the computer in ‘96. It was infinite because one year before that it was as far as a pen and black ink would take me, or a brush and black ink or a pencil. I took it as far as I could, a little shit illustrator, but I wasn’t an illustrator. I just liked to draw and paint.
But I got the computer and then it was one giant tool. The idea that when we’re in these things, how do you explain – I remember a guy in high school, ninth-grade English class, where he said, “Write a paper about how to tie your shoes.” It was insane, but what he showed us is it’s not easy to tie your shoes. It’s not easy to talk about how to tie your shoes.
The same thing with a logo. Until you just put the fucking shoe laces in your hands, and you say no, you loop that one – and that’s been a study my entire life about how to write copy for something. I would trip my old buddies and brands and say, “You guys, just tell me why the hat’s cool.” I would be recording on my cell phone, and then say that’s our copy, because it was as authentic as it needs to be.
The guy would say what’s great about this is it has this cool little kickass back loop, and I just wrote every word down. I said if we try to write this thing like a copywriter would, number one, we’re going to lose the craft. It’s going to sound painful. We’re not copywriters. No, we’re people that made a cool hat. Let’s talk like that.
We did that for years. It’s a funny trick but that’s the same way I would approach how I would go making a logo. There’s basic laws of decorum of how you sit with a client and how you talk and how you listen, just listen. Take notes, back and forth. Sometimes take it on the chin, and you can cover that really easy. Be gracious when someone is going to take your logo for a spin.
I just made a logo for a comedian. He opened the logo up in Photoshop and he added some lines and goodies to it, and it was really tough for me because I’m trying to show him my best foot forward. But he liked what he made better than mine. At that point, who is the end user? It’s him.
Dan: He’s got to live with it.
Aaron: He’s got to be the person to wake up with it every morning. At that point, am I designing for me ego or does he love it? If he loved it, the job just might be done. That’s when these things get dangerous – it’s terrifying to me that someone’s going to open the file up. I’m kind of open to that sometimes. If it’s been murdered I’ll say stop and say here’s why on a functional level this doesn’t work, but on a ego level it was cooler before, so here let me show it to you on Twitter, on a mug, and on a sweatshirt. Oh, now do you see it?
Dan: I hear you. That’s really good advice. I love that about when you explain your work through your book, speaking, and everything. It really comes through in terms of your ego is not playing into this. The end user is what’s important. They’re going to live with this, and it’s for them. But I also loved your stories about just designing logos for friends and stuff, and how I think you described it as design can elevate, can make something look much bigger than it really is. Myself, I’ve always loved that about creating stuff on the web. You don’t really know who this person is. This person looks like a giant company but they’re really just this kid with a good logo.
Aaron: That is a magical thing. I experienced it. That’s all marketing is. You take a good idea and get it out there to everybody or see an idea that isn’t going to work, and smooth it over, or whatever. It’s almost like you’re saying this is this thing you’re holding, but actually, it means this.
That’s kind of subversive and weird, the idea that you can go – I don’t need to say that piece of shit you’re holding is actually something really nice. No, it’s more like our piece of shit has just as much soul and spirit as the as the major label piece of shit that – you can kind of smell that, they just phoned it in. I love that idea. Look at us now. I can’t tell if Dribbble is as big as things you hear about on C-SPAN or something. I wouldn’t know. This is a weird compliment, but the buttons have flipped the thing in the process, but it doesn’t come after me and make me want to sign up or not sign up for it. It’s like if it was exclusive – I’ve never opened a Dribbble account, but when I go to the kid sent me his link and look at all the fun stuff for a kid draws my face. This is a fun search to do.
Dan: Yes. You are on there. You’re not on there but you are on there.
Aaron: I love that stuff. I feel guilty when I don’t have an account to come and say hey, thank you for shaving 92 pounds off of me, my friend. Or the idea where I’ll see – this is some tricky stuff, but I have kids tattle on me – or tattle on a kid and say go put Dribbble in for this thing; he’s ripping you off, and I want nothing to do with it.
It’s like listen. Before the internet, if you don’t think I went and tried to emulate Chuck Anderson of House Industries, I couldn’t say it with a straight face. Of course I did. I still do. That’s how you learn. That’s how it becomes fun or whatever. Then the moment you feel shame and go I shouldn’t be doing that, I need to learn from it, and then make my own flavor. I’m not going to go onto that Dribbble and leave nasty comments. I don’t want to be a litter bug. I don’t want to worry that some kid can’t come up with that yet. He’ll get there. Sadly, some kids might shame him. I want nothing to do with that stuff.
Dan: That’s an interesting perspective on that.
Aaron: Kids want me to go police it. I’m not going to do that. That’s weird.
Dan: First of all, you’d have to police a lot because you’ve reached a level where – and your body of work is so large that you – a lot of people are going to try to emulate you, of course.
Aaron: A lot of it is very good natured, and there’s fun little tributes, but people have to realize I did not invent some thick line – I just made a hashtag. That’s all. I did not invent some goofy oversimplified little line form. No, I find those in the bottom of cardboard boxes and then try to make those activate now. You know what I mean? That’s all.
Dan: You’re still junk diving. That’s like a lifelong tool you have.
Aaron: Sickness. Sickness.
Dan: For inspiration. Your Instagram for instance is really inspirational for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is the stuff you find. Not only that, but you think to document it. Let’s share this with the world, because this is really cool. It’s of the ordinary perhaps or it’s some kind of style we haven’t seen in a long time. But it needs to be seen. It’s worth being seen now still. That’s a real service.
Aaron: It’s a weird thing how you look at – I look at Instagram as a weird deck of cards. What I don’t want to do is you’re not going to hold 54 cards in your hand when you go to play your hand. You hold five or four or three. The idea that I don’t want to be bandwidth abuse. I’m not going to name names, but sometimes you go through this stuff and like listen, you don’t need 19 photos of your kid’s event. You don’t need it. You can show three great ones, and you’re going to get people to – they’re not going to be exhausted.
The idea that I try to sell something, try to promote an event because people need to help the bandwidth, that’s my job. It’s awesome, and then you’re going to see stuff, every four or five posts that’s just stupid, that’s just for the hell of it, that’s just because I found it. I want to share it, I want to show it. Love to talk about this stuff because that’s not just me taking a shit load of pictures. No, I took it in Photoshop, made sure it was straight. Made sure it had crisp quality. I made sure it looked good. I want it to be curated. I want to share that with the impact. Something that kills me is when you see somewhere on their big holiday and vacation they take a picture of the beach. The horizon is off by seven degrees, like have a bit of craft, man.
Dan: I’m with you there.
Aaron: It’s like a typo. An engineer made a thing that says okay – this person who had Instagram said no, you touch this thing. It gives you a grid. Use the grid. When you go to use your tweets, have a little respect for people who craft punctuation. Have a little respect. Be creative with that shit. The thing with Instagram is I want a kid who trusts me with their time. They’re going to be surprised, or it’s going to be crafted and fun. Sometimes it’s just a simple retweet, re-Instagram of whatever you call it, a re-gram.
If you watch the rhythm not too long after you’re going to get something just because you’re my buddy. You know what I mean? That’s how I look at it. I don’t want it to be this bullshit where I’m only up trying to sell, or I’m only trying to be controversial, or my name is only known as someone who goes and is a litterbug.
Some people, that’s their identity. I don’t know what it is with these fucking Yale grad students, man. Oh, man, I’ve had a couple little tussles in a back alley – on a comment feed with a couple of those knuckleheads.
Dan: I bet.
Aaron: The funny part is what they don’t realize is they’re slathered in some of the luckiest thinking in the world, and the best they could do is go knock down some rat kid who’s emulating me. Or knock me down because I made something that was basically a hyperbole. It’s weird. That’s their best output? They need to spend their time making a good portfolio for themselves. That’s just me. I’ll stop.
Dan: Burn. I love it. I think your attitude is really healthy on that. Otherwise, you’d bogged down with trying to police things, comment, and follow up. Once you start on that path, there’s no stopping. We found that with Dribbble itself. We get dinged on Twitter all the time about a lot of stuff. It blows over, and then the world keeps moving. It’s not the important part.
Aaron: If I’m laying in bed, and this is going to sound – this is some territory where someone might say you’re thinking a little too big than what you are. Here’s the deal. I watch how a kid reacts if I got put a heart on a photo they took of something they made. If you don’t think for one second that I noticed when the framing lips started to follow me 11 years ago or something, I did, and it changed my perspective about music, life, and connection, and the idea that I can go and give a kid a nod and say hey man, awesome work. Keep it up.
About a week ago – I don’t think that did this for this kid because this guy has a good following, and a very talented – when people ask me who is your favorite designer, I can go to all the big names. I can wax about Paula Shear (ph.). I could wax about – in an interview I said no, it’s a kid named JPEG Fletcher. I don’t even know if he has a first name. This guy is good. He is good. You go see the small movies he makes, and they are – I’m taking notes. I’m looking at it and going I did not see that twist. I’m not going to try to redo it because I can’t out JPEG JPEG Fletcher. I can’t. I could try but there’s something elegant there. I loved – I just wanted to have to say something to this guy. This sounds horrible, but I can’t remember if I met him or not. But I love his work. I find myself going back to it.
I got to meet Julian Montague through the Montague Project when I was in Buffalo. I am a fan. We’re about the same age, and I just love his humor and his wit, his dry sort of wry quality to what he’s doing. That’s who I promote, when someone says who should we go look at. I say, “Man, go watch JPEG, you’re going to be blown away. He’s got some tricks there.” I met him at Creative South last year. His name was Nick. He is from Pennsylvania, I want to say. He has Corgis. I can’t remember his last name. He has a monster following. He is a nice, sweet kid, and his work is incredible. Sometimes people attack me and say oh, that guy is – I saw a comment some years ago where he’s doing what Draplin does. When I met him, I just put my hands on his shoulder and said, “Listen, you inspire me and you do awesome work. You don’t listen to any of that shit because we’re all looking at the same bunch of stuff.” If you don’t think for one second I saw some dumb Day’s Inn sign – if you want to know my secrets, go look at the Day’s Inn sign about seven years ago. There you go. Secret’s out. Sorry. There you go. I love that sign. I’m sorry.
Dan: Is that why you’re on the road, just to see that sign?
Aaron: We’re just waiting to see it. You want to see a new piece of shit? Look at the new Best Western rebrand. Sorry everybody, whoever’s listening, but it’s rough. It’s maroon, and it’s just rough. It used to be so great.
Dan: I hate when that happens. What about Dairy Queen? I miss the old Dairy Queen logo, or even Arby’s.
Aaron: Who doesn’t love to go get a Dairy Queen every now and then. You don’t go every night but now and again you need to go. I know it’s all comical shit, whatever, but what have you got left? Every now and again. You go to Portland, Oregon, you go to a place called Salt and Straw. There’s a line wrapped around the building. You get up there and get a little goddamn golf ball of ice cream at seven bucks. They’re nice people. The type is beautiful. They’re shit, I’ll destroy a whole bucket of it. But why can’t you go to Baskin’ Robbins every now and again? It’s like a bad word just to go to a Dairy Queen and you’re in and out in seven minutes. I get made fun of in Portland because I’ll say we’re going to Safeway. What do you mean you’re going to Safeway? You’re supposed to go to Whole Foods or whatever. It’s Safeway. It’s flour. It’s eggs.
Dan: It’s not artisanal.
Aaron: Everyone is just in such a battle to see who can be the most original. To just cinch that up a bit, that Nick kid, I just wanted to tell him I love what you do. I loved how much output Josh does and how impressive that is to me. When I meet him, he is a complicated individual. He has some scars. He tells you about stuff.
I love him that much more for that, and I don’t go bug the guy all year long. I don’t need to know his shoe size and shit, but I look at him every day. And every day he offers up new designs. I could just tell him, “hey, man, you are working it out. You are 30-years old, and you’re already doing this stuff. Keep going because your feed (ph.) is beautiful.”
I could list seven kids who just kind of bummed me out because I’ll make something or watch someone else make something, and then I’ll see their versions of it. It’s kind of like guys, you already have the talent to make your own shit. You’ve just got to think up your own shit. The same goes for how people – to get out of that and then jump into how people – you can’t even go to a Dairy Queen anymore. Dairy Queen used to be a delicacy for some town that didn’t have any ice cream. There was nothing else.
Dan: It was the only game in town.
Aaron: Now you go and see it’s like we’ll you can’t have that shit every night, but it’s not a dirty word. I’ve been messed with because I defended Walmart. I defended the idea that Walmart deserves good design just as much – I know the top seven people have more wealth in all of Arkansas, Missouri, and Dubai or whatever the hell it is, the top seven brothers and sisters of Walton or wherever. I’ve heard that shit too. Here’s the deal. America shops there. Some people can’t afford Target. They deserve good design too.
Dan: It’s the only store in town or within 20 miles.
Aaron: That’s your option. So the idea someone goes there with their family; they deserve that. I would never ever elevate – that’s called a democratization of design. It’s a very interesting almost academic approach because it’s like wait a second. Too many times design is only for those who can afford it. That scares the hell out of me. I’m lucky. I’ve had a good run. I saved all my shit because I was always scared it was going to go away. I can afford a bunch of bullshit I never thought I could afford. That’s not the case for a lot of people. The idea that when you go to a Subway and get a sandwich for five bucks, the paper looks good, the coffee is nice and shit. I meet a kid once a year who works at Subway. He apologizes to me for it.
I always stop him and say, “I’ve met you four years in a row now. No more of that shit. Why do you stay there?” “There’s good benefits.” “That’s pretty cool. You’re inside, you’re clean, you’re on Macintoshes. On top of that, the feather in your cap that construction workers go into Subway to get their lunch and they have a nice experience. That’s what you’re doing.” I go once every six months. But some people go a lot because that’s what they really like or can afford. I got made fun of in art school because I was excited at the prospect of getting a job making catalogs for Cabelas. Fucking A, day one you get some orange vat of PMS fluorescent orange 803 or whatever the hell it is, big 50-gallon drum of that shit. All right, let’s get to work. Cabelas fits me. I can find 3X, 2X there. You go to goddamn numb-nut emporium and they have the waste sizes of 28 to 36. That’s like seventh grade to me.
Dan: I should start shopping at Cabelas then because I need –
Aaron: 20-inch waist. Where the fuck does the spine and the spleen and shit go in a 28-inch waist? Where the hell does he even get—tubes and shit. Sorry. Dan, rope me back in.
Dan: I don’t know if I can. There’s so much to go on.
Aaron: I’ve been waiting for this for two weeks. I thought we were going to meet in Newfoundland. I thought we were going to meet in Jackson Hole. I’ve been practicing. Can you imagine us at some Grand Teton expanse? I look at you and we have this Brokeback Mountain moment or something out there? I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Dan: That’s what I was hoping for. At the same time, you’re on a mission. You’re on a tour, and you’re a busy guy. Just taking this time with you is amazing. Just hearing from you from the van is awesome.
Aaron: I hope it sounded okay, and I hope I didn’t get too weird. We have to go find all the links for JPEG Fletcher. I can’t remember Nick’s last name. He’s an incredible guy. He’s got a big-ass following. I’ll look it up.
Dan: Is it Nick Slater?
Aaron: Slater, that guy rips. I look at his stuff. On top of that, when I met the kid, I was like don’t worry about that stupid shit.
Dan: Super nice guy. Met him once.
Aaron: He’s a lover of long dogs. He’s a lover of his beautiful lady, and he’s a good guy. I met him and I’m a fan. He’s wild. I just want to be a fan. I watch how kids use these things to go and police each other. I get it. It’s very natural. But I want to be a fan. While we’re out here doing this, it’s fun to go tell kids what you do. No one ever told me. Some people did. There’s nothing wrong with being smart. It’s the idea that they didn’t feel human at times. I like the idea of being able to say I worked all night last night, and then I drove all day today, setting shit up. We’re pretending to be a band. That’s pretty much what it was.
Dan: That’s what I like about it too. You’re on tour literally like a band would do it, and you’re bringing the merch with you.
Aaron: It’s once in a lifetime. The idea that – that’s what I said in the fall, for 34 shows, and now it’s the second them there was 42 shows. You’re starting to see there’s a model here we can actually pull off. The first time we did it, I didn’t think it would happen. We strung shit together, so now we’re just being careful about we don’t turn it into 34 to 42 to 56. We’re going to do two weeks. We’re going to do 11 shows, and then we’re going to be done. One big loop, start in Portland and come back to Portland. We’re going to get all the waistband of America. We’re going to Salt Lakes and shit, and then we’re done. Then we did everything. Of course, I already have guys calling from Winnipeg saying when the fuck you coming back to Winnipeg. Oh, man. I’m screwed up.
Dan: You’re too popular and in demand, for good reason.
Aaron: People won’t go to Winnipeg. It’s cold or there’s money involved. I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as I like getting on a plane. Tonight, right now I have 400 emails in my inbox. I didn’t get to work yesterday because we did a big deal in Nashville, did a big marketing conference. The day before that I did a big deal at Red Pepper in Nashville. These are booked showed, 35 and 36 of the tour, whatever it was. I wasn’t allowed to find two hours, my nightly two hours to go peck away at my emails. This morning when I replied to you that’s the important ones.
Dan: Well, geez, now I’m feeling real thankful.
Aaron: You are real lucky.
Dan: You’re going to crazy places like you said, like Newfoundland and Jackson Hole.
Aaron: Tonight from Detroit to Toronto, that hour-and-twenty-minute ride, it’s a sickness but I’m looking forward to it. Once you get in the air, I can peck away and get that 400 – 59 of them are spam. 59 are kids that want to show me something. I have form letters. Or sometimes they’re a little offensive and I just delete it. Or sometimes it’s the mechanics of sending out a 1099. I’ll have that thing back down to a nice 90 to 100 after two hours somewhere. If I don’t touch it tonight, whatever happened over the course of today’s Friday, I’ll have 600 things to deal with. It’s weird. It’s getting less and less because of the tour, but when we started the tour, that meant 42 shows and each thing – each point person is trying to line me up, get Instagram, Twitter. Don’t forget to talk about this beer brand. They donated all the beer at so-and-so. All these funny little things, well that’s me. That’s just me and it’s crazy.
Dan: It really is just you.
Aaron: I’ve got my beautiful, loving, patient, compassionate better half Lee, she did all the merch. She does all the merch. She does all the merch from the road. This morning before we could leave Nashville, we had to find a post office, so all the shit she did while I was doing the workshop yesterday, she could jump into and –
Dan: You’re shipping merch while you’re on the road, from wherever you are.
Aaron: Yes, we are.
Aaron: Next time you’re at a Target in some undisclosed town in some hellhole, instead of going out the front way, go around the back. Want a little surprise? You might find that Draplin Design Company fidgeting behind the orange van. That’s what we did. We would go behind the Target because if it was a windy day, the people park close to the wall. The wind doesn’t get between you and the wall when the van opens up. We would do the merch out of the van. We did that probably every four or five days.
Dan: This takes a lot of work. You’re selling so much stuff, so much merch, which is amazing. But you’re literally doing it yourselves.
Aaron: We’re so thankful. The thing is if I had a young kid do it for me in Portland, the down days, it would eat me alive that I didn’t have something to do, or her to do. I wouldn’t know how to handle that. I knew that Lee acts when she needs to act, and then otherwise, she’s trying to find time to recuperate. That’s a very immediate thing. That’s basically been the way – I wouldn’t even call it making a business, just run pull off making a living. If a client came to me in a huff and said we have nine days to do it, I didn’t look at it as this big slight of my profession. I just looked at it as we’re going to be done in nine days. Let’s go.
I’m being paid well, sometimes shitty even – I just like to do it. I’m being paid enough to do this. Let’s get it done. There’s no rule that says we need six weeks to go back and forth with a thousand fucking emails. We can get shit done over a weekend if they’re ready to do it. It’s weird. Sometimes it’s like that, and I’m open to that shit.
The idea of us trying to curate this thing and then come out here and say what if it doesn’t work – no, it’s going to work. We’re going to make it work. We’re going to manifest it. We did. It wasn’t always pretty. We were in some of this sketchy little – you’re trying to find a simple, clean, parking lot that’s flat. You realize you’re in kind of a rundown zone of somewhere. You have all this merch and shit laid out, and you’re exposed.
It’s not like someone’s going to come and try to take a big stack of ice scrapers I made. No, what if people are just curious and mess with you or something? I don’t know. It’s like this orange beacon.
Dan: Do you have ice scrapers?
Aaron: Oh, we sure do. I’ll tell you right now that lady across the street when I saw her trying to scrape the windows with her credit card, that one ice storm we had in Portland in January – guess who was scraping his with a big old stupid ice scraper? Everyone laughed at me. Laugh at the Draplin. Not you, not you, but other people laughed.
Dan: I’m in need of one for most of the year.
Aaron: We’ll get you one. People laugh at me and say why do you have an ice scraper; you live in Portland, Oregon. Until that one time. You’re out there with a sleeve and a button, or fucking things up with your credit card, trying to get the ice – no, it’s once a year. What if you live where you live where you need it every other day?
Dan: It’s an important tool.
Aaron: That’s the funny part about merch. People who can’t even thing through like hey asshole, you actually need this in your life. Not everything is an app. When people challenge me and go, “Dude – like what – oh, pens and pencils? What am I doing to use this pencil for?” I’m like “Sharpen it and use it on a piece of scrap paper. You might surprise yourself. Stupid.” I’m sorry. But the guy’s standing there making fun of me. The girl before him came up and went, “Oh, my God, this is cool. I’m going to give this to my five-year-old.” “Oh, your five-year-old will see possibility.” The guy who comes up to me is all cynical.
I was in a marketing conference yesterday. The first person who walked up to the table at a marketing conference said, “What is all this for?” Before it’s even colorful, before it’s even fun, before it’s even stupid, before it’s – it’s like a question of are we legitimate. I looked him and go, “You can comb your hair with that comb.” I don’t know, something stupid I said.
Dan: A lot of it has utility too. All of it does.
Aaron: With no irony whatsoever, I can honestly say anything I make I use. The coin purse, the comb, I use it. That’s something worth – the funny part is every now and again if I’m at the shop and I need a toothbrush, and I get the orange toothbrush out because I’m staying late and want to brush, and I have some gnarly taste in my mouth, those brushes work.
That’s what I’m saying. Yes, it’s kitschy. Yes, it’s frivolous. Yes, a big stack of chip clips – can’t even call them chip clips. We call it a snack clamp. But if you open a bag of blue corn tortilla chips, garden of earthy delights, those organic ones, the delicious ones, you’ve got to close it up. If you don’t have a snack clamp laying around, well, then it’s funny because it was just a stupid thing on a merch table, but no, then someone needed it. That’s where it’s like we have the privilege to be cynical. Someone else might look at it and be like I don’t even remember how to write things down on paper anymore, because we don’t think that way. We think in terms of apps, links, and clicks, and shit. That’s what I love about field notes. In this funny sneak attack to remind people to get weird on paper.
Dan: And have something tangible. I look at your massive merch stuff from a different angle. Oh, my God, he made a pill container branded, and it’s amazing. How did he do it? Where did he research that? How does he know where to get this stuff made? That part is always fascinating to me. Everything is in this cohesive family of branded stuff, but there’s a lot of work that goes into all that. You don’t just go to one website and upload a logo.
Aaron: No. First of all, you try to find something made in America. Beyond that you try to find something for a fair price. Let’s just say yes, if I have to be brutally honest, it’s a novelty. What’s wrong with that?
When I have to defend it to someone who needs a reason, I’ll say, “If you walked up on this stuff, and I was completely serious about being a supply company, those guys across there are completely serious about their software. If you change your filter, these are functional little things.” That’s what’s beautiful. The person who comes up and understands why a coin purse could be great for guitar picks, they already understand. At that point, they’re thankful it’s creative. I love that. We don’t even know how to savor that stuff anymore. The idea of a lot of those things I try to champion and really rescue is because it still works to have a funny chip clip hold your chips together Why can’t it be a colorful, fun thing? Instead, it’s a rubber band, or you bunch it up and put it away and the air gets in. The function of it is still completely authentic, but we’re all so cynical because everything is done for us. It’s the app world. It’s things being streamlined. People will come up and discount what I do until their friends come up – you see how that works, until their friends goes, “Oh my God, that is such an awesome comb. I’m going to use it.” Then that kid that messed with you, they come back to you. They come back in a couple of hours and are like –
Dan: I want a comb too.
Aaron: When no one is looking, they’re grabbing a couple of these things because they thought about it a bit. They’re like my kid will like that. It’s colorful. I’m not trying to take their money. I want to remind them that there’s a lot of cool things in the world. There’s things to make your life easier. It can be colorful and fun. That’s a service. When you see it with no irony attached to it, that is something to respect. We are the creators of a lot of this bullshit yet we also create ways to make ourselves get out of it. I don’t even know what I’m talking about. A lot of this stuff – I love when people come up to me and have this “Why are you making these?” As if I was doing something wrong. Then I just know how to attack it, and say, “You’ve never used a letter opener?” These are cool.
Dan: These things have to exist. Why not brand them yourself?
Aaron: I’ll ask them “Let’s say there wasn’t a DDC on it. It just said awesome letter envelope opener?” Use your finger. Get a paper cut or tear that thing so it looks like a dog ripped it with the damn bill. You get bills every day like everybody else. When you use this stupid three-dollar item, it shears it, and you can actually get in there quicker. This is the funny part. They walk up and discount it until they use it. That’s why I love promotional stuff. The insurance guy who gave you that thing and said here is a calendar, and the one time you need a calendar and find that calendar, you remember the insurance guy. That’s as old as anything. Be it from capitalism or marketing.
The women who came up to me and said it in that tone yesterday, “What is all this for?” Why are you here? You are here to learn about marketing. What are you doing? Let me, the Draplin Design Company be the growth, the lesion, the skintag on this conference and podcast. Let me be the scab. I’ll be that scab. I’ll be that goiter. We’ll have a good laugh, but we’re all here enjoying this stuff. The other guys, you go to their booths, and they’re so fucking serious you don’t even want to talk to them. They’re just counting the minutes to get the hell out of there. Anyway, I have to go.
Dan: No worries. There’s so much to talk about. I appreciate you taking some of your time on the road with us. You’re an inspiration to a lot of people, myself included.
Aaron: Thank you. That goes both ways.
Dan: Thanks, man. Good luck on the road. Safe travels. We’ll be continually watching what you’re doing, obviously. Can’t wait to see what’s next.
Aaron: Thank you, man. I’ll see you around. Let me know when it goes up. I know you guys need a little help with the numbers and the social media department. You let me know and maybe I can help you get some numbers. You just let me know.
Dan: Absolutely. I’ll keep you posted. Have a good trip. Take care.
Aaron: Thank you. Bye.