One Man, Many Missions – Aaron Draplin on Life, Design and Making Things The Right Way

PORTLAND–An overflow crowd of designers, ad people, snowboarders and other Stumptown characters packed “The Cleaners” at the Ace Hotel last night to hear from Portland-based designer Aaron Draplin, 36, of Draplin Design Company (DDC). The event was hosted by AIGA and 52 Ltd.
Draplin is a big man and his work is even bigger. The guy demands respect and last night respect was given. Glass of wine or beer in hand, members of the crowd hung on Draplin’s every word as he recounted tales from his personal life and the details of his career.
He said he moved to Bend, OR when he was 19 because a lot of people he knew in Michigan were on their way to Colorado for “the cool shit.” He thought it best to blow past all that, and blown past it he has.
Draplin’s first job out of art school in Minneapolis was with Snowboarder Magazine and now he’s part of the team at Snowboard Magazine. Here is a man who has successfully integrated his love of riding, the mountains and the people who inhabit them into his daily work and deepest passion–beautiful, clean, sturdy graphic design.
One of the interesting twists in the Draplin tale is how he hunts for old American iconography. Literally, he travels the nation to sift through other people’s “junk” so he can bring home the best pieces, which he archives. “We’re out there rescuing things,” he says. Draplin loves the look and feel of things made the old-fashioned way, in a machine shop or in a type house. Naturally, this passion finds its way into Draplin’s work–his logo work, in particular, draws inspiration from an earlier time.
Another unique aspect to Draplin’s game is how much merchandise the guy offers. He said he learned back in the day that a farmer might decide to buy expensive equipment, not on the merits of the machine itself, but due the little perks the salesman threw in, like a free hat. Draplin’s hats aren’t free, but they are bad ass. His strong DDC logo pops off the orange lid and like everything else he makes, he invested deeply in the manufacturing process. His hats are made in Orange City, Iowa because that’s where real farm hats are made. “I found the source,” he said.
Draplin’s desire to make things of enduring value led him to team with Chicago’s Jim Coudal on Field Notes, a simple stapled memo book. So he’s a product designer, on top of everything else. All of last night’s guests received a free Field Notes sample as part of the admission price. Not suprisingly, the notebooks feature Draplin’s favorite font, Futura Bold, on the cover.
Near the end of his presentation, Draplin named things he likes and things he doesn’t. He also said his favorite designers are people who do what they do whether they make money at it or not. His way of thinking was noted by Clifton Burt, who also filed a report on this event.

“It doesn’t take briefs and client-meetings and hate and all that shit to make something great. Just go for it. Get in and get out.”



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.