Aaron Draplin: quotes from a modern design genius







This piece was originally in Umbrella Issue 14. Words: Elliott Lewis-George
Owners of the Field Notes pocket books will already be acquainted with the design work of Aaron James Draplin, the larger-than-life graphic designer from the Midwest.
Those unfamiliar with Draplin should take time to watch his passionate TEDx talk on YouTube. You should also take in one of his videos set in Portland, Oregon, home to Draplin Design Co, and see him pick through underappreciated artefacts of beautiful American design.
More than a designer or collector, he’s a man that harbours a contagious kind of passion that can inspire anyone. Especially us. 
“I loved Lego when I was a kid. Marvelling at the little graphics on the pieces. Hell, the boxes alone were enough – that big, beautiful Helvetica – so crisp and logical. That was my first taste of great design.”

“I lock in on design that’s functional and beautiful, especially after seeing the bullshit in the mid-’90s with all the post-post-post modern scratchy, scritchity design shit that was going on. That was just fashion – frivolous and elite.”

“I like things that work, things that never go out of style. I don’t know if it’s a ‘style’ as such, as it’s a lack of taking the bait on all the new shit. Why do [famed US designer] Saul Bass logos still work? Therein lies what I’m trying to draft off.”

“Design inspiration comes from junk stores, antique malls, online aggregator sites, record stores, libraries, estate sales, my nephew, dreams, nature, the city, whatever… I’m always on the lookout.”

“European design always inspires me. There’s a certain refinement to it. The first time I went to Switzerland I didn’t care about the fondue and beer and shit. I was just excited to see the street signs and customs forms: day-to-day stuff that’s still beautifully designed. I’m going to Amsterdam in a couple of weeks and can’t wait to look for design on the smallest of items like a train ticket.”

“You see the some of the greatest design in the simplest stuff; things that make things easier to use or understand. I hop over the pond from Portland and things get a little crisper in the UK, Scandinavia and Europe.”

“I’m not looking too hard into describing contemporary design anymore, I’m too busy doing my own thing. But I will say this much, I’m seeing an understanding of ‘good design’ out there more and more like on Pinterest. Seeing my little sisters finding reference points, and learning how to design their homes through it. That’s design. 

“I like everyone having access to design, not just those who can afford it.”

“The internet has made the design world smaller. You make something at 9pm, show it on the web, and by the next morning, people are all seeing it and loving it and hating it and ripping it off. Before the web, it took time for people to get to stuff, if ever. Now, shit, it’s all out there.”

“Designers are obsessive. What other way is there to be? I’d be freaked out if someone answered ‘no’ to this. It’s the little details that set so much shit apart.”

“Out of all my collections it’s the old stamps I keep going back to. I went to a big stamp show in 2007 and went nuts, dropping a couple of thousand bucks there. I can’t remember which ones were valuable, as I was looking at the graphics and graphics only. The colour, type and tiny spaces are all so inspiring. Just design <everyone> gets to enjoy.”

“My mind is completely free on paper. You just sort of go with it. I don’t get that same buzz from my iPhone.”

“My Field Notes pocket book is full of sketches, airline luggage barcodes, notes, lists, phone numbers, reminders, dead shit found on the ground, dreams, musings, poignant lyrics, logo iterations, how much I owe, how much I’m owed etc.”

“The Field Notes ‘Workshop Companion’ is the colourway I keep going back to. The slipcase, the Kraft covers, the icons, the verbiage. I was so proud of those. Durable as hell! I’m using a ‘Snowblind’ right now and I love those, too. Really, it’s the latest ones we’ve made. I’m always blown away by what we come up with.”

“Getting ahead keeps me designing. I know what it’s like to have no money in my bank account. I’m never going back to that. Even with all the momentum I have going: multiple jobs, Field Notes getting bigger and bigger and merch orders stacking up, I still feel the itch to make every hour. I know the value of a buck and will never take this shit for granted.”

Visit ddcbook.com to order Draplin’s 256-page book, Pretty Much Everything, published by Abrams Books
Issue 14 is available for just £6. Click here for more info

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