Our interview with Aaron Draplin couldn’t be contained in a single post. He’s a big man, with ample ideas and oversized enthusiasm. From running his own Draplin Design Co., where in addition to client work he creates posters, T-shirts and other designerly must-haves, to his collaboration with Wilderness in Portland, OR, to his product development for Field Notes brand, to a series of speaking gigs including the 2014 HOW Design Conference, Draplin’s hard to corral. We like that about him.
As the year winds down and he’s planning a little holiday family time in Portland, OR, we asked Draplin about what he’s working on and what he’s looking forward to when he connects with a bunch of designers at HOW Design Live in May. Read Part 1 of the conversation here.
With Field Notes, you were sort of on the front edge of the “maker movement” that’s influencing design and culture (for the better, IMO). I found them recently in this sweet indie men’s shop in Cincinnati’s awesomely up-and-coming Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Used to be, designers didn’t really have an outlet for that personal stuff they wanted to make. You and Jim Coudal showed it could be done, that a small design-driven brand could take hold. Can you give us the super-quick backstory on Field Notes? When you started, did you have any idea that you’d still be at it in 2014?
See, when you start something for the fun of it, every single moment after that initial leap is a reward. I didn’t make these with “making a business” out of it as the first priority. I made ’em cuz I couldn’t find ones I liked in the world. Selfish pursuits! Plus, it was fun to share them with friends.
When Jim Coudal rescued me from obscurity, our little project took off. I’ll forever be thankful for his guidance, knowledge and vision. The guy knows how to make stuff real. Did I think we’d be thriving like we are in 2014? I’ll put it this way: When I held that first one off the press, I knew I’d have these for the rest of my life. They felt that right.
The idea that we’re in in 600 shops and shipping thousands a day? My little mind couldn’t comprehend that one. Jim, Michele, Bryan, Steve and Dawson could. Hell, I still can’t. I’m still hung up on the idea that my mom uses them for her garden schematics, my hipster buddy dressed to the nines jots down fashion tips in ’em and some hardest scrabble of warehouse guys find them useful. I think we might be on to something! Our hunch.
Thank you to everyone who believes in Field Notes! Be sure to check our “Cold Horizon” edition. So awesome and cold to the touch!
We’ve met a couple of times, and you seem to be a pretty social, generous, conversational type of guy. What’s it like for you to attend a design event like HOW or AIGA and hang out with a bunch of other designers?
II can’t see insurance people or pharmaceutical reps enjoying being together like designers do. Maybe I’m wrong. I just like the positive vibe, without all the cutthroat competition shit.
But hell, let me say this: There’s one little side to this stuff that gets a little weird. Like, seeing the same faces at all the events. I mean, just how much inspiration do you need? Or, can you take? I’m so lucky to go and share my story and merch at so many of these events these days. So lucky. But damn, I’ll see folks who hit them all up and I have to wonder: When do they work? When do they hammer down? If you are always getting inspired, when do you put it to use? I think about this shit, cuz I’m always battling my need to find time to get shit done. Always. Just makes me think about what the healthy amount of “work” and “hanging out” is. Maybe I need to chill out more? Probably.
Read Part 1 of our interview with Aaron Draplin, where he talks about balancing personal and client work, and about running Charles Anderson’s scanner. And to read more about the evolution of Aaron Draplin, check out an earlier post-design conference interview.