On Wednesday, January 16, 2012, I attended AIGA DC's event "Tall Tales from A Large Man" with speaker Aaron James Draplin of the Draplin Design Co. I knew going into the event that he would be a dynamic speaker based on all the online hype from AIGA DC and the fact that the event sold out and then they switched venues to open additional seating. People wanted to see this dude talk! He's not your typical designer with thick black glasses and a crisp shirt. He's a big man with a beard who looks like he stepped out of the wilderness. He discussed his upbringing and early design career: hopping around from Detroit, Alaska, Minnesota, and Portland. He started working for other people, then he discovered, "I could make more money after 6PM when I got home than I could going to meetings about meetings." Eventually, he saved his money and went full-time working for himself.
Draplin commented on the current state of design, "Graphic design used to be a trade. Direct marketing garbage. That's our life now. Flickering and flashing online ads. Now we are making garbage all day long." He didn't tell me things I didn't know, it was just the way he delivered the message that was different than most people would have. There was no restraint when he wanted to talk bad about something or someone and we all learned that he hates Republicans. We were reminded this many times throughout the presentation.
To get a taste of his style, take a listen to his feelings on how America is F*cked (Graphically at least): http://vimeo.com/1465284
The most interesting parts in his presentation were showcasing three projects in more detail with his "tall tales." The first project was an identity design he did for his friend's Cobra Dogs hot dog truck. It was fun to see a designer speak about how much he enjoyed a project. Also comparing it to a more well-known company he designed for and saying he got more out of creating something for a less-known company was refreshing to hear. Especially in DC, where I am often asked where I work as an introductory sentence before asking what my name is.
Draplin also discussed how excited he was to work for Obama on the ARRA and TIGER projects. He showed his logo process and his enthusiasm for our President. I think it is really great that they sought him out to contribute to the country.
The third project was designing an identity for a farm in Illinois. He got to know his client on the phone and they had personal conversations throughout he course of the project. They both agreed the logo design set price at $1,000. After some time, Draplin realized the man he was working with was John Hughes, the legendary Hollywood director of movies such as The Breakfast Club, Uncle Buck, Home Alone, and more. They had a phone relationship and Hughes appreciated that once Draplin discovered who he was he didn't add on an extra 0 to the fee. Hughes had Draplin design business cards for his fictional characters. Then he died. Draplin spoke on the phone with his sons and they said the business cards were given out at the funeral.
We also found out that besides his hate of Republicans, Draplin also dislikes Kid Rock, Toby Keith (he said he had a nose job and I later researched it online and could not find evidence), sandals at a wedding, Guy Fieri, and more. Draplin is definitely a man who wants to preserve good design, pays respect to the past, and knows his culture. He also reminded me not to forget logos that read well when reproduced at a small size. He knows himself and for that I appreciate his quality work and his talk.