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Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Updated: May 31, 7:29 PM ET
Tastemaker: Aaron Draplin

By Colin Whyte

Aaron Draplin Mike Olson Justin Hostynek Pat Bridges Annie Fast Jeff Pensiero

Aaron Draplin is best-known as a graphic designer -- a big, loud, shamelessly big-hearted graphic designer -- but we'd insist he is more than the sum of his parts. Long before the Internet was in all our pockets, his blog made everyone in snowboarding want to be a designer (or at least pretend to be) as he spouted off on wicked Cold War posters and American industrial design. To give you an idea of exactly how big a shadow Draplin casts in shred and beyond, we hit him up for a full download on matters of taste and tastelessness.

The Oregon-based, potty-mouthed Michigander has been a part of our scene for years, including influential Art Director stints at Snowboarder and Snowboard mags, an ongoing decade working with Coal, and eight seasons clickin' the mouse for Union, to name but four big gigs. The 38 year-old's done record designs for Richmond Fontaine, is one of the geniuses behind the now-ubiquitous Field Notes brand and, get this, he helped design that catchy primary-colored Stimulus logo you see posted on some of America's more blasted roadways. (Always cool when your client list includes "President Obama.")

Draplin knocks out killer logos like most mortals knock out e-mails. His thick lines and sense of humor are recognizable from a galloping horse. Go riding with any OG in snowboarding and, chances are, he or she will pull on a mashed old orange DDC [Draplin Design Co.] ball-cap soon after getting back in the truck.

While Draplin might recoil at the notion of being any kind of "tastemaker," there's no question that he is one: From his loudmouth digital output, to his crazy "junking" finds, to his unwavering pursuit of keeping good humans -- and good design -- in the limelight, his no-BS voice has kept snowboarding honest. And, hey, what could be more Midwest than that?

Aaron Draplin design
Draplin's high-concept cover and strong graphic design merge to make a statement.

ESPN: Ever missed a day since starting your blog?
Aaron Draplin:
Sometimes I'll get a little too busy and I'll miss a couple days. I'm always getting a post going, though. It just might take me a free night down the line to get it all caught up. I've been at this game since 1998, and daily since about 2006 or something? I'm proud of that. That's a mountain of data, and honestly, it's all been in the name of "for the hell of it." I like that.

Ever get sick of it?
Never. It's fun. I like the idea that someone might dig the stuff I come across.

You've been on a tear at these so-called Speaking Fiascos all over the country. What gospel are you preaching at these talks?
When you boil it down, it's the idea of "doing what you love" no matter the cost. In the end, what's gonna matter? Big bank accounts? Big client lists? I don't think so... I have a hunch it'll be about looking back and being proud to say, "I loved what I 'got' to do."

We talk about the path I took to get to a point where I was completely on my own. I'm proud to tell that story. It's dirty. It's unruly. And it ends well. Or, ended pretty good so far...

I love designers who wear entitlement all over their face. As if they should be working only the big/cool/lucrative [gigs]. Like they deserve it. They don't. I don't. I get to work on some cool [stuff], and some ugly [stuff], and along with that, I grab the good, bad and ugly by the throat equally and handle 'em all. I talk about this, too.

Designers love to lament client changes and [crappy] gigs. Boo hoo. Try tree trimming in the wilds of northern Michigan. Suddenly, those woes don't carry the same weight. I've got that perspective...

Independence is a big theme for you...
Let's get something straight: There are so many shades of "being independent." In my little scenario, I still am under the thumb of a list of spirited clients. They guide me, as much as I guide their projects. So, I'm not to a point where I can support myself solely on my own accord. But I'm pushing for it. And I'm close. If I had some big pile of loot to suck off, that'd be another story. I'm getting there, but that's still just a ghostly goal to fight for.

The main thing is this: I love what I do, and how I do it. If you are stuck in some office with a bunch of people you hate, then no matter how cool the work is, it doesn't change the fact that you are around a bunch of d---s. And if they are the ones to take the lion's share of the loot? No thanks. I don't want anything to do with that. It squashes people and squashes lives. I just want to be comfortable and believe in the work.

You're one of the most recognizable designers in snowboarding. When's the last time you went riding yourself? Does it matter?
Recognizable? Really? I just don't see that. I'm pretty out of it. Last time I went riding, and I mean riding, would've been in, like, 1998, just before I threw it all away and moved back to Minneapolis. But even then, it was getting boring. Like, cyclical. I was riding Mt. Bachelor daily and it just became an orbit.

I love designers who wear entitlement all over their face. As if they should be working only the big/cool/lucrative [gigs]. Like they deserve it. They don't. I don't ... Try tree trimming in the wilds of northern Michigan ... I've got that perspective.

-- Draplin

I remember this one day, I was up by myself and it just kind of hit me: "I think my work is done here." [Laughs] Seriously, I wasn't excited by riding like I had been, and I made the decision to pursue design with everything in me, officially.

Of course it matters. But then again, maybe only to a Pat Bridges or someone still way into it. I had my day, and sure, it was long time ago, but I still know my s---.

Here's what I'll say: I'm ready to pass that baton. I was lucky to have a good run in the shred world, but I know there's some 22-year-old rat who's hungrier, meaner and ready to do whatever it takes. And frankly, they are the best men for the job. I might have some more chops, but that kind of "young and dumb" is what made snowboarding and skateboarding cool and fun in the first place. And it needs that to stay alive.

If you lost both your hands in a freak junking accident and couldn't bust vectors anymore, what would you do?
What kind of horrific, mind-bending question is this, you sick [super harsh expletive]? My quick answer: I'd die. I'd be without the meaty appendages that allow me to build a life for myself, and that would be bad. No more guitar? No more mouse clicking? No more LEGO building? I'd use my feet. I saw a guy flossing his teeth using his feet on some National Geographic show, and that was pretty cool. I'd do what he was doing, only with a mouse.

But if I had to pick another line of work? I think I'd try to be a architect or homebuilder or furniture maker. Like, making real things. Sometimes, design just sorta feels like landfill.

What is a "tastemaker" to you and do you think of yourself as one?
Tastemaker? I don't know. When I think of that words like "frivolous" and "trendy" instantly come to mind. If anything, I'm trying to cue people in to old ways. To not forget. To not get too smart, to the point where we don't know how to savor something simple and even, well, dumb. We're just so fashionable and ironic and hyper-refined and hyper-aware, and it's all just so [damn] predictable.

I can tell you this much: I've met a couple of "them," and holy [crap], these are some arrogant, painful [mofos]. Just so full of themselves and self-absorbed...

Who are a few tastemakers you admire?
And now, naming people after the s--- I just spewed? Classy. I guess I just don't really have a list ... I'm more jiving on subtlety or understatement. That's where the freshness is for me. Like, the way someone will stick to their guns through thick and thin. Some [folks] are so easily led. And some, they have their way and they don't stray, even if it brings ridicule or they fall out of whatever fashionable construct they might've been plopped into. They could care less about any of it, and I like that kind of guts.

Or, here's someone I admire, simply for the way he looks at the world, through his art: Daniel Eatock. I hope I don't embarrass the guy by mentioning him, but I've been blown away by the guy for a long, long time. I visit his site all the time, and always love the stuff on there.