Work Hard, Be Grateful: The DDC Road Show

Photo by David Nakamoto.
Photo by David Nakamoto.

On Friday night I got to go to the Draplin Design Co Road Show, as Aaron Draplin graced the city of Winnipeg with his presence.

Best known for Field Notes and a boat-load of killer logo designs (particularly of the thick-lined variety), the Portland local shared a ton of great stories and insights about making it as a graphic designer and living a decent life.

Here are a few of my takeaways.

1. Work hard

While Draplin appears to be living the life as a successful and sought-after designer, you know he didn’t get where he was without a ton of hard work and years of tight deadlines and seven-day work weeks. He tells stories about his early days, when he took every single job that came his way. Even now, he’s no stranger to grinding it out. Success doesn’t come without day after day of hard work.

2. Sweat the details

Draplin tells this crazy story about designing a logo for “farmer Joe”, who, he discovered later, was none other than John Hughes (director of movies like Breakfast Club, Home Alone etc). Basically, you never know who will see the work you’re doing, or what designing a quick farm logo will lead to. Draplin can be proud of the thousands of logos he’s designed because he pours his heart and soul into every shape and every rounded corner of his designs.

3. Dollars don’t define value

Draplin compares the logo that he designed for Nike for $25,000, and the logo that he whipped up for a buddy’s hot dog stand for $0. Which one’s more satisfying for him? One got projected 30 feet high all over the world, but the other made his buddy’s mom proud. At the end of the day, it’s not the price of your work that determines its value.

4. Honour the unsung heroes of design

One of Draplin’s favourite pastimes is “junking” – rummaging around in antique shops to dig up beautiful little logos on random stuff. These aren’t the designs that are found in design textbooks or art galleries, but Draplin points out the beauty of these little pieces of design. Fifty-year old logos were designed by hand, before the days of retina displays and Adobe Illustrator. Despite the constraints, many of these old logo designs still hold up because of their simplicity. Examples of great design can be found anywhere.

5. Don’t blame the client

Common in design circles is an annoyance for picky, unreasonable clients. Draplin has no patience for this. You gave the client 5 logo options and they picked the shitty one? Well why did you give them a shitty option to choose in the first place? Granted, Draplin has the privilege of picking the clients he works for, but he tells designers to have patience with clients, and own up to our responsibility to make smart choices on clients’ behalf.

6. Embrace the thick lines

So, so beautiful. I can’t believe I didn’t swoop up on this whole poster series.


7. Be nice

Draplin was the star of the road show, yet the first person we saw as we walked through the doors at the Park Theatre was none other than the big man himself, chatting with folks, taping up posters, and being available. So cool. He had some choice words for celebrities who give their fans a cold shoulder (not to name any names… ahem, Gene Simmons…). Draplin makes this attitude part of his work as a designer as well, regularly doing free work for the “little guy”, and generally just spreading the love. (He even signed my Field Notes).


8. Be grateful

In the end, we all have so much to be grateful for. As designers we can complain about our clients, constraints or long hours, but we have it so good (as he pointed out, we’re not just digging ditches). As we occupy our little speck in the universe, we have the opportunity to help others, design cool things, and maybe even change the world in our own little way.

Aaron, thanks for visiting Winnipeg! Please come again!

If you want the much-condensed version of his talk, check out his Tedx talk below. For further reading about the big man, check out this interview.