Why you should say yes more than no in design

Graphic designer Aaron James Draplin reveals why design is about doing good work for good people.

Logo work. Some of the hundreds of logos Aaron designed over the years

In the opening talk of the last day of TYPO Berlin, Aaron James Draplin shared some ‘tall tales from a large man,’ covering the importance of saying yes more than no, and how working for friends led him to designing for the president.

The man behind Draplin Design Co. might have been jet-lagged, but this larger than life character showed no sign of flagging as he bolted through 130-odd slides, covering recent logo work, favourite Bauhaus archive material, and several photos of his sausage dog Gary.

The core of Aaron's philosophy is work for the right people for the right reasons, and you'll flourish, something he's been living by since he designed his friend's logo for a hot dog pop up stand. This was before he washed dishes for four summers to get money for a computer, he says, and after going freelance in 2004.

"I found a way to work with my friends. It got better every year. There was not much money, but then freelance brought in some, and how much money do we need?"

The point is made as Aaron put up the Cobra Dogs logo against his Air Max 360 logo, which he did for Nike. "Nike wanted everything yesterday. There’s loads of work, then it explodes everywhere, and then it disappears – too weird,” he explains.

Aaron and Chris Glass worked on these two presidential logos

Ultimately, he got more work from helping others than taking the big company dollar. "Not everything is about cash and making money. We forget that we can make our own things."

A case in point is Aaron's Field Notes series of memo notes. Inspired by the notebooks of the 1920s, they're now sold in 1,000 plus stores in the US. "I think compromise is a big deal in design, so I'd reduce [my fee] with a client. But with Field Notes, every dollar we get back is ours."

Of course, Aaron isn't suggesting designers should say yes to every client, pointing out that, "We have something valuable – clients need something from you."

He spoke of the unsung heroes of design, and told of how digging through archives can inspire creativity

The point is to be OK with letting your passions push you. With president Obama's inauguration, his new logo caught Aaron's eye. He got obsessed with it, collected images of it on cakes and as tattoos. Then the White House called, and Aaron and Chris Glass found themselves designing the new logos for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) team.

As the 20th TYPO design event comes to a close, Aaron's view that you should, "Say yes a little more than you say no, and do good work for good people," is, much like the man himself, a hard one to ignore.

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