Matt and Mike are joined with Lullabot's creative director, Jared Ponchot, to interview logo designer extraordinaire Aaron Draplin.

It's weird, you can boil it back down to just the simplicity, and that just works all the time, you know? ...and my job, if I remember correctly, was to arm Jared to take that and put it back in front of his people and say, "Here's a way forward." That's my job.

This Episode's Guests

Jared Ponchot

Thumbnail
As Lullabot's Chief Creative Officer, Jared leads the Design team. He regularly speaks about UX and design at conferences around the globe.
Transcript

Transcript

Matt Kleve:
For January 23rd, 2020. It's the Lullabot Podcast! Hey everybody, it's the Lullabot Podcast. Episode 244. I'm Matt Kleve, the senior developer at Lullabot, with me as always co-host the show senior front end dev, Mike Herchel. Hey Mike.
Mike Herchel:
Hey Matt! How are you doing?
Matt Kleve:
Pretty darn decent. And you know what? Today we're on the Lullabot Podcast, we talk about all things that Lullabot. Lullabot is a strategy design development agency. Does web work primarily with Drupal, right?
Mike Herchel:
Yes.
Matt Kleve:
Drupal's a PHP content management system?
Mike Herchel:
Yes, that is correct.
Matt Kleve:
PHP is a programming language that works well with the web?
Mike Herchel:
Yes.
Matt Kleve:
The internet is a series of tubes?
Mike Herchel:
Yes.
Matt Kleve:
I don't know how far we're going to go with this. Today, we're not talking about any of that.
Mike Herchel:
No, we're not. Today, we're talking about logos and with us we have one of the-
Matt Kleve:
Logos?
Mike Herchel:
Logos, yeah.
Matt Kleve:
like make the logo bigger, put it on the internet. So, I guess we're almost talking about that.
Mike Herchel:
That's how it works.
Matt Kleve:
Well, some of you may know, if you follow Lullabot, our beloved red robot is slightly different now.
Mike Herchel:
Yes.
Matt Kleve:
So, we're going to talk about the folks that were behind that.
Mike Herchel:
With us we have the owner and [inaudible 00:01:23] of Draplin design Company. He's from the Midwest, but he lives in Portland, Oregon. Welcome Aaron Draplin. Aaron, can you maybe tell us some of the things that you're most proud of over your career and maybe some of the things that you've done?
Aaron Draplin:
Yeah. Hi everybody. Aaron Draplin here. 46 years old, waking up after a long night of [inaudible 00:01:44] yard. What am I most proud of? Well, I make logos and I scheme up little things like field notes, and those are built in Chicago with Jim Coudal and the gang. And I go on the road, and I talk about myself, which is weird, and do workshops and things. I have a series of skill shares that have been violently successful and amazing. I can't believe it. What else? We sell a ton of merch and make our own merch. So, I think to wrap up, put a little bow on that, the thing I'm most proud of is, being somewhat ... None of us are perfectly independent, but it's been pretty close. And yes, the moment one of these ... We'll just say larger entities hit me up, I'm right back on the clock for them doing something, right?
Aaron Draplin:
But 99% was working for my friends and below, something that was a long shot that came to me, and there was no budget. There was a tiny little budget or it was weird on the other end it would be a large budget, but I always attacked it from a way of like, how do we make this thing most effective without it being this thing where I didn't want to be there? I've had that job where I didn't want to be there. And I remember that taste in my mouth. What I'm most proud of is the last 15 years I've been on my own, working out of a series of either basements, or overpriced studios Downtown, and now my backyard, right?
Aaron Draplin:
And from my hand, I get to control it, and what it's allowed me to do is get pretty far ahead. So, I mean, I make all these jokes about not wearing pants, but I don't have to wear pants, you know what I mean? The idea ... Well, there's no fashion show here, and there's no keeping up with the Joneses of like someone grading me or something. Really, it's a link that I send off. I'm really proud to have been able to hide, in a lot of respects.
Mike Herchel:
That's awesome.
Matt Kleve:
Also with us today, just, before we get too deep into this, we have Lullabot's creative director. He's worked with clients like the Grammy's, this old house, NBC, NBC, SpaceX, and much, much more welcome Jared Ponchot. Hey Jared.
Jared Ponchot:
Hey. Happy to be here.
Mike Herchel:
Jared, do you wear pants when you're working remotely?
Jared Ponchot:
I generally wear pants, but that's in part because my studio space is built out underneath my house in a daylight basement. It's always the coldest part of the house. So, the no pants thing is while an option isn't as warm as I like. Especially, this time of the year.
Matt Kleve:
Jared hails from Georgia, so sometimes cool is nice, I'm sure.
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah. And I actually have a poster in my studio here that is a Georgia poster, but it happens to be designed and made by none other than Aaron Draplin.
Mike Herchel:
Ooh.
Aaron Draplin:
All according to plan.
Mike Herchel:
Good.
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah. Had that thing for years.
Mike Herchel:
Good.
Matt Kleve:
So Mike, we're a little bit out of our wheelhouse here talking design and logos and all that cool stuff. So, let's just maybe facilitate. Jared, you reached out to Aaron when you wanted to work on Lullabot's logo, right?
Mike Herchel:
Yeah. What was the process behind the logo? Like, I know we were looking at doing ... Did we attempt it ourselves? If so, why couldn't we? I don't know.
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah, that's a funny way. Aaron may have opinions on that. The number of great designers I know who when it came time to do their own agency's logo said, "There's no way I should do this myself." Is actually quite a lot. It's a common thread from talking to other designers at other shops and stuff. So, I think it is somewhat common for people to say, "I want to work with somebody great at that." And it's almost like it's too precious when it's your own thing. So, you need somebody from the outside to come in and say, "What about like this?" But it's funny, it was a long process. I joined Lullabot going on 10 years ago.
Jared Ponchot:
And Lullabot when it was founded back in ... Was that 2006, I guess. Jeff Robbins and Matt Westgate started it. And the both of them were developers, Drupal developers, and they started this company to join forces with these bigger organizations trying to build big websites. And so, I think their first big project was MTV UK. They needed a logo. Jeff was coming off of being dropped by A&M records. And he made his living as a rockstar before Lullabot, and he knew how to do band shirts and stuff and he was like, "We need a logo." And so, he just made it himself. He's not a logo designer, but he wanted something that would look good on a t-shirt, and that he thought people would want to wear, which worked for the company for a good while.
Jared Ponchot:
When I came to the company, it was already a very beloved thing within the Drupal community, like the Lullabot robot was on stuff, and people had it all over their computers, triple cons, and stuff like that. And so, I was reluctant to push for change even though I felt like this thing could be better. When I came the lockup was the name Lullabot in aerial rounded outlined type. And I was like, "Okay."
Matt Kleve:
And it used to say lullabot.com, right? And the .com was smaller.
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah, there were an array of problems there. But, so, I did some nips and tucks early on to the lockup, but really didn't, I think I-
Matt Kleve:
So for a guy who looks at ones and zeroes, what do you mean by that?
Jared Ponchot:
The lockup is so you ... Many corporate identities have ... I feel like Aaron should be talking about this. There's a word mark, and then there's this thing called the logo mark. And then there's also a thing people refer to as a lockup, which is when you put the word mark with the logo mark. If that makes sense.
Matt Kleve:
Like what the sticker was at that time, right?
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah. So, when you see the Nike swoosh, you're seeing the logo mark. When you see the Nike swoosh with ... Ir when you see just the words Nike in that oblique, heavy sans-serif, that's the word mark. And when you see them together, that's the lockup.
Matt Kleve:
I got you. Okay. Sorry to distract. I wasn't aware of the terminology. So, cool.
Jared Ponchot:
Right. Yeah. But yeah, so there was a long process. It was actually a couple of years ago when I started pushing, "We're a legitimate agency now. We do strategy, and design. We've got to have a logo that at least passes as professional for ourselves, even if we're not doing logo projects." And we started doing some work around defining what we wanted to achieve with our logo, and what we wanted to keep, and what we wanted to change and that stuff. At the time. I think our biggest challenge was we felt like there was just some real execution problems with the logo. And so, we wanted to hire somebody from the outside that was a really great iconographer.
Jared Ponchot:
And in that early process we worked with a freelancer named George Bakula, who does a lot of icon work. And he showed us a whole bunch of ideas. They were all like a totally different robot than what we had. And that was enlightening to us because we realized nobody was really going to like this if it didn't feel like the next version of the Lullabot robot. So, we went back to the drawing board as a design team, and we did a bunch of sketching. We did Microsoft, and I want to say Donald Norman years ago pioneered this process called ... It was like desirability studies where you identify certain words that did define emotions that you want people to have when they look at something like a logo or whatnot, and then you can use that for testing.
Jared Ponchot:
So, you could stick something in front of somebody and see where they fall on the spectrum. Like, "I think this is way more aggressive or whatever." And so, we did some of that stuff also to try to hone in on what is it that's working, why do people love this Lullabot robot? We had this massive stuff, all these sketches and ideas for what it might look like roughly to keep something in the same family, that's the next version. And what we wanted to do. And as a design team we said let's make a list of our dream list. Like if we could hire any logo designer that you think could nail this. And we made a list in the top name on that list was Aaron Draplin.
Jared Ponchot:
We were like, "If we were going to work with somebody who could bring the professional touch craft, and quality to a logo but have the logo still be fun, which was one of the key things, that kept coming out of all the research we had with our past employees, current employees, and staff was like, it needed to feel fun and friendly." We were like, "Man, Aaron would be awesome." And so, I shot him an email. And like he was just saying, maybe Aaron you can talk more about this. Like when we talked as a design team, I was like, "I don't really know if Aaron even takes on projects that are more like for a friend, fun, smaller because I'm aware of the stuff that he does that makes news and stuff." So, we were pretty delighted when he was willing to work with us. So-
Aaron Draplin:
I take things that generate paychecks, paper you can cash, and you pay your [inaudible 00:12:00] and things. Well, I mean, it's really fun listening to this because Jared, you have ... Usually people don't know what the hell they're talking about. And I'll add myself to that list, you know what this thing needs to do. And that's what I liked about this. It was the first time we talked, I didn't really know that George Bakula who is a force of nature, maybe I did because that makes me suddenly clench up and be like, "Oh-oh what did [crosstalk 00:12:32]."
Jared Ponchot:
So, to be clear he did some amazing stuff that just was like, "This would be awesome for some other company that needs a robot."
Aaron Draplin:
Which is really surprising to me because tat guy's about refinements. I mean, what I would like to say is I'm not really a designer on this project. It's more of a refiner, like it didn't need a new logo. And I probably said that, I can't remember what we talked about the first time. Hopefully, it was something smart, I hope it was something good that we talked about it for .... But this thing needed just a little bit of love for how to make it the size of like your pinky fingernail, and make it work on a t-shirt. But where I was seeing it was only golf ball and above, like only ... You couldn't jam it down into these machines or even ... And I don't know what you call it, it's in the top of my, like the tab on my web browser. It works there now.
Jared Ponchot:
Like a fave icon.
Aaron Draplin:
Fave icon. That's where it needs to work because where are you guys doing business? And where are you guys ... What's the scariest part of what you guys do? It might be probably like some sort of a brief or a contract. And those are easier things because they're just a PDF that someone signs or something. But that's where the money starts coming in. And then you guys go to work and it's like... You know what's interesting about this is you guys built a good business, and the business was chugging along, and some of these clients that you were throwing out there, those are big things, but what happens with this stuff? It's like restaurants, restaurants cook good food. They have a good menu, they have a good staff, but they become ... It's not ... After that might sound a little offensive or something, but no, your focus is other places like getting clients, getting stuff out the door, everything is working enough.
Aaron Draplin:
So, what happens with a restaurant is when they do an audit and they take a look and they go, "Wow, what's the menu look like? And what's the business card look like? And what's the sign outside? Sometimes, it's different enough to where they just need someone to come in and equalize things. And that's what I like about this stuff is there is no big sash that I get to wear with this and say, "Well, look what I did for Lullabot."
Aaron Draplin:
It's not really about that. This is good work. And I sized that up pretty quick with my first couple of calls with Jared was just like, they just need a little help getting close to that finish line. It's really close. It does look like it was successful, and I probably said that from the get go too, it's like this isn't bad, it just able to be refined down. What are the opportunities? One of the things that when you came up on it ... Like I'm doing this thing right now where ... And it's a hell of a cast of characters. Some of the names that are going to be involved in this thing but these guys hit me up about talking about the Apple logo. And what's interesting is the bigger the name, the more polarizing it got.
Aaron Draplin:
Like people were just ready to slam the Apple logo. And really all I could say was this thing was playful. Like I got to just spend the last 25 years of my life investing in these little items. And the most beautiful laptop to this day when I sit down in the first class next to some guy named Steve who's instantly vetting me like I have the wrong seat, and he's instantly looking over my shoulder like what is it that you do? And I pull out this slick piece of machinery. It's probably overpriced. Sure. But my reaction to their, "What do you think of the Apple logo?" It was like, I was able to work on beautiful equipment that worked, it didn't take itself too seriously as far as that logo would look like. And like the way that I approach everything.
Aaron Draplin:
I wasn't in there to say it was good or bad. All I could say was my experience with this thing, and it would be the same way as if I looked at the Drupal community and say, "Are you guys the serious ones? Are you guys the wacky ones? Are you guys the ones who you've been so busy and sort of successful, you haven't had time to think about that?" Because those are the questions. It's like that thing was playful the first time I saw it. But the problem is if you just took it and just simply jam it down, you'd lose the eyebrows, you would lose certain fields. So a lot of what my favorite local designers out there, it's not really ... Bakula is really interesting because the guy's really good. And I don't know if those are paying things or they're just things that he's playing with for himself.
Aaron Draplin:
The moves are really, really nice, but sometimes it's like my favorite guys are the ones that just, it's function first. [inaudible 00:17:22] at the size of 10 by 10 pixels, and then how's it work? All the way up to the biggest funnest application, which might be, I don't know, on the side of a van or something fun for a big banner for you guys at some convention. But a couple of years ago, a guy approached me, and these are the same exact sorts of jobs where he was like right out of the gates apologizing and saying, "I know I'm not cool. I know I'm not this." I just don't give a shit about any of that. Like there is no award at the end of this. I've got to work for ... And I work for cool things. You're at the mercy of cool. You know what I mean?
Aaron Draplin:
Like really careful with that stuff because you get a bunch of flakes, and you get a bunch of these yahoos from New York city or whatever the hell who are just drinking their own cool. It's funny because it's like that doesn't mean it's going to be any better. The money certainly isn't going to be any better. It's more like you're just going to spend more time dunking around. Right? So when this guy came to me and said, "This isn't cool." It was awesome because it's just about execution. That still generated a paycheck for me, and I did what he needed to do. And the coolest part is we were designing at probably 15 by 15 pixels at certain times because where the rubber met the road for him, and this is ... My questions are not about how big are you? Or whatever.
Aaron Draplin:
It's like, "Where do you do the job that you do?" He was an IT guy. And whatever software they were using it allowed, this was crucial, it allowed them to put their logo down on the corner as part of their service when one of their guys would take over the machine of someone who's getting their stuff fixed ... You know what is like a remote window thing, sort of windows, I don't know what you can call, like little just CMS would pop up. And down in the corner was their logo next to all the other little windows logos. That's 99.9% of what they're doing. Right? So, we started there and then we worked our way up to the maybe one or two times that he would actually have the thing be the size of like an inch or an inch, which was like on the paycheck.
Aaron Draplin:
So, I like those constraints. I like looking at this a little bit differently and saying, "How do we keep the spirit of this thing, and just make it work?" So, I'll quit talking now because I'm ball hogging and already, I'm already ball hogging. But this is different than starting from the ground up and starting with a sketch. You guys had a lot of that stuff out of the way, you know?
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah. I remember actually when you sent us a proposal that Ellie, our head of marketing and I were like, "Yes, we're hiring the right guy." Because Aaron had a title on the top of his proposal that I think it said Lullabot robot tuneup. And we were like, "Yeah, that was what we kept trying to ... As we were trying before trying to work with other people on and stuff. We're like, "How do we get it across to them that what we're looking to do is not create a brand new logo. We're looking to refine our existing Lullabot tuneup."
Aaron Draplin:
[inaudible 00:20:33] different project. If you came to me and you said like ... I mean, in the end it's not the same thing, but it was pretty close. And it's like that's what you run into. And I hear this ... I've been stepping back from this stuff. Honestly. I've built such a monster for myself with my merch, and going on the road, and just all these other weird ... I think it's called passive income. That is a whole different beast than having to hustle the next thing. So, I'm really choosy now with what I take, because it's not even about big or little, it's about what's the fastest way in and out, you know? And that might be with like a crusty friends' little food cart or something.
Aaron Draplin:
I still get awes of creating these things, but this thing, it's like if you start ... What you run into is people want this thing for their portfolio, and then that becomes an ego thing. It becomes a selfish thing where it's like, "No, no, no, no, no. We're not even going to mess with any of that stuff." Lullabot doesn't need that. We could have reinvented it and started over. It just needs to be boiled down and figure out little widths, and does it need the little ... I don't even know even call it the little beeper on the top of the head, and doesn't need ... These are just tiny little things. So, those are small moves, but they're powerful. And the buzz that I get out of that is just seeing it become successful for you guys. That's enough of a paycheck sometimes for me.
Aaron Draplin:
I cover my rent and other things with lots of other things, right? So, when I go do these things, it's really interesting to me to just see like how minimal moves can go a long way, you know? And in the end, we're tinkering with distances, and refinements, and rounded edges and things. But here's the deal is when I go right now to the Lullabot site, and I just see how it rests up in that corner. That's all it needs to do. I'm really proud of that. It doesn't need to have tons of eyebrows and things and stuff, it still can feel approachable, you know? And here's the coolest part. If we jam that thing up, boom, up to a softball size, it's a kick ass logo. You know?
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah.
Aaron Draplin:
Like it's refined, but really where you guys are working, it's going to work there, where people are going to see it.
Jared Ponchot:
For sure.
Matt Kleve:
What are eyebrows in the context of logos?
Aaron Draplin:
What are eyebrows?
Jared Ponchot:
I think he's talking about the changes to the Lullabot eyes, right?
Matt Kleve:
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:23:07].
Aaron Draplin:
I got you. Or just the quality of what that can do. It looks puzzled. This little creature looks like come here, or looks confused or something. Seriously, it is a couple degrees of angle and you can change that thing. And it's like what's funny is when we just lost that thing, whenever that was like, and I have to go ... I can't really remember the old Lullabot logo, which wasn't all that bad.
Matt Kleve:
There's an article on our website called giving our beloved robot a tuneup, and on that there's a picture of the Lullabot, the old logo on the laptop. So, when you're thinking eyes, the old Lullabot logo had ... And what it looked like was horizontal parentheses and the eyes were closed. It was maybe sleepy or bashful.
Jared Ponchot:
Picturing that article is actually from when ... Kike that's from 2008. It's around when I first joined Lullabot when like I said it was this logo that had everything was outlined, including the aerial rounded type. Yeah. It's pretty great.
Aaron Draplin:
Which is, there's phases of graphic design where like little archeological sediment or something. Like, yeah ... And that's one of the stickers on that machine, I'm looking at that Drupal camp thing. And I'll bet at that Drupal camp man now but that was a saucy get together, huh? [inaudible 00:24:32]. Hey, I've been to some of these things. I know what happened, so yeah. Well you see, with the unleashing of, even at that time, 2008, we were still catching up with like computers. We get to do whatever we want on computers. We get to make whatever we want. And at that time you can tell like that's a dye cut sticker. Like who was figuring out how to make a dye cut sticker? Well, look at the little Firefox next to it. The technology was catching up to where not only could you print whatever you wanted, all these colors or outlines or things or stuff. But you could also have like a dye cut in that.
Aaron Draplin:
But that's dangerous because then you just print whatever you want doesn't necessarily mean that it works. You know? And you know my favorite arrows of graphic design, it's when it was really limited, and as you see really set ... Which by the way never go out of style. You see these really sensible moves made that worked with crummy substrates, which would be like wood or on cardboard. And then when the ink hit the cardboard it would shit out or something. And it's like they understood how to deal with that stuff. When you can print one-to-one, you tend to go a little too far, like sediment, you go through it and go back and like what I... That's amazing.
Aaron Draplin:
That's 12 years ago because I'll always be locked in 2004 because that's the year I went on my own, and got to see what it was going to be like to just see if I could make it. And now that we're 16 years later from that thing, it's like it's going back. It's things are going back to where it better work at the size of an icon on the back of this microphone. Right? But when you do that, you're not allowed to have 19 nicks, and ticks, and things, and dingle berries and stuff. No, you're just allowed to have one simplified form.
Aaron Draplin:
So, when I'm on the road trying to explain this to these grad students, man, just nothing but the worst. They have no future design. If it's [inaudible 00:26:44] the hands of the grad students from Yale. Well, I haven't spoken there, but I'm trying to tell them like, "Listen, the bullshit you're doing right now, which is just the latest, it's ... " Here comes a big old F word. "It's just fashion." Be really careful with that because that's going to go away, and that's not ... I'll do this little example. I'll say, "Let's look at the microphone I'm talking into. Let me just flip it around. I'm going to flip it around. I'm going to look at the end of it. There is graphic design at in the most unpretentious form."
Aaron Draplin:
Because you flip it around the other way, and there's a big logo that says, S-H-U-R-E- or something, but you flipped around the other way and it's just a little icons that tell you how to plug it in or where it works with different currency, and volts, and stuff. That's the stuff that works because it can work in every country. And that's the same thinking. So, it's like the stuff I nerd out on is like when before we had all this a million doors to open and choose from, there were just a couple. And when we only had that, we were making better decisions, and you can see it in patches.
Aaron Draplin:
When you go to like a feed and seed in the Midwest, or you go to even a thrift store, in Kansas, and you go look at what the old farmer's hats look like, the trucker's hats and stuff at the thrift store, you're going to see incredible moves. And it's because you can only do one color into a patch, so that thing better be effective, and it's no different one color on the side of a combine. There's just something about that to learn from. And I love when people shit on the Midwest and fly over country and stuff, there's graphic lessons there of course, and a large ... I don't know, it's just really interesting to me how it's going back to that. So, I collect these things where it's like, "Wow, this is a big, big thing." IBM or Apple or something or ...
Aaron Draplin:
Tonight with a critical eye, if you're listening to this thing and you're saying, "What is this gorilla even saying? What is this Draplin guy saying?" Well, go to your iTunes, go to your app store, whatever platform you're on, and you'll see it there. You'll see it in the little tiny icons. And what's the first thing you touch when you wake up in the morning? You're going to see minimal moves on tiny little apps on your phone, right? That's graphic design. That is all we tried to do for the Lullabot, is to make it be one of those. So, you get past it quick, and you get it to work, or you click on that thing and you sign in or whatever. So, before we go any further, what's the musician thing here? Who was the rock and roller?
Jared Ponchot:
That was Jeff Robbins. He's one of the two founders, the cofounders of Lullabot. So, Jeff fronted a band called Orbit in the 90s that the giant A&M records merger when in the era of like if you remember there was like Brittany Spears and all the boy bands, and all these, and there was this giant record label merger. And when it happened, there was all this hoopla about it because it was like dead is the rock band. Because there was all these rock bands that got dropped from A&M records when the merger happened, and his band was one of those. And that's actually was the impetus for him to start Lullabot.
Jared Ponchot:
I want to say he started doing web projects, which he had already had some interest in, and I may get his bio wrong, but I feel like he was somehow friends with Ringo Starr, and like did a website for Ringo and then started taking some other small projects and needed help and connected with Matt Westgate through the Drupal community. And then-
Matt Kleve:
There was a history with O'Reilly as well, if I recall correctly.
Jared Ponchot:
He worked at O'Reilly media I think before orbit took off. Yeah, in fact he was a technical illustrator or something like that for O'Reilly media, and worked on the global network navigator project, which was like the first commercial website I think.
Mike Herchel:
Yeah.
Matt Kleve:
Yup. That sounds right. So, with Jeff and his rockstar, I want this logo to look good on a T-shirt. Does it still look good on a T-shirt? Does it look better on a T-shirt? What do you guys think? I haven't seen a T-shirt yet. I need a T-shirt.
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah, we'll know soon. We actually just placed an order for shirts that we're going to give everybody at our retreat next week. So, [crosstalk 00:31:31] what's funny is like the one of the things that was actually awkward, we had this list of things, that were defining what's actually ... Like what do we want to avoid if we improve this thing and change it, what do we want to leave behind so to speak?
Jared Ponchot:
And one of them was like the shape of the old logo because it had this hulking torso and the smaller floating head with smaller floating bits around said floating head made for like some awkward ... While it looked good on its own, really large on a t-shirt. Like people thought it was fun, it looked friendly and fun, and it was just this big hulking robot. As soon as you started to try to put anything next to it or above or below it, there was just this negative space was actually quite awkward. And so, but then the other thing was it didn't hold together from afar as well.
Jared Ponchot:
And one of the things I love about the system that Aaron helped us make was we've now got like this version that's like knocked out of a circle, and to me that's the dream is when you ... For some of the bigger stuff we do to being able to have something knocked out of a circle, it's so much easier to place it, and pair it with other things and whatnot because it's like you almost can't go wrong.
Matt Kleve:
What do you mean by that? I'm not smart like you Jared, what do you mean by having [crosstalk 00:33:02] circle.
Jared Ponchot:
Well, a circle doesn't have any changes no matter which side you put something in near around it. Like it's always going to have the same negative space properties, where like instead of being a stranger regular shape [inaudible 00:33:20]. It looks great when you have a word mark to the right of it but if you try to put it above it, it looks terrible or they don't hold together because there's no clear proximal relationships. Like it has a visual relationship to this little antenna that's sticking up. But that's about it or I don't know.
Aaron Draplin:
Well, I think that the battle is it's like people are designing for water bottle and below, right? I mean, that's the fun part now. You guys get to make some t-shirts and make some stickers or something, and this stuff will work there. But the test is like the laptop, and if you had that shape, which is like this Empire State building shape, which is whether or not he's smiling, or is a he or she or whatever it is. It's just that shape is problematic because it's really ... Whenever you let you land that thing on, something is going to have to work in the angle where that negative space on the side of that. You see what I'm saying?
Aaron Draplin:
It's like you're creating problems for other things. And when you go back ... Listen, people do it all the time. You look at action sports, and you see this is our logo, this is what we do. But the proof is on our phones and stuff, and on these devices. That little icon shape, which has just this rounded corner square, that's like cellular, right? And it works on this ... If you boil us down all the way down to a cellular level, and keep on going into the quantum entanglement or whatever the hell, where it's just relationships. It's easier to think in terms of like simple little just dots. And there's just something about that where it's like, what we tried to do is when it's allowed to float like it is up on the header of the blog right now or excuse me that website or go to where it's going to be out in the world, it needs to work well with others.
Aaron Draplin:
And that test is like, "How's this thing going to look when someone says, I work for this place, I want to put it on my water bottle, I want to put it on my laptop, I want to put my backpack on a patch." It'll work on all three of those. That's the test, is to be able ... And like if you took this thing and just blew it up to a foot wide on a t-shirt, that might not be who you guys are, and just listening to how you talk. But if you put it, some other piece of art on the front of the shirt, and then this little Lullabot on the sleeve, and a tiny little one hit, a red, that might be who you guys are.
Aaron Draplin:
And that's where you get to use it that way. It's like a deck of cards. What we're trying to build is there's a lot of ways you could play it, but every one of them works. And like anything, it's like the building blocks of where is it safe, and then where is it going to be volatile? Well, that's when you go to these sort of ... I call them just I guess holding shapes. Anything can work in a triangle, in a square, anything, because that's not what you're picking up. You know? And we're out sketching on the road and I have all these kids and say, "All right, okay, you made this little dove." And there's angles, and wings, and beaks, and things. Fine. But now I'll put it in a circle real quick, and you'll watch their eyes just sort of like ... It just takes off in a different way.
Aaron Draplin:
It rests it ... Then what they start to do is they start to say, "Wow, I didn't even need the circle, but I built this to work in a circle." Right? Or I built it to work in this pleasing shape, and then they're there. Because if you go back and you look at the [sol basses 00:37:04] and you know these even contemporary [poli sheer 00:37:08] stuff, it's like things that you're swiping. Every time you swipe your credit card for Citibank, that's a poli sheer. Every time you go and take a transaction out of ... Every time you pay your bill for AT&T wireless, which I did a day ago, that is sol bass. I'm back to work, and that's the stuff I like the most. It's not about being cool or being the latest ... And the grad, students I mess with, they're only looking six months out what the latest, coolest shit is.
Aaron Draplin:
And that's, I guess what you do when you're a grad student, and then they come after my throat because I'm talking about this really larger, ubiquitous universe, right? Well, they're going to learn that real quick when they get out and get their first job, real quick, like, "No, that shit was left behind and now we just need you guys to make things at work." Work for things that are profitable, whatever. So, logos are just interesting to me because it's just like, I don't want to compete that little smiley, robot head, I don't want to compete with what you guys do. Sometimes, if you have to make excuses for a logo, your eyes aren't on the prize. Your eyes are ... You know what I mean? It's like now that you guys have this system to use, it just goes out and works. That's all I needed to help facilitate, contribute to.
Matt Kleve:
So, Jared, just one observation I've had, listening to this conversation is that it wasn't my fault when I was sitting in a hotel room at 3:00 AM trying to make my slides look good with the Lullabot logo on.
Jared Ponchot:
Right. Yeah. The number of times where over my years at Lullabot early on where people would say, "Hey, can you make a little about keynote deck that just puts our logo in for a background?" And I was like, "Yeah, it doesn't work well ... Like you can't like have it subtly off to the side or in the corner."
Matt Kleve:
Well, if I remember correctly, I ended up like chopping it and cutting off the Lullabot word mark at the bottom, and making my own, which is totally off brand.
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah, many people decapitate it to make it work. Yeah.
Matt Kleve:
All right. We're talking about logos and the Lullabot logo, and all kinds of awesome design mind exploding stuff that I don't generally talk about. Right, Mike?
Mike Herchel:
Yeah.
Matt Kleve:
Coming up right after this break, we'll talk a little bit more about logos-
Mike Herchel:
Logos. And design mind exploding stuff. Hey, it's [Avi 00:39:53] from MidCamp. How are you doing Avi?
Avi:
I'm doing great. How are you guys?
Mike Herchel:
Pretty good. So, hey, I hear you have a conference coming up.
Avi:
We do. It's MidCamp in Chicago March 18th through the 21st.
Matt Kleve:
I remember some ... I don't know, almost 10 years ago when we were in Chicago in March, and they dyed the river green.
Avi:
They do, it's super amazing. The Saturday before a camp, they dyed the river green, St. Patrick's day in Chicago. It's a huge festival. There's going to be parades, there's going to be the river dying. We're going to work on organizing some trips to get people out for that, if they come in early. Our tagline this year is a come for the river dying and stay for the community.
Matt Kleve:
That'll be fun. So, what are you expecting at camp?
Avi:
Wednesday the 18th, we've got paid trainings and a couple of summits. Thursday, Friday, we've got a lot of great sessions that are all picked, and accepted and up on the website. And then Saturday is our contribution day. We've got some socials going on too. We've got a game night on Thursday that's always super fun. So, it should be a great time.
Mike Herchel:
Cool. Well, thanks for coming on and tell us about it.
Matt Kleve:
What's your website again?
Avi:
The website is midcamp.org. We've got ticket info up there, a sponsor information, and all of the sessions and details. So come on down.
Mike Herchel:
Welcome back to the Lullabot Podcasts. We're talking about logos, and design, and a general mind exploding stuff as Mat Kleve puts it with a certified logo master, I think, Aaron Draplin. And we also have on with us our creative director Jared Ponchot.
Matt Kleve:
So Mike, one thing I was noticing when Aaron was talking about making the logo scale from a thumbnail to a billboard or however big you want to go, and it still looks good. I was noticing maybe a comparison to the way the web has evolved over the last 10 or so years. 10 or 12 years with responsive design.
Mike Herchel:
Yeah. I can see that. Back in-
Matt Kleve:
Think about the small version first and figure out how it's going to grow. And am I wrong? Designer guys?
Jared Ponchot:
When I talk with Aaron, like I gave him like this doc of like information, and all, tried to dump what work we had done in research and stuff. But really there was a short list of like ultimately as long as you can still hit the sort of fun friendly, that thing. Like the things we were trying to fix were complexity, fragility, and shape. And so, like we needed it to work small. And so Aaron started small like our ... I mean, I don't know Aaron, if you want to talk at all about your actual process or how you do that. But when we were first looking at stuff together, it was like quick little roughs that were very small, and do they work in the web header? You know?
Aaron Draplin:
Yeah. I mean, I think like anything, one of the questions I get on the road are, "Well, how do you sell a logo?" There's entertaining little clips. I can say like, "Well, show them good work." That kind of stuff. But it's like, no, first thing you have to do is you have to show context. It's too easy for us to work softball and above. Everything looks great in a PDF, right? If I'm just trying to sell just Jared and say, "Hey, it looks good, right?" No. You have to go slam it on that header and say, "Monday morning." If you bought this today and Monday morning is when we go, and we jam it on there. Does it work? We don't want you to be blindsided by that thing. It's the wrong red or it's the little ear pieces are too close to the thing, and when you jam it down, they suddenly become part of that.
Aaron Draplin:
So we just made that part. See, what's interesting is what you learn when you can take an audit and say, "This is actually where we're operating because that's not really where we go." We go to things like t-shirts and water bottle stickers, and the fun stuff, right? The things that ... Like you get a piece of merch, and you say, "Cool, this is the stuff that shouldn't even be happening." But that's not really where we need to look. It's like I did the thing for a pretty large, grocery store, but they were competing ... In Burlington, Vermont where it was. They were competing with Trader Joe's and whatever other indie sort things around ... Burlington, Vermont is this earthy place that can support these things.
Aaron Draplin:
You go to the next town down Manchester, New Hampshire, where it's a little more like, you're going to get like their Safeway version, which is just where regular people go and shop. Well, when you look at those things, they're primary colors. It's like just they're inviting come in, value save or whatever you want to call it. Like, the place we go to here is called Safeway. Right?
Aaron Draplin:
And that isn't the coolest place. You can go down to whole foods, or whole paycheck or whatever you want to call it. You can go down to those places. Of course, we have a ton of that here in Portland, but there they were starting from this really interesting spot. So, what we realized in the audit was like, you know where really where you're going to see this logo? It's not when you'll walk in, and it's not embroidered on the nice little things. It's like on every receipt. How many little things of inedible, unedible, little globs of kale, salad, do you guys sell? Because every day when they were doing those little like, you know from the deli counter, that's a big part of their business. It had a logo in a crappy little bitmap, what do you call it? Like the little digitize logo that seal comes out of this-
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah, the little heat printer or whatever.
Aaron Draplin:
That's where the thing had to work because that was 100,000 impressions versus like over the course of three or four months, instead of one cool thing even on the side of the bag or something. So, they were apprehensive that it was so clean, and so boiled down. Here's the process is like, "Well, what is a Lullabot? What is a lullaby? Lulla doesn't sound like something like ... I don't even know what's the ... Something harsh, it sounds like something soothing. So, when you come into this thing, it's like ... And by the way, I'm seeing the Bakula stuff now, and man, that shit's awesome. That shit's awesome. You know? I mean, I'm just impressed by that guy, but you made the right decision going with me. I'm just going to say.
Matt Kleve:
You're saying you're seeing that in the article that I mentioned earlier, the getting our robot a tuneup article on our website. Right? Some of that's on there.
Aaron Draplin:
Yeah. I mean, I love that you guys took the time to go and show that process. It's a little embarrassing to me because it's like, "Oh shit, we're going to show all of the licks it took to get to the center of that tootsie roll." Which has already blown all the audience socks, who even remembers the little owl who did that? But I do. I'm 46-
Matt Kleve:
I know what you're talking about.
Aaron Draplin:
So laugh it up 20 year olds.
Matt Kleve:
The answer is a three by the way. Three.
Aaron Draplin:
When you boil that thing down and it's like, it might only need to be this. That's something really interesting to me because that's the move, and I see other people doing web, print or not or whatever that I forget to do sometimes. It's like, "Wow, all I had to do was be an Apple with a little bite?" Done. That's was playful. I don't know, still worked well with others, and still had these ... I mean, works that the size of literally three or four pixels wide. And by three or four by three or four pixels wide, that's amazing to me. So, it's hard to want to go apeshit and not want to go apeshit, and just go and do fun things that are going to be awesome water bottle things.
Aaron Draplin:
But it's a little trickier just to say, "Wow ... " Just the general feel of even L-U-L-L-a is just like something soothing, and it should be something inviting, and fun, and pleasant. Right? It's not called harshbot, so that helped me just like get into the era ... Now when you look at some of the process ... And Jared, we ran into this when we were doing it. He was looking a little ominous.
Matt Kleve:
Yeah.
Aaron Draplin:
Just a little [inaudible 00:48:42] ominous. And we just pulled back and said, "But that's just not what you sound like on the phone, and that's not whatever. I mean, who are the people you're sitting next to who are coding these things or whatever? Well they're not that." And it starts to ... You get light shined on another path that's like, "This is the only path we need to go down and we start to refine things. So, right now in logo design, it's really interesting when you see the trends and you see the cool, and you see the latest, and all the jokes aside of all the tropes that are happening in either logo design or color or anything up there with design type.
Aaron Draplin:
It's weird, you can boil it back down to just the simplicity, and that just works all the time, you know? So, in the process of like, "I don't want to go too crazy." And like my job there, my job, if I remember correctly, was to arm Jared to take that and put that back in front of his people and say, "Here's a way forward." That's my job. There's really no award I get for that. I'm not looking for ... At least what I'm getting at, it's like it's just my job to just get the thing done for him and make it so it's comfortable for him to take that thing and say, "Here's how we can solve this thing."
Aaron Draplin:
It takes a while to get there, and you take a look at some of our initial things. And frankly some of the initial ones were just se ... I mean from the very base before I add anything to it was taking the existing, and helping refine that, and giving the same little bits of math. Like for instance, call it eyebrow or eyelid or smile, mouth or something. That little bit of math call it one point that's the same point now between the little earpiece and his head. Right? That's the point that starts to make up like three of those things become the antennae.
Aaron Draplin:
And there's nice math because when you go and you see these things where a couple of years ago there was these like grid line things where people were tearing apart why their logos were what they were. And you just start to see how arbitrary it was, right? And then it became cool say, "No. The math is really, really nice." And that's exactly what George Bakula is doing intuitively. He's just the math is always perfect. The distance here shows up somewhere else. And I mean, so when I'm on the road and explaining to kids, "Like when you're doing one of these cool single line logos and the type better feel the same width as the line." Whatever line is coming around, and holding all this stuff together, no one's looking at that. They're just looking at what's cool. And yet when you bring that thing down well to the size of a quarter, you lose it. When you bring it back up ... I guess it's like you're working with restraints right out of the gate.
Aaron Draplin:
That's the process. It doesn't need much more, and then it's just giving enough options for Jared to be like, "Oh, these don't work, but I didn't see this coming." And I think that's what it was, if I remember, "I didn't see this one coming, but God, it doesn't need shoulders anymore." Which was like, "Right. Why did we have that? What did that ... " Well, it's just interesting to see as a tactic to forcibly hold things back because you can find some magic there, you know?
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah. We also wanted to land at a new version of our logo that didn't feel overtly masculine both because we didn't want it to feel threatening like a robot in and of itself is a nonhuman and therefore keynotes power in certain ways and there's like all kinds of things to be careful about. And so, it was like, "How do we still make this feel like the Lullabot robot face but make it less overtly masculine?" And it was interesting how both the proportional shape of the head and the rectangle as you began refining that, and then eliminating torso, and shoulders, and this sort of hulking nature of it really helped with that a lot. I feel like.
Aaron Draplin:
Who woke the robot up?
Mike Herchel:
With the eyes. Yeah. Because the eyes were closed in the previous logo and now they're circles which indicates that they're open.
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah. I think that was a kind of a combo of things that led to that. The one of the dominant things was how do we make a logo that actually is going to function really well small? Like that still holds together at a favorite con. And as we were exploring ideas in that, Aaron, you can actually see in that little thing in the article, which we should link to the article, when we release this podcast to people.
Matt Kleve:
We definitely will, yeah.
Jared Ponchot:
... But there's some iterations in there that do different things with the eyes. The number of times over the years where people have mentioned the Lullabot logo to me when I'm with clients, especially new clients, it's almost never been good, number one. Number two, if it wasn't focused on like, "Man, why does your logo look so like, ew? Like did you guys have a professional design that or not?" If it wasn't that, it was usually some kind of a question about the confusion around why does your logo ... People couldn't read the eyes. They either didn't realize they were supposed to be closed, because they thought they were smiles for eyes. Like what? And so anyways, there was a lot of confusion. The more we tried to reduce down the size and make it sure that like this thing's going to look great small, in my opinion, it kind of exaggerated that as a potential problem.
Jared Ponchot:
And then the other thing was like, so the origin of the eyes closed were the name Lullabot, the combo that, what's it called? A neologism from lullaby and robot. They wanted to have this sort of felt like we're here to put you at ease. And Matt and Jeff like played off of like a Buddha robot, kind of like a Zen kind of a thing. And I think it was very, "Well, let's translate that exactly within this logo." And the logo at the time was more of a mascot.
Jared Ponchot:
So, you had this big robot and it was only used on t-shirts, and big stickers. And so it worked okay but in my opinion, it was on the nose. Like, "Well, it's the Zen robot or something." And I don't think we felt necessarily like we had to have the logo so on the nose so to speak. We needed it to feel friendly, and we needed it to not be confusing to look at or not make you wonder, "What's going on with those? So, and the dots for eyes both helped with the visual simplicity. It's way less busy, especially, when you start reducing the size and kind of-
Matt Kleve:
Yeah. I'm looking up at the fave icon now and I'm trying to imagine what that would look like. It probably wouldn't look all that different because there's, maybe, I don't know at most for pickles for the eyeball. So-
Mike Herchel:
Yeah, you won't be able to tell.
Matt Kleve:
... Making that a shape wouldn't really change much anyway.
Jared Ponchot:
Yeah. The old logo when they tried to make a fave icon from it. One, they decapitated it because there was just no way to make a fave icon of the entire logo. So, they put just the head. And even that didn't work because at that level where the eyes were, you couldn't pull off with the number of pixels in like the 16 pixel version of a fave icon. You just couldn't pull it off. You couldn't get that level of detail.
Matt Kleve:
Jared, you've mentioned the aerial rounded a couple of times. What font are we at now or what is that? Is it custom, our word mark?
Jared Ponchot:
The word mark. So the word mark got updated a number of years ago. And it's actually a custom face that's based on, Freight Sans is the name of the actual typeface that it's based off of, but it's basically Freight Sans where I broke it down, vectorized it, and then began building a new face using Freight Sans proportioning system. But Freight Sans, one doesn't have a rounded version and we didn't want a classic rounded, even if they'd had it because that would be too rounded, and we didn't want that level of softness. So it's just a custom made.
Mike Herchel:
Cool. So switching gears a little bit, Aaron, so you work for yourself and you said you've worked for yourself since 2004. Is it primarily logo work? I know you're on a tour, you're coming to Gainesville, Florida next week, which I'm not going to be here for, but-
Aaron Draplin:
That's been noted. That's been noted. That's been noted. Yup.
Mike Herchel:
Yeah.
Aaron Draplin:
Yup. Well, way out of the gates, it was like, "How am I going to make any money?" Right? And of those first bunch of jobs where they were retainer jobs, the small snowboarding brands that were friends, and those quickly took off to where instead of it being eight or nine things a year for a small retainer, it was 80 things. And it would be 50 ads, 20 pairs of snowboard bindings, and a catalog was 64 pages or whatever your, 128 pages or whatever it was going to be. And before I knew it, within about three or four years, I had these retainers which covered my bills. Right? And then those were like, I mean, you're doing logo design because you're putting things on snowboard bindings, union binding company, I worked for these guys for 12 years. And I made the logo, that was the first thing you do.
Aaron Draplin:
And then of course you pick the color, and it starts to inform how you talk about the brand. And every year, there'd be 20 different bindings or 18 different bindings or whatever it was. And those was 18 different little logo gigs. So, I was a one stop shop. The only thing I really couldn't do with these guys was build the website. So, we'd bring in people, and I would begrudgingly consult and just be like, "Oh, please try, if we can't make my print look like the web, then what can I do?" And I was pretty good to work with as far as there were constraints on the web. So, okay. That's where it started, where I had these retainers.
Aaron Draplin:
And that was only out of fear because what that meant was those were substantial. But these logos would pop up, see someone would see those things and would start in the snowboarding industry. And then out of that, you've got to do a little bit of tech. And the interesting part is a lot of the logos I was showing people, they didn't even know that it was something I made just for myself or just for a buddy's band or just for a buddy's shitty little food cart, which was never going to take of but at least it made sandwiches for a couple of years. People would come in-
Mike Herchel:
Is that the Cobra hot dog logo?
Aaron Draplin:
Well yeah, that's one of them.
Mike Herchel:
Oh, that one's awesome.
Aaron Draplin:
Well, what's interesting is I've never been paid any money from my buddy [inaudible 01:00:30]. It was never about that. It's just about the heart, and I love my friend, and I wanted to make sure-
Mike Herchel:
Yeah, it was a great logo.
Aaron Draplin:
It was fun. He wanted on a sweatshirt. It was like tough enough for kind of punkers, snowboarders, and some whatever the hell skateboarders to be interested in. And yet when a family walked up to it, it was just kind of this edgy, fun hot dogs, you know? So, we were trying to do our job with that, but people would take the success of that thing. They don't know that there's no money involved. It's just me and my friend, they just see that it works, and it works small, it works big and all those sort of principles are right there at this fun hot dog.
Aaron Draplin:
So, I started to get these jobs where ... I remember in the year, I think it was 2011 ... See the philosophy was I just met a lot of people who were really good at saying no, and probably on a healthier level, probably maybe better results, the idea that they would say, "No, we're not doing it for this price." And too many times it just sounded really pompous. Like I don't know if I'm being confusing here. Like they were just good at saying no way before they were good at saying yes, "We're not going to do it for that price. I'm not going to go for this creative control. We're not going to it for that timeline." And I just didn't give a shit about any of that. It was just like, "Sometimes it's going to be a Lullabot job or it's just going to be like, I'm just going to be a good little worker, and come in and just try to make good things for Jared."
Aaron Draplin:
Other times I have to sketch, and think, and start, and concoct something with their help. Other times it's ... I was open to everything. So like the year 2011 I remember I did something like 65 logos that year. In the folders, it was something a week. Now, remember some of those are for a friend. Some of those are for 15 grand or seven 7,500 or 500 bucks. All of it was in the positive. All of it. 500 bucks for a logo, 500 bucks paid for my HBO for three years or whatever tiny little things I was thinking about, the idea that like other people were going for the gold. And then in our town that meant well you only work for Nike and above, until we go out to Nike and you sit there in those meetings, and you realize you guys don't even like being here.
Aaron Draplin:
You don't even like it. You're wearing this shit because you're forced to. But do you even like being here? It scared the hell out of me. And I realized that you could stack a lot of crusty stuff on top of itself, and make exactly what they're making out there. And I could do it in my basement with my buddies. Right? So, I kept the gates open. I would show everything equally on my website and say, "Here's this loving next to so-and-so." And it just got to the point where people could go through a catalog of my stuff and say, "Wow, you're a logo designer." "I mean, I guess I am."
Aaron Draplin:
One year before that I was a little brand manager or something. I don't even mean logo ... I mean a art director for a snowboarding company. Out of that, the first time I ever got to go speak, I mean ... We'll just say in 2004 when you held up my hand, four fingers and one was merch, four fingers was just being a good service person for someone that came to me and said, "Make us this thing." 15 years later logos are on 10 fingers now. For me it's 10% right? Like then, you have these opportunities to go speak in ... All these years later, I do about 40 a year. Right?
Aaron Draplin:
It's a little misleading because well there were a couple of years where it was 40 missions we'll say, but last year it was probably 20 missions or 16 or something where I would go and do five things in one pass, that covers five of the 44 or whatever it was. So, I think the bigger thing is, I was just open to really whatever came out of this. And we were talking in the break about like, what's your week look like? It's like, well, first of all we ship a lot of merch.
Aaron Draplin:
Like where does that even come from? Well, that comes from this zone where I just didn't really care if it was about being sold. It was fun to make things for my clients if I made something for my client, and it worked. I would make a little fun version of it for the Draplin Design Company, right? And then you give those out to your buddies, and then you're giving out to your buddies and your buddies taken when they use them. And someone comes back and says, "Well, I like that hat. Can I buy one of those things? What the hell is Draplin Design guys?" Well it's me, it's me. You know?
Aaron Draplin:
And then it becomes this thing where they kind of scratch your head and it's, "You look bigger than what you, oh I want to support that." And it was like, a crusty little band and all these years later when I hold up my 10 fingers, I'm probably about six or seven merch, because it's like my girlfriend does all the shipping, we don't need to have a ... I pay her handsomely, and we don't need to have a studio or like a, I don't know, a situation where there's a bunch of kids running around.
Aaron Draplin:
We keep it just big enough to be profitable and viciously profitable. And now I, saw a lot of stuff to where I don't have to wait for a client to come to me now and say, "Here is this thing, help us with it." I just go and be the client. And the first time that really happened was with field notes is where I couldn't find ones I liked. I made my own, I made enough to give out to friends, to say, "Hey, here is, just use this thing." Well, what is it? When I went to Milan, Italy and I bought a bunch of mold skin, they were cool, but I realized they were kind of fibbing when they said that Van Gogh used these things. It broke my heart, I really thought like, no, this is the brand that goes all the way back to 1880 in South of France or something.
Aaron Draplin:
No, it wasn't it, that was just marketing, and there was something that hurt about that. So then you, "Okay, the best things in life are the things they're real, they're authentic." And could we make it be our story like that way? And that's all it could ever be. I didn't have the money to make it anything bigger or even have money to try to go copyright things. It was only from my little corner. So, that they becomes this thing, it starts to take off. I get it in the hands of Jim Coudal. And what you realize is like instead of waiting for someone to be a field notes out there, or around us, we just went and did it. And it was really intoxicating because we don't need to know and try to redo that nine more times.
Aaron Draplin:
We just need to make that thing comfortable and work. And for 13, 12 years later, field notes is this thing. It's never had a penny of debt. We hire 14 or 15 people. I mean we make a nice little cut the end of the year. It's nothing crazy, but it's healthy, and it's us. And we get to be as creative as we want to be or pull back. And luckily there's adults who run it, right? So, when people say, "What's your week look like?" Well, one day it might be Jim saying, "I need this little component built for this thing." Okay, cool. Just he lies to me because he knows I'll just abuse it and it'll show up in two weeks. It might be just knock this thing out the next day, I'm halfway through on a rock and roll festival.
Aaron Draplin:
It's called The Thing up in Seattle. And we're working on the poster for that, and tomorrow I have to do merch. I've got probably about 50 stores that are stockists, and those things come up a couple a month. So, tomorrow will be the day that I build and fill all the orders, I just go out to other people's stores. Right? And then Thursday, we'll be taking off to Florida to go do five days of this stuff or whatever, whenever that comes up. Friday might just be a day of like, "I'm just going to take the day off, I'm going to take the day off and clean." Right? And I'm getting better at how to like, what's a week look like? The last 10 days I haven't done shit, and like where does that sort of factor in?
Aaron Draplin:
It's because for the last five months I was on the road a ton, you know? And, when I'm on the road and people say to me, "Well, what things are you watching on Netflix?" And I just look at them like, "Nut I'm not, I'm not." And it's an honest answer. It's because I'm on planes and stuff. Right? And that is this weird thing that makes me shutter because it's like, I know that it's layered in, it's dripping with so many privileges, I never ever thought I'd have, to be gone that much, and on the road. But until I show up in Florida, it sounds all cool when I get on the ground with those kids, they climb all over, it's not this thing that I just get to go and just talk. Like I'm problem solving with them.
Aaron Draplin:
Sometimes kids are crying in front of me, they're showing me their portfolio or it's like I'm a little therapist some days where it's like they're having a hard go, and they're a fan of what I do, but I'm super approachable. And then I get to be the person where they break down in front of, that happens. Right?
Matt Kleve:
Anything you're coming out with or just come out with? Timex or anything you want to make sure people know about?
Aaron Draplin:
Let me get a [inaudible 01:09:45] edgewise, will you? I mean as part of freeing myself up from worrying about where the next thing is going to come land in my lap. It's allowed me to scheme up my own merch, for years now and we just did this thing for it with Timex. First of all, we made a watch. Timex came to me and said, "Hey here is this [inaudible 01:10:08], here's what we do." I knew it right away because I had one of these when I was a kid in high school. And the reason I had one is you could afford it, and they might've been 25 bucks or something. I was delivering pizza or whatever, I remember having this thing. I needed a watch. Well, in the world we're in now, I use my phone, right? We all use our phone, but I miss watches.
Aaron Draplin:
I used to work for Nixon watches back in like 2002 when I moved to Portland. And it was cool. It was ... There were these things. It was action sports based but it was like we were elevating them out of skate and snow and surf shops just with our design. That was really fun. And yet people were still wearing watches a lot then. So, all these years later, these guys come to me. And the most exciting part about it was before I said yes, when you just went and looked at the Timex spectrum. And I would look all the time because I'm a fan of like how to pack a lot of something into a little circle, you know? And if you're really, really minimal, like a diesel watch, that's interesting to me. And if you're really, really complex, like one of these techometer or whatever the hell thing, crazy, chronograph things, that's really interesting to me that they can pack that much into that 10 pounds into a five pound bag.
Aaron Draplin:
My favorite thing about this was when they came to me, and you went and looked, you could buy a beautiful watch Timex, awesome, industrial looking thing at target for 60 bucks. Right? And that was awesome because that same [inaudible 01:11:43], when I had a little bit of extra graphics and had a little bit of extra cool, and it had some little collab with Carhartt. They were 300 or 250 bucks at these cool stores in Berlin or something. Where I'd be on the road, and I'd be in this cool store, which tells you it's cool. None of this shit fits me. There's no big and tall section at Carhartt, Berlin, let me tell you right now, but when you go into that, you're like, "Why is that thing 300 bucks?" It's because they can, right? It's because they jacked it up, and they know it's limited and blah, blah blah. Who gives a shit about any of that? I just don't. Our field notes are 9.99. So, when these guys say, "What can I do to make this thing?"
Aaron Draplin:
And I say, "You can have an orange band, you can have an anodized little crown, and this, and that, and you can put your graphics, and you have your typeface." They cost us 43 bucks. Right? That's what it costs. And that's what I buy them from Timex for. Before I did a collab with these guys, it was like, "Can I just make some? How many do you even have to make?" And they made some exceptions, and what we did was we did 250. And the order would have been put in about four months ago, and about, I think it was like the 18th or something of December, they show up. I put the link up and because I saw my merch at really fair prices, there's pencils for a buck, and they last forever.
Aaron Draplin:
They're good American made pencils. Posters. I don't sell my posters for 230 bucks. Cool art or not, they're 30 or 35 bucks. It covers my cost. It covers the shipping, it covers the stuff. And it's kind of a big middle finger to people who think that, "No. This is my art on a screen printed poster or it's my art in some digital thing." First of all, none of our shit's digital. Everything is real, serigraphs, and screen printed. Right? Like the art object is intact first. And the idea that like, "No, I keep my stuff at a fair price." I was terrified that if I bought them for 43 bucks and then sold them for 84.99 like they recommended, no one would buy them. So I on a Thursday, I get them in, Thursday night, I put up one Instagram. These are ... I hadn't said anything about this. The next morning, the thing launches, we sold 235 in 18 minutes. Right?
Aaron Draplin:
[inaudible 01:14:07]. So, [inaudible 01:14:09] is when I do the first refresh, and say how many did I even sell? A minute into it, I'm thinking it's going to save five. It said 50. So, I was like, "Wait one minute into this thing being live, it's already sold 50? What happens after five minutes? So, we're going to take the links down because I couldn't even fulfill past 250. So the next order is already in, and here's the thing, it's like there's lessons to be learned. First of all, there's 235 knuckleheads out there wearing this awesome watch, and it's working. And it didn't cost 850, it cost 85 bucks. It came with a killer packaging, and the story, and this whole thing. And the coolest part is it's a real Timex watch.
Aaron Draplin:
It's a real Timex, and I just couldn't be more proud ... And that's just not ... In the spring we're going to do a bunch of stuff where it changes, and Aaron Draplin suddenly becomes this designer who does a little series with Timex. But that's just not where we started. Right? It's like first things first is just, "Can I even make these? Am I allowed to do that?" It's from this very naive standpoint, and they allowed me to. And so, that's something I just made, and there's other things in the mix, but it's like the fun part about this is I am cautious enough to where if we only sold five, that I would have 245 to have on my merch tables for the rest of my life. You know what I mean?
Matt Kleve:
Yeah.
Aaron Draplin:
[inaudible 01:15:44] thinking let's just say none of them ever sold. And because I spent, whatever it was, 12 grand or whatever is to get these things back here, like who cares? It still happened. It would just be cool to give them out to my buddies. You know what I mean? So, that's a privileged spot to be in. It's not about a [inaudible 01:16:03] code, it's not about a [inaudible 01:16:04] plan. It was more just like I got to make my dream watch, and it happened. It wasn't just ... You know what I mean? So that's one of the biggest, coolest things I've ever made. Obviously the book is the biggest thing I've ever made. That rapid design company book. Pretty much everything, 278 pages or whatever the hell it is now. That's like we're three years into this thing, and these New York people told me you'd be lucky to sell 4,000. We've sold over 600,000 in three years.
Aaron Draplin:
But the reason being is I fought to make them affordable, they're 40 bucks. I fought to make it accessible. I wasn't going to write this big lofty diatribe. I was going to tell you what it was like to take my down the road trip, and design it, and think it up, and go do it. Or what it's like to work for yourself. And so, kids are reacting, and we're selling a lot of those things. And yes, I get the nice royalty out of it. But the lesson learned is if I did it again, I would try to do it on my own, and just print them, make them, I mean, I know how to ... When you work for a big publisher like Abrams, they do all that for you, right? Which is they write it. If you want them to write it, they'll design it, if you want them to design it, they put the files together.
Aaron Draplin:
They were so surprised when I said, "I'm going to write it. Am I allowed to?" Yeah. Actually made more because of that. I'm going to design it. Wait, you usually you give a shoe box to a couple of young designers and then they put your thing together and you back and forth." No, of course. I'm going to design. It's the only way I could do all my other stuff. So in the end I wrote it, designed it, produced it, had those kinds of files, and then someone went and printed it, and it just continues to go. We're in our eighth printing of that book, which is, I'm really proud of, but the first day this big, this person has told me in New York city, like, "You're only going to sell 4,000."
Aaron Draplin:
We sold 4,500 on day one on Amazon alone. Like it was awesome. So, I mean, listen, if it was 45 or 450 or 4,500, I would have known how to be thankful for 45 or 4,500. Right? Obviously the 4,500 was just a tsunami of like, that wasn't supposed to happen. Now what? It was really cool. And when we're on the road, like I just got an email, while we're sitting here with you guys, 100 books was just shipped to Florida and they've got ... My buddy at Mama Sauce here. He's got the receipt, they're there.
Aaron Draplin:
And that's a lot of weight. That's 400 pounds, four pounds a book, so 100 books are sitting there, and when that gets loaded into that little shit rental car, and we start to go Central Florida, every trip, I would say, "Look at that rental car." I mean, me alone in that rental car is sketchy, but [inaudible 01:19:01] 100 pounds of books lighten our load children, and they buy the book. It's pretty cool.
Matt Kleve:
And the book you're talking about, is that Pretty Much Everything, is that right?
Aaron Draplin:
Yep. On Amazon. Yup, you can see it, and go find it. Yeah.
Matt Kleve:
Aaron, do you have any suggestions for any of the young kids as you say, who might be listening and-
Aaron Draplin:
First of all I would say ... Even though the two of you guys who were like, "Oh, we don't really do graphics." It's like, well, I hope that this is interesting to people who aren't a logo nerds and vector nerds. Like maybe Jerry and I am, but advice, be a good person. And don't bite off more than you can chew. And if you took the job, finish the job, and if you don't like your job you're at right now because your boss, the Jared that's pushing you around all day long, now, is a horrible person, outsmart him. Outsmart him, do your job, be a good ... Because there's just this weird thing where right now there's all this like, "I don't even know how to talk about it." But you guys heard Gary V. you know Gary V?
Mike Herchel:
I haven't heard of Gary V.
Matt Kleve:
Hang on. Yeah. I'm not sure why though.
Aaron Draplin:
Well, here's why. Because you're actually profitable, and you're actually working real jobs as citizens. Okay? [inaudible 01:20:25] Robins right?
Mike Herchel:
Sure.
Aaron Draplin:
The big guy [inaudible 01:20:31] break up with your wife right now in front of 10,000 people, and those 10,000 people, had to pay 10,000 bucks to get in there. I mean, just charlatans. But you're seeing that shit in graphic design right now where it's like, "Hey man, we're just going to aspiration ourselves out of whatever shitty situation we're in." And I'm really careful on the road to tell these young kids, "Do not aspiration yourself out of being able to pay your rent." Like you don't like your job because you've got a bad boss, too bad. I had that too. Be smart, be a good citizen, do your job, give them what you need to give them and then go home and then be aspirational, you know?"
Aaron Draplin:
And that doesn't mean you get to just sit and vege on Netflix for 19 hours. You have to go home and punch into another job, which is how to get the hell out of the other job. You see what I'm saying? And it's like ... I'm really clear about that. Like there's just all these, 24 year olds out there who are selling this shit, consulting, and subscription services, and basically it's just a bunch of bullshit. It's blathered, how to feel good about yourself, and people need that. I know people are hurting. It's a weird time in America, politically. It's a weird time in America, climate problem, whatever, all sorts of stuff. Australia is on fire.
Aaron Draplin:
You're hearing things and yet, there's these guys that will just swoop in and just take your money and make you feel good for an afternoon and then you quit your job. And then what? So, when I go on the road, I'm hyper careful that I just explain to them like what I'm going to show you today, it is hands on the hard body tactics. It is not [inaudible 01:22:19] going to say it. just a bunch of snake oil. It's like, no, I'm going to teach you how to make your files smarter. I'm going to teach you how to connect this line in Illustrator, in a little bit different way. I'm going to teach you things, not just talk about it, right? So, I would just tell a young kid anywhere, for that matter, there's a paycheck to be had there, you know? Sure. No one's just going to let you do what you want to do and pay your bills with that stuff.
Aaron Draplin:
You know? And I'm seeing some of the fallout of this stuff because I'm having these kids come to me and say, "But I did so-and-so's 19 step program for all this money." I'm just like, "What do you expect, man? You just have to go on work. You have to go ... It's going to suck for a while.
Matt Kleve:
I'm hearing some Midwest work ethic come out of you.
Aaron Draplin:
Oh, yeah, it's there. I mean, listen, whatever I've been able to accomplish to today, it's because I didn't screw off when I was a chair lift operator at a ski resort. I didn't get to screw up when I was a pizza maker delivering pizza. I didn't get to just quit my jobs up in the summer in Alaska when I was washing dishes because that five and a half months that sucked every morning. You're up at 5:00 in the morning on that train up in Alaska, washing dishes all day, 16 hours a day up to Fairbanks and then back down to Anchorage.
Aaron Draplin:
I did that for five months to buy my first computer. There was no other way to do it. My mom and dad couldn't cut me a check, it was just, well I have to go do it. And that taught me like I'm never giving away a whole summer again. So, I sacrificed one ... Do kids even know how to do that shit anymore? I don't know. So, I just explain to them what I do, and say when you take the job for Jared or you take the job for anyone for that matter, fair money like Jared paid or no money like your buddy is going to pay, you're on that job. You better finish that shit. You better wrap your head around it the right way, and you better have nice emails and you better say thank you every single time, and you better be a good citizen, otherwise, you're just seeing kids they're looking for the sort of easier way outs to become like well it's like some kind of Amway shit.
Aaron Draplin:
Like, "Hey, you listen, you can't visualize your mortgage." I mean you can get [inaudible 01:24:45] you can think of these things. But you can't take a bag of positive thinking, visualization, Wells Fargo 20 blocks from me, and say, "I'm going to pay the mortgage on my new studio with all this aspirational bullshit." You can't do that. I can't go in there and just say, "I'm going to pay my mortgage with how cool I am. I pay it with paycheck."
Matt Kleve:
That doesn't work.
Aaron Draplin:
There's the deal. Someone got a paycheck. I'm really careful with that shit. So, when I go on the road, I go into this whole diatribe when I start out and anything, they could be coming there just for free or they can be coming there, and I'm paying a big workshop fee, and I just kind of stop and say, "Hey, I'm a human being. You need to stop me and mine me for everything you can in this next three hours, that's why I'm alive. That's why I'm here." Not this shit where I'm just going to kind of give you little snippets. You see what I'm getting at? I don't know how to say, it's just scary to me because there's a whole industry out there in graphic design I've seen, and probably all of this stuff. See, that's what I like about coders. There's just no fucking around there.
Aaron Draplin:
The code's good, code doesn't work. You know what I mean? And it's like one of the things you run into with the code world is they're really good with like sharing with each other. Because there's no race to be who's the best, there's no race to be a billionaire. Everyone understands that. Like, you guys are going to inherit the earth because I need you guys to code all the shit that I'm clicking through to buy some shoes or something, whatever it is. And it's like I'm a cake decorator. my shit's limited. So, in that community, you see how people like when they have a problem, they'll like share a little bit more. I really appreciate that. I noticed that stuff.
Aaron Draplin:
Whereas graphic designers one click down, they're a little more like, "I'm not giving out that sauce." It's like, "Man, whatever." So, we go out in the road, and I give it all away, you know? And then when I get back home here, I'll be working this afternoon on stuff. So yeah.
Matt Kleve:
Jared, do you have any final thoughts about logo design or anything we talked about?
Jared Ponchot:
Some of what you just said is one of the reasons we were so excited to work with you, Aaron, and I really appreciate it. I've been a fan, and a lot of respect for what you do and the way you do it. So I appreciate you coming on with us.
Aaron Draplin:
... For saying that, man, I appreciate, I mean, here's what I would say is, thanks for rolling the dice. I mean, hopefully I was fun to work with, and was on time, and had nice emails, and now the proof is in the pages. I look now and I look at that thing and it's pretty exciting to me because this isn't about being ... The juicier the project ... I am in trouble with juicy projects right now because no one can make a decision. Too cool, and they're too whatever, and they're too blah, blah, blah. But I know how to handle that shit. This, it's out working and there's a paycheck to be had just for that. So congrats. Keep it going. Stay solvent. Be good citizens. [inaudible 01:27:43] MTV, UK. I know it's 15 years ago, but whatever that was. But thanks for having me be a little part. I appreciate it.
Mike Herchel:
Yeah. Thanks Aaron. I wish I wasn't out of town ... I'm missing you next week when you come into town.
Aaron Draplin:
It's really fun. It's really fun to go to Gainesville because no one goes to Gainesville. I've been there before and [inaudible 01:28:07] because there's kids there that are hungry, man. They're hungry, no one goes. So, we did a workshop and we sold it out already, and there's going to probably be another one. And then it's my job to show up, and really kick ass. And it's not about just seething them with accolades. It's more like, "What are you guys up against? Let's talk about it." And we do. It's really fun. So, it's a privilege to go do that. It's a privilege sit with you guys and bullshit for hours. So, all right, well thanks you guys. I appreciate it.
Mike Herchel:
Thanks again. Bye.
Matt Kleve:
Thank you-
Jared Ponchot:
... Much.

Published in

If you enjoyed this Episode, you may also enjoy...

About host Mike Herchel

Thumbnail
A senior front-end developer, Mike is also a lead of the Drupal 9 core "Olivero" theme initiative, organizer for Florida DrupalCamp, maintainer for the Drupal Quicklink module, and an expert hammocker

About host Matt Kleve

Portrait of Matt Kleve
Matt Kleve has been a Drupal developer since 2007. His previous work in the media sparks a desire to create lean, easy to use workflow processes.