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How Aaron Draplin gave us a serious wake-up call

He doesn’t have any awards. He doesn’t have any credentials or accolades to speak of. And, he wasn’t even supposed to be on stage. According to him.

Aaron Draplin (Draplin Design Co., Field Notes) has spent the past 16 years forging his own version of a career in graphic design, trudging through the ferociously cutthroat industry and rolling up his sleeves with any project large or small, budget or no budget. He defied the odds, escaped the bucolic small-town mindset of “you’ll hate your job and be buried in debt,” and through nothing but hard work with dirt and ink under his nails, has become one of the most successful and sought-after designers.

We expected Draplin’s bold demeanor to really turn some heads at Marketing United, and he didn’t disappoint. Amidst all the incredible panel discussions, the presentations, and the conversations around increasing engagement, Aaron’s keynote was the perfect mix of raw, kick-in-the-pants real talk™ — you know, “work hard and do what you love” — with a dash of punk rock. He’s the denim jacket and trucker hat in a crowd of laptops and retweets.

Here are a few takeaways from his talk, “Tall Tales From A Large Man,” but we highly encourage you to watch the whole thing when you get a chance.


Work hard and love this shit.

Whether you’re a marketer, designer, developer, or whatever … it’s too easy to get caught up in the drudgery, stress, and headaches of the daily grind. Take a moment to remember the why behind what you do, and you’ll do better work for it.

Slow down and do it on paper.

With limitless productivity tools on our laptops and smartphones geared to help us “get things done,” there’s nothing like the hyper-focused, distraction-free zone of a notebook. When your hand hits paper, you’re more free.

Do good work for good people.

Aaron told a story about a friend who needed a logo quick. Like, real quick. And, of course, he had no budget. He didn’t have to take on the project, but this logo was a labor of love from the beginning. The resulting logo not only got Aaron’s friend out of a legal pickle, but it made his friend’s mom happy. And in the end, that’s what really matters.


And, Aaron, when you come back to Nashville, I’ll drive you to Grimey’s.


Watch Aaron's full keynote here: