Aaron Draplin’s Top Five

Create Magazine asked Aaron Draplin—graphic designer, author, and the founder of Draplin Design—to pick his favorites in five categories of design: logo, branding system, wayfinding/signage/environmental, poster, and packaging. Below, he shares his choices and explains why they speak to him. (Are they among your favorites, too? Share your thoughts in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.)

LOGO: American Revolution Bicentennial Logo, 1976
Designer: Bruce N. Blackburn

My favorite logo of all time is the Bicentennial logo from 1976! Bruce Blackburn from Chermayeff & Geismar. Forty years later, it still feels modern to me. Balanced. Positive. Optimistic. America’s going though its normal cycle of cynicism in this election cycle. But I look at this and am reminded of how lucky we are to live here, and to be free, and to make choices for our own lives. Every time I enter Canada and see their beautiful flag—not flapping on a pole, but even in the smallest of places on a custom form—I kick myself and think, “We could have that too on all of our stuff.” Or “Damn, we had that back in the summer of 1976.” America’s 240 years old this summer, and I believe it’s changing for the better, for all people, even that orange-haired, nightmare-inducing, demagogue troll who’s ravaging the land with his short-fingered vitriol. Even for that turd, too. 


BRANDING SYSTEM: Lego, 1978–1984
Designer: The Lego Group

This is where it all started for me: Lego boxes. Their problem was this: How to communicate the same story of “space or “city” or “castles” to every kid in the world? The solution: Simple, geometric typefaces and fun, clear photography. I can remember Lego feeling special, and modern, and even sophisticated. The graphics were all so considered, and you quickly understand the decision-making had a “global consciousness” in mind. Universal moves. This is where I started loving Helvetica!


WAYFINDING/SIGNAGE/ENVIRONMENTAL: This One Time on the Streets of Switzerland, 2005
Designer: Many

I don’t have a specific city or project to mention. “Eurocentric design” might be a better way to put it? It was this instant awareness of how things changed when we rolled into Switzerland. It was the tiniest of moves, and they were beautiful, smart, and perfectly crafted—and the funnest part, completely public. I instantly noticed the smallest of things, like where a hose connected to a fire hydrant, or some kind of electric transformer. Public utilities—and the typography fit with the signs with the street arrows with the buses whizzing by. It was like one big Lego set! It was a lesson in how design can affect every little piece around you, and efficiency in communication, and, well, civilization!


POSTER: U.S. National Park Service Posters with Ansel Adams Photography, 1968
Designer: U.S. National Park Service

I have the Sequoias poster in my living room. Have you ever been to Yosemite? Among those giants? It’s moving, and I recommend you get there and get silent and tap into the mystical beauty of those national treasures. Preferably at dawn or sunset. And what I like the most about these posters, aside from that incredible type and even more incredible logo, is how “to the point” the imagery is. Adams is known for his beautiful dramatic visits, but you always felt like they were a couple miles away. These make you feel like you are there.


PACKAGING: Polaroid, 1958
Designer: Paul Giambarba

Paul Giambarba’s classic Polaroid product packaging system! Every now and again I’ll see a little component from this system at an estate sale. And I always grab them. Not for the plastic doodad inside, but just to celebrate how beautiful the color burst on the cover is. There’s just something “positive” about the colors. Vibrant. Fun. Reminds me of a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico or something. All those colors, bursting off the street…how anyone wouldn’t be so fired up with all of that colorful beauty moving by is beyond me! I feel the same way about its simple, geometric square design and lines. It just grabs me and makes me feel that what’s in that box—the chance to make color photos quickly—is oddly limitless. 

Are any of Aaron’s top five among your favorites? Share your thoughts on his choices (and yours) in the Comments section.


Located in the mighty Pacific Northwest, the Draplin Design Co. proudly rolls up its sleeves on a number of projects related to print, identity and illustration. They make stuff for Coal Headwear, Union Binding Co., Richmond Fontaine, Esquire, Nike, Wired, Dinosaur Jr, Timberline, Chunklet, Eaux Claires, Poler, Incase, Giro, Cobra Dogs, Jill Soloway, Nixon Watches, Patagonia, Target, Woolrich, and the Obama Administration, among many others. Says Aaron, “We’ve traveled the world telling our story, with 240 speaking fiascos under our belt and counting! We co-created Field Notes with our Jim Coudal, and our proud offering of American-made memo books are sold in over 1,000 stores nationwide, with limited-edition special editions shipped quarterly to a booming subscriber list. Our first book, Pretty Much Everything, came out on May 17, 2016, published by Abrams Books, and is, incredibly, already in its third printing. We pride ourselves on a high level of craftsmanship and quality that keeps us up late into the wet Portland night.”

Aaron Draplin was one of many creative luminaries who spoke at 2016’s Adobe MAX. Visit the MAX website to watch recorded keynote presentations and conference sessions.

September 29, 2016

Photograph of Aaron Draplin: Leah Nash