When I first started in design, I had one goal and one person who I aspired to be like. Aaron MF’ing Draplin. He was my hero.

As a self-taught designer from a small town, I looked around the industry, especially in books, and saw so many pompous elitist designers that it made me feel sick.

Designers at the top of the industry who had no interest in where they came from or the people at the bottom. Using their status as a tool to publish self-congratulatory books.

I didn’t connect to this at all.

But, Aaron felt different. He felt disruptive, grounded and welcoming. In an industry where many had poles deep in their butts, he stood out like a beacon of hope. He proved there was another way to be successful.

I often think about these situations as if they were a scene from Lord Of The Rings. The tall immortal elves in their fancy armour and palaces representing the design elite and then Aaron coming in with a long beard, staff and grey hat like Gandalf.

Knowledgeable, wise but fun and open-minded.

I just wanted to go on an adventure and see where Gandalf Draplin could take me. Rather than falling into the career politics pit every other designer around me was trying to climb out of.

connor fowler with graphic designer aaron draplin at birmingham design festival
I met Draplin at Birmingham Design Festival a few years back

It’s been about four years since I really started to take design seriously, and I definitely attribute my desire to pursue this career as a direct result of learning and being inspired by my heroes.

We all need heroes in our lives to give us focus and inspire our next moves. Some people love GaryVee, Chris Do or even Paul Rand but one thing is common throughout. They all bring inspiration and knowledge to the lives of the lost.

When you feel down, it only takes one of their videos or books to get you fired up again. Your heroes help you remember why you started and where you want to go. Their teachings can help you stay focused.

Today it’s even easier to get a hold of and absorb information created by your heroes regardless of whether they are living or dead. You can find an Instagram post, a book, an archive of their work on a blog or even join a live Zoom call with them and hundreds of other people.

For the last few weeks with COVID-19 and all the mental overloading from it, I’ve felt very unproductive and blurry. Nothing I was doing had any momentum and I was just constantly spinning my tyres.

To attempt to break this feeling, I joined the Quarantine Book Club yesterday to hear Aaron speak to over one hundred people and answer their questions. It was an online “meet the author” event. I was even lucky enough to ask a question live on-air as well!

Hearing him talk about his work and passion for merch got me immediately fired up. When you have a hero you can look up to, those moments are spectacular. It was like a switch was flipped inside me as I immediately wanted to leave the call and start creating! Not many people can cause that kind of reaction in me.

Even if you never interact with your heroes you can still use their energy to fuel your fire. To light you up when you lose sight of your original mission.

I am extremely grateful to live in such a connected world at the moment, even in these unusual times. Without the internet, I may never have discovered Aaron Draplin, let alone had a chance to speak with him.

Although the times we live in right now are challenging, please take a long hard look at what you have and the people you can connect with.

If you’re feeling down try checking back in with the people who inspired you originally. See what they’re doing and relight some of your old fires. Keep burning bright.