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Q&A with Aaron Robbs

Designer and art director @ New York City

Hi. My name is Aaron Robbs. I’m a designer and art director living and working in New York City. Professionally I’m a Design Lead on the Brand Team at Dropbox. I oversee and guide the team that creates our illustrations, defines and implements brand guidelines, as well as the creative for product launches. I work with a smart and multi-disciplined group of illustrators, designers, strategists, producers, writers and marketers day to day. So I end up having to wearing a lot of different hats. Most of the work I’ve been doing over the past few years has been in leadership and people development which is much different than being a designer. John Maeda said that, “Leading by doing ceases to be leading when you are doing more than leading.” I’m a designer so I live in the details, and initially handing over that granular work was a challenge. I’ve learned to find joy in being surprised by the design solutions people come up with rather than trying to design through people.

How do you master your skills in visual design? Hard work, courses, workshops, exchange of experience with colleagues, etc.?

Yeah I think some combination of all of those things plus a lot of time. Also being curious about art, design history, film, and music has just led me to believe that everything is connected. Good visual composition is the same in fine art and design…also there are parallels in music composition….how to use negative space to find balance, tonal color, etc. More specifically though I’m still learning how to be reductive, find focus, and make sure I’m solving the right problems. Our tools and ways of working are always in flux, but having a solid foundation in design principals will always be relevant.

Who are the best graphic designers in your surroundings? Are you knit by some professional network / community in New York City and what does this atmosphere give you?

I definitely know quite a few designers in New York that inspire me to work harder. Alex Proba, Damien Correll, Zack Sears, and Chris Muccioli are a few that come to mind. Much of what inspires me about what they do is that they don’t define themselves by their 9–5. Their personal work is great and they devote tons of time to those projects too. There is inspiration and opportunity everywhere in New York City. If you’re not tuned in and making something of the experience, then you’re doing it wrong.

Generally though the design community is really small and all pretty well connected on the internet. I’ve made a lot of friends all over the world that I keep up with.

How does your studio look like? What are the compounds of positive work environment for you?

My wife Julia and I share a small office in our apartment and I also have a desk at the Dropbox office in NYC. Generally I work best in a space that has all the tools and resources close at hand. I have a cutting mat on my desk, as well as pencils, pads, exactos, reference books, light box, etc. My wife is a photographer, so I have full access to photo equipment which is awesome. I work best when I have extended periods of uninterrupted focus…that’s usually at night when the email dies down and the meetings are done for the day.