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June 18

Our Industry, Our Conversations: Aaron Keller


In his interview Aaron Keller CEO and Managing Principal of Capsule discusses the evolution of brand strategy. He also shares his thoughts on the role design plays in today’s increasingly digital, less human world.

Garrio Harrison: Lets start at the beginning. How did you get started?

Aaron Keller:   Prior to co-founding Capsule, I served as a research strategist with Yamamoto Moss, a nationally recognized brand design firm. My work experience at Yamamoto Moss, in addition to my education and entrepreneurial nature, gave me the inclination to start something on my own. I have an undergraduate degree in Marketing Management from the University of Saint Thomas and a MBA from the Carlson School of Management, where I received a British Airways Scholarship to study at the University of Manchester, England. After returning from England, the planning with Brian Adducci started with side conversations on how we might design a new breed of design firm.

Garrio: What is your current role and day-to-day responsibilities?

Aaron:   As the Managing Principal and co-founder of Capsule, I lead brand development, strategy, research and naming for the firm’s clients. My daily activities typically include advising clients, giving perspective, presenting work and providing inspiration for our teams. Additionally, my desire to write means weekly blog posts on a variety of subjects, as well as writing two books on the subjects of logo and packaging design; Design Matters: Logos and Design Matters: Packaging.   I have been very fortunate to work with many clients, locally (3M, Cargill, Caribou Coffee, Sanford Health, Schroeder Milk, Red Wing Shoes) and nationally (Craftsman, Double Cross Vodka, Fetzer Wines, Fisher-Price, Jack Daniel’s, Patagonia, SmartWool, Yakima).

Garrio: What role does design play in today’s increasingly digital world?

Aaron:   Design is the 15,000 pound rainbow-colored elephant in the room. Steve Jobs made it his mission to make technology more human. As we increasingly live in a digital (less human) world, the role of design is elevated right into the boardroom. Evidence is right before our eyes. 3M, the brand known best for innovation, has added a chief design officer and more credence to design than ever before seen. This doesn’t mean if you have “design” in your title you should ask for a pay raise, but rather more people are becoming aware of the perspective a “design thinker” brings to any offering (digital or physical).

Garrio: How has traditional brand strategy evolved and where do you see it going?

Aaron:   Traditional brand strategy considered “brand” as something that sold on the shelves of Target, Walmart or your local grocer. The advertising world has slowly given up a death grip on the definition of modern brand strategy. This is just in time, because modern brands today can’t get away with the lies, puffery and overreach of the traditional advertising world. Madmen is fun to watch, but only the old sexist men who are still alive want that world back. Walmart, Martha Stewart, Lebron James and the start-up down the street are all considered a “brand” by modern brand strategy. Brands are assets that can be leveraged and destroyed. Brands represent a promise between the corporation and the human being. As this continues, there will be more emphasis on authenticity (not just the retro brands), transparency (not just lipstick service to the idea) and sustainability as it relates to the brand’s role in our broader community. This will continue to be more and more important.

Garrio: What advice would you give someone interested in a design-focused career?

Aaron:   Read, be a thinker, study, be diverse in mindset and background, take your time to consider, find your passion, spend time outdoors, trust your gut, find yourself around people who challenge you, don’t ever get bored, be positive whenever you can and just know who you are and what you want to be good at in life.

Design is not a degree. Design is not a way of dressing. Design is not a tattoo. Design is not a physical thing. Design is not creativity. Design is not a final place.

Design is a way of thinking.