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Interview with Aaron Belyea (Alphabet Arm Design)

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Aaron Belyea – Owner / Senior Designer

What got you into designing?
By default, actually. I played in a number of bands and ended up doing logos, flyers, and merch for fun. Friends and other bands we played with started asking me to design for them. I hadn’t really even thought of design as a career up until that point. Ironically enough, I had been collecting old clip art books, archival catalogs, type specimens and shooting photographs for years. All which seemed to integrate effortlessly into my early work. 

What was your first photo editing program?
I believe it was Photoshop 2. 

Describe your style.
I would like to think it’s somewhat diverse. I certainly respond to simple and bold solutions that have an underlying hint of complexity. Our client base is incredibly varied. I really value that over the course of a day we’ll work on super clean, sophisticated marketing material,  then switch gears and hand render type or distress elements for a messy, tactile CD package. As designers, it really keeps us from getting complacent or bored.

How would you describe running a design firm?
Amazing, challenging, fun, frustrating, but extremely gratifying. I really enjoy overseeing + art directing a bunch of really talented cats.

What are some of your favorite bands?
Yikes, that’s a tough one…Elvis Costello, Pixies, The Shins, Lee Morgan, Mr. Lif, Doves, Bad Brains, The Zombies + French Kicks.

Any advice for an upcoming designers who are interested in running there own design firm?
Think very carefully before hand. Have a solid understanding of payroll taxes. Order coffee in bulk. Make sure that you have a loyal client base before you open the doors.

What has been your favorite piece of artwork that you designed?
Wow, that’s even harder than the favorite band question. I did this mixed media piece for a design installation that I do love dearly. Part rust, part vinyl, part tin, part spray paint, part sweat. 

How did you come up with the name ‘Alphabet Arm’?
Before I was a designer I had a love for type and had an alphabet tattooed around my arm. I quickly had the nickname “Alphabet Arm” which became my design moniker. 

How did you start up Alphabet Arm? Was it started by a group of friends?
I launched it as a solo designer in November of 2001. I ran the studio solo for a couple of years and got a handle on the business end, then slowly started adding designers. At the moment, we are a four designer studio with one bad ass intern.

What is your office like?
It is in a renovated brick and mortar warehouse with all the modern amenities of a new building. We have a lot of artwork on the walls. Two of my favorite installations are the noted “T-shirt Wall” (framed samples of shirts we have designed) and “The Logo  Wall” (12′ x 30′ wall with a sampling of logos applied as vinyl cuts). The vibe is very professional, but relaxed. It is a large open space and we spend a great deal of time telling jokes, screwing around, attempting to make each other laugh. If we weren’t such highly productive designers, I’m afraid not much would get done. Dress code: t-shirts and sneakers.

What helps you get inspiration for new designs/projects?
Everything? Pop culture, music, design heroes, poorly executed design examples, my designers themselves, and coffee.

What would your thoughts be for designing buttons? Any tips?
Try to come up with something that is not obvious or hasn’t been done a million times. Think about scale, think about the message, and think about it in terms of something you would want to wear yourself.

Any words of encouragement for new and upcoming designers?
Build a killer portfolio. Seriously, do as much work as you can even if you have to give it away until you have a respectable collection of work. Study the masters (Reid Miles, Art Chantry, Saul Bass), define your style, and practice, practice, practice.

Thanks for your time Aaron!
Be sure to check out his design firm Alphabet Arm Design

Last Modified: January 5th, 2021

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