I came across Aaron’s website a few weeks ago while skimming through dozens of digital cribs. From time to time, I return to WUpdates, our tool where we keep track with product updates and enlist the sites made with our products.
It is my way of coping when I feel a bit lost and need to see something more concrete out of my work.
As a storyteller and marketer, I often get caught in the doing-mode and forget about the why behind the scenes. And since the core of what I am delivering is far from concrete and specific, I try to find gateways to recover my inner balance.
Aaron’s work struck me from the first look. I not only admire that he uses Pile, our most expensive WordPress theme, but I was impressed by the story he created on his website: both visual and narrative. When I start digging into research to put together the questions for this interview, I was even more fascinated about his creative vision.
Make yourself comfortable and read why creativity is deeply connected with freedom, why design is movement, or why people’s personalities drive the world. His words, not mine.
What’s your story, Aaron? Who you are, where you come from?
Aaron: My story — I love exploring — especially outside in a national or state park. When I’m not outside, I’m often sitting with one leg crossed over the other, in an old leather office chair – looking up at my imac with a browser that has 25 tabs open.
Designing is freedom — creativity is deeply connected with freedom.
I grew up in the St. Louis, Missouri (Missouri is known as the “show-me-state”). I’m the son of an entrepreneur I greatly respect – Jeff Phelps.
My dad married my mom young and they had 3 kids by the age 23. My dad was supporting us on the salary of a Taco Bell manager. I did not know this at the time — but after my sisters and I went to bed, he’d spend hours reading each night about computers — in giant 800 page books.
When I was 9 years old, he started his own business – called Bytes for a Bit a mobile computer repair and networking business… This was before Geek Squad!
His business continued to grow with a loyal clientele and eventually he needed to hire additional employees to keep growing. Much like my dad, I spent a good amount of time reading books… but I was more interested in software than hardware — I studied HTML and Photoshop.
One day my dad asked me to design a logo and website for his business. This planted the seed for the path I’d take into the years ahead. I was a one-man small business. I was selling websites – and at 21, I was hired on as web designer for Chicken Soup for the Soul.
How did you become a branding mastermind?
Aaron: I’m 95% self taught. I started out using Photoshop in the year 2000 — designing free meal coupons for a couple fast food chains.
My cards were so convincing, my friends and I would enjoy free meals much of our senior year in highschool. But I always loved commercial art — and I’ve always loved designing. For me, designing is freedom — creativity is deeply connected with freedom.
What’s your core mantra as a creative?
Aaron: Keep moving. Try not to get stuck in the fine print. Design is Movement – that moves people (to actions/beliefs). Doing/designing/creating something new, taking risk, moving forward – out of the comfort zone is key to fulfillment.
What do you love about the branding world?
Aaron: I like seeing innovation come to life. I love that smaller businesses are rising up and breaking out of the shadows of the behemoth conglomerate brands (Phillip Morris, Bayer, GE, etc).
It’s people’s personalities that really drive the world.
I love that creativity and careful branding are giving voice to a “peoples movement” in terms of consumer landscape.
What challenges impacted you most in your career?
Aaron: Over my career, I’ve been in a few situations where a few super-extroverts (people who are loud, unfiltered and “have all the answers” and yell them out) have challenged me in an impactful way throughout my career.
It’s people’s personalities that really drive the world. Learning to respect people for who they are, and navigating the stormy seas of conflict – have helped me to mature professionally, and equipped me with insight for understanding the value of human relationships in a business/organizational setting.
Which client did you enjoy working with most and why’s that?
Aaron: I really enjoyed working with Emerald Greenhouses. The CEO was in the right place at the right time during California’s Green Gold Rush…Sales of a million of dollars (plus) per month for a season.
But Jeff (CEO) was more than just a GH manufacturer, he was a dreamer – he was developing an IOT (automated, remote controlled) greenhouse system – and had multiple patents on his designs. He was spending a lot of money on networking… to become the first GH on Mars.
I’ve learned to be a business-artist as well as a digital artist.
He was the most difficult person to work for because he was all over the place with ideas and priorities, but it was really fun at the same time, I worked on some really fun video projects and helped shape his “Mantra for Mars” pitch deck for astro-VC’s.
What drives you to choose bold color palettes?
Aaron: Color is one of God’s greatest ideas. All colors have meaning and influence how we feel. Bold colors to me are futuristic — they give foreshadowing to something exciting yet to come — they have an energy about them that powers interest, and desire to know more.
What does your portfolio say about you?
Aaron: I think it shows my work is aimed at helping small businesses do big business via stellar web, print, and video (I am for the underdog – equipping them for battle with killer visual media). It also shows attention to detail and a wide range of industries served (manufacturing, finance, education, e-commerce, mom&pop biz).
How do you choose your customers?
Aaron: I choose based on 90% on profitability (time investment/scope) — because I’ve learned to be a business-artist as well as a digital artist. I try to select interesting projects that I’d enjoy being a part of – when that happens, it’s a win.
I like to work with manufacturers and B2B because I’m interested in the dynamics of telling that side of the story… Most often someone will refer a friend to me — and at that point it’s about having a conversation to determine scope of work, budget and if we’ll pair nicely.
Pile for me is a plug-and-play theme that offers an elegant and distinct style — along with ease of use – which means I can quickly get some work online and don’t need to spend as much time on presentation.Aaron
How does this product help you emphasize your projects?
Aaron: On homepage — the parallax options on the homepage were a real selling point for me because the movement on the page gives life to the page and makes each image stand out a bit as someone scrolls though. I love that the hover image color can be edited in the portfolio page and made visible on hover on the homepage.
Withing the portfolio page — Pile allows me to promote a specific portfolio piece with ease. The different options for color, typography and image alignment give me the ability to complement or contrast styles with the art I am showcasing.
The customizer gives you all the ABC’s of CSS changes and the layout is clean, modern and the theme comes loaded with great demo content for inspiration.
How it helps you highlight your creative statements?
Aaron: Pile helps me present my work online in a creative way and presentation lends itself to purpose. I have had many compliments (“I checked out your site. Really cool, great work.”), and I’m sure Pile deserves some of the credit.
You wrote on your www that ‘’Seeing is believing’’. What does that mean?
Aaron: Visual communication opens our minds to concepts and truths in a powerful, profound way. VR is a great example of this — the VR allows someone to enter a dream world — alternative reality based on what information a user’s eyes collect and communicates to the brain. Sight is connected to conviction (belief).
It was a real pleasure to have this ping-pong of ideas with Aaron and see how he approaches design and how does our WordPress theme helps him put his creative vision at work. As he wisely puts it, it takes a lot of courage to get outside the comfort zone and value the freedom you have in a way that enriches your life, both personal and professional.