I was planning to write about funding options for small businesses today (fascinating stuff, really), but that will have to wait until next week because I just returned from the half-price sale at the Aesthetic Apparatus studio in Minneapolis. As an indie music fan, I’ve been a follower of AA for many years—founders Dan Ibarra and Michael Byzewski met in the late ’90s while working at Madison, WI agency, Propoganda. While still working their day job, Dan and Michael began creating limited edition hand-printed concert posters for shows, and before long the demand for these eccentric gems of visual ephemera grew to the point where it became the day job.
Visually and conceptually, the Aesthetic Apparatus portfolio has a unique and eccentric vibe. It tends to lean heavily on retro-ish found imagery and exquisitely rendered typographic treatments. Many posters have a dark, comic book feel and seem to be after a tongue-in-cheek shock value, while others are elegant and stark.
The success of AA defies all conventional wisdom, and is an absolute tribute to the power of awesome design. As the Aesthetic Apparatus legend has grown, they’ve begun to pick up more traditional design clients—many of whom are in the music biz, but Burton Snowboards, Harper Collins, and Minnesota Public Radio all appear on the AA client list, as do some pretty impressive agency partners with whom AA has collaborated. But the core poster business is still an essential part of their operation. The studio in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, triples as print shop/gallery/store. Likewise, AA posters and merch are available on their website (until they sell out, which many do).
I’m impressed by the seemingly fearless way Dan and Michael have built this side gig into a distinctive and thriving creative business. They’ve broken a lot of rules along the way and demonstrated that serving the almighty client is ONE way to run a design business, but not the ONLY way.