How to Make the Cut: A conversation with Aaron Belyea, of Alphabet Arm Design and New Balance, on building brands
Distraction wasn’t in the room this night.


After all, just take a look at Aaron Belyea’s Instagram feed, @alphabetarm, and you get a sense of how he sees. A near-daily post of a life of curated photos of things largely unnoticed by others to which he provides feeling and meaning. Or, as he put it, photos that show “Wear that you can’t get without being authentic.”
It’s funny. When you listen to a successful creative leader, you notice a couple of things. First, the quality of the work. And second, the authentic sense of focus. That was clear as ever during Aaron Belyea’s “How to Make the Cut” Q&A with Woods Creative co-founder and AIGA board member, Amy Parker back in September.


A room full of designers, agency folk, marketers and the overall curious assembled at 321 Summer Street at a joint fab@CIC and AIGA-Boston event earlier this fall to hear Aaron engage in an insightful Q&A about his career background and portfolio of work. Listening to where he’s been, you begin to see that Aaron doesn’t fake it. Maybe it was working with children for 10 years helped prime him. Or, his background as a musician served as a catalyst. Perhaps it was being asked to create a logo while not yet owning a computer, requiring him to learn Illustrator 4 over a weekend. Or, how his work creating album covers for Boston-based bands established him as a go-to local designer, formally untrained, but entirely talented and reliable.
Whatever it was, designing authentically through the lack of distraction appeared to be a thread in the story Aaron told to this room. And whatever the mix of hard wiring and experience, Aaron had some points for the room to take away:
  • No matter where you work, even big brands can change. In his role at New Balance, Aaron has updated both legacy and new product line brand identity. And, he does it by pointing out what others might not immediately see or that some have long ago resigned to accept. Like, for instance, revising the legacy typeface in for New Balance’s “Fresh Foam” product line doesn’t have angular, sharp points.
  • Not all creative-work battles are worth fighting, but the ones that are, need to be fought.
  • Getting too enamored with your work will only hurt you in the long run. To make the cut, your skin has to be thick.
  • You can’t really teach creativity.
If you read between the lines, you read, as I did, it’s not just that the design leaders among us have life experience from which to draw and observe a bit more than the rest. It’s more than that. It’s that they intuit where to pivot, how to focus, and avoid distraction. From there, at least for Aaron, that’s where the authentic work comes from.
This article is based on AIGA Boston’s event ‘How to Make the Cut: Brand Identity Talk with Aaron Belyea & Vinyl Cutting Workshop’ that took place on Wednesday, September 19, 2018, at Fab@CIC Boston.
By Chris Bransfield, Experience Director | Co-Founder of Woods Creative
Published December 10, 2018