Success by Design

Aaron Keller '92 persistently pursues a flourishing career

Aaron Keller, managing partner and cofounder of Capsule, didn’t plan on starting a business, even though he calls entrepreneurship a part of his DNA – both of his parents were entrepreneurs. Instead, Capsule was the result of two talented people in the design industry shifting their thinking from an employee mentality to an owner mentality. Or, to put it less eloquently: Capsule was born in 1999 when Brian Adducci got tired of listening to Keller complain about his job with a design firm. “He more or less asked me if I was willing to put my money where my mouth is,” Keller recalls.

Keller’s wife approved the idea of his entrepreneurial leap, and nine months later he and Adducci had founded Capsule. “It was a crazy, incredible time. I became unemployed overnight. Your view of the world drastically changes.”

While Keller’s decision to start his own business may have been relatively unplanned, his success has not been. And Capsule is undoubtedly a success. Among the firm’s projects have been helping Byerly’s articulate its brand and develop a new identity; creating an identity and promotional materials for a golf event at the request of former Gov. Jesse Ventura; working with the concept behind Myth nightclub to create branding, identity and the nightclub’s environment; designing packaging for a Nestea energy drink, Kick; and providing packaging and identity work for products sold at Target.

“Our success comes from our level of talent, our lack of attitude and our persistence,” Keller says. He distinguishes persistence from stubbornness by noting that persistence is continually pursuing the right things.

“The best advice I received was that the test of an entrepreneur is to be able to have the best day of your career and go back to work the next day, and to be able to have the worst day of your career and go back to work the next day.”

Those worst days came relatively early in the firm’s life, when the dot-com bubble burst. “It was a tough period,” Keller says, “our first intense learning curve.” He finds that working with Adducci helps him weather the highs and lows. “We balance each other out.”

Keller’s interest in business was one of the things that brought him to the University ofSt. Thomas. “From early on, I had been interested in commerce and business,” he says. St. Thomas’ strong business offerings coupled with its liberal arts tradition were attractive to him. He also had several family members who had attended St. Thomas. Although his formal St. Thomas education ended with his graduation in 1992, he received a taste of St. Thomas again while pursuing his M.B.A. at the Carlson School of Management, where, he notes, he enjoyed a class taught by St. Thomas professorDave Brennan.

Keller’s career began with work for a design firm, where he moved from account manager to research strategist. While there, Keller pursued his graduate work and eventually received a scholarship that enabled him to study retail at Manchester Business School in England for five months. There, he was able to learn from companies such as Marks & Spencer and Vodafone.

Among the people who have influenced Keller are Karl Speak, who emphasizes a holistic approach to brand; William McDonough, architect, designer and author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things; and his own father.

“My dad is an engineer who does mechanical systems for buildings like the Target Center and schools.” His father’s interest in how buildings are designed sustainably has inspired Keller to embrace sustainable design in his own work. “It was there from day one,” he says. “We fold it into our thinking. Sustainability isn’t the only thing, but it has to be an underlying force.”

About CapsuleKeller describes Capsule as “a design firm by nature. Capsule uses design to solve business problems.” Because the firm’s members see design not merely as aesthetics, but as a way of thinking, they are able to take on opportunities ranging from naming brands to designing packages, from developing a brand identity to creating environments. Currently, Keller has written two Capsule books, Design Matters: Logos 01 and Design Matters: Packaging 01. Both are available at online booksellers.

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