Oak Felder, Walker Noble, Karen X Cheng and Aaron Draplin reveal their secrets to success

Image of Adobe MAX stage Inspiration Keynote

At Adobe MAX, we’re excited to unveil new groundbreaking products and features that can revolutionize the way we create, collaborate, and activate our content. This year we announced over 100 new major product updates across Adobe Creative Cloud and Adobe Express – and three new Adobe Firefly models.

But it’s not just about the tools.

It’s also all about the endless possibilities they represent, and making space for the creator, the craft, and the process. Features make a product, but our creative community is what brings them to life – creating impact and combining passion and technology.

We heard from some of that community today – those leading in their fields, charting new paths and constantly pushing boundaries – all offering different perspectives of their journeys to our in-person and virtual audience.

Missed them on stage? Watch it on-demand here.

‘Playing it forward’ with Oak Felder

Oak Felder on stage at Adobe MAX

Oak Felder is a Grammy-nominated songwriter and record producer and entrepreneur who has worked with artists including Alessia Cara, Usher, Alicia Keys and Demi Lovato.

My mother was the one who instilled my interest in music in me. Early on in my career, I was in the middle of my biggest opportunity to date when my brother called to tell me our mom had cancer and I had to fly home to Turkey, right away.

What does one do in that moment? What does one do in a situation where you’re literally going through the biggest opportunity of your career but you’ve been given the worst news of your life? You can focus and get through the opportunity or allow it to overcome you. I recognized that I couldn’t fly to Istanbul in that moment, so I chose to stay and compartmentalize those emotions and get through the session.

But bottling up traumatic emotions can do a lot of damage, and later in the car I heard the song, “Let It Be” by Paul McCartney.

“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

Sir Paul McCartney gave me permission to feel, in that moment, in the car, and those emotions came flooding out. I later came to find out that song was written about his mother, during her battle with cancer. In the same moment that I was dealing with the exact same emotions, that same message was relayed to me and gave me an opportunity to get my emotions out.

It was important that I did that for someone else, and to ‘play it forward’.

That day wasn’t too far off.

One day, I’m in the studio with Alessia Cara - and we’re talking about plastic surgery, when she asks why people would do this to themselves. So the inspiration came to her to write a song with the message that you’re beautiful just the way you are.

I feel strongly that to be a ‘song’, it needs to be a conduit of emotion from the creator to the audience, and a way to describe how the creator is feeling, musically.

And our friend, technology can help us do that.

Adobe allows me to create the music that I create with singers, adding in hopeful chords and layers. The song in question, “Scars to Your Beautiful”, was played to a young girl with complete loss of sight, undergoing seizure testing who is extremely afraid of doctors. Singing is the only way she can get through it. That song in particular got her through it.

“This community has so much potential for creativity, so much skill and so much talent. We all have the ability to change a person’s life with what we create.”

-Oak Felder

Paul McCartney was able to do that to me. And I was lucky enough to help to do that for that child. You must remember to do one thing when the universe does you a solid and gives you something in the moment that you need it, it’s your duty to pay to forward.

Walker Noble: You’re damn right I got lucky. But I prepared to receive that luck.

Walker Noble on stage at Adobe MAX

Walker Noble is the co-founder and creative director of Walker Noble Studios, a Los Angeles based creative studio specializing in product design, branding, and visual storytelling.

I know what it’s like to be that creative person that wants so badly to do it full-time.

They say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. This is how prepared for where I am today: I went to the markets to sell my work, I created for the love of it, and then the money followed. I woke up at 4am to go to my studio to paint. I did what I had to do.

When that opportunity came knocking, I was prepared to receive that luck.

I believe why is the most important question you can ask.

Why do I want to be a creative full-time? Why do I want to sell my business and have an exit strategy?

My why is very clear – to be happy as an individual and as a creative and to provide for my family.

So why not you?

All that matters is that your why is strong. That you wake up with the same conviction to go out and achieve your dreams. As creatives we’re told that art isn’t a way to make money. Then we put obstacles on ourselves on top of the ones that we’re receiving from outside people.

I think social media can be a major obstacle – I have only 9,450 followers. I don’t have a blue check. (I applied for one, and I didn’t get it.) But I’m here – it didn’t stop Adobe from finding me. It didn’t stop me from working with some of the biggest brands I’d ever dreamed of working with – licensing, merchandising, collaboration, you name it.

But social media sparked my business with a single viral post – it can help, but don’t let it be the reason you don’t start. Take the chance.

If I hadn’t taken a chance, I wouldn’t be standing up here today.

Defense against the algorithms with Karen X Cheng

Karen X Cheng on stage at Adobe MAX

Karen X Cheng is an award-winning creative director with over 500 million video views, named to Inc’s 30 Under 30 and Adweek’s Creative 100.

When my first social media video went viral, it was the highest high I’ve ever felt. I just wanted someone to tell me I was special, and when millions of internet strangers did that, it felt good, and I wanted more. Social media is a hell of a drug.

I’d measure my self-worth in terms of likes and views, which is a formula to unhappiness. I’d question myself, my taste, my judgement – and then I realized the algorithm is flawed, measuring what you pay attention to, and rewarding the click-bait extremes.

Here are my artist vs algorithm top defenses:

  1. 1 for me, 1 for the algorithm. Find the intersection of what you want and what the algorithm wants. Do some things for the money and some for the passion. It may be 1 for me, 10 for the algorithm/brand/client/etc. But find the balance.
  2. Be proud of your flops. Redefine your idea of success, and don’t let the algorithm decide that for you.
  3. Seek respect, not attention. Put more effort into creating things that you respect instead of constantly clamoring for attention.
  4. Human + AI is better than AI. This quote from Nathan Baschez sums it up nicely: We should think of AI tools more as an instrument that can be played well or poorly and less like a replacement for humans.”
  5. Put away screens on Saturdays. Boredom is a secret weapon for creativity, but our phones are crowding out our minds and ability to think original thoughts. The brain needs space to breathe.

Aaron Draplin on making a living being creative with a life in graphic design

Aaron Draplin on stage at Adobe MAX

Aaron Draplin is a graphic designer and the founder of Draplin Design Company, known for his signature vector designs. His company has worked with brands such as NASA, Fender, Ford and the Obama Administration.

Design was a hobby first. I worked for people, and then I went out on my own and got myself free. In 2004 I said yes to every single job. I tripled my wages in my basement, slowly building reliable retainers.

“Be lethal with your process, on the page and off the page.”

-Aaron Draplin

Remember that not every job is about a paycheck or about money, and you can use your mouse finger to help people. Appreciate the respect that brands have to help people. During the pandemic, I got to work for Adobe – I started making clip art. I was in Portland, Oregon, where we were curiously compliant with guidelines. We were washing our hands, thanking our grocery workers. I worked for Phish when they bailed out folks who needed help with the Vermont flooding.

Grocery Gratitude by Aaron Draplin

Grocery Gratitude by Aaron Draplin

I've been lucky to stack small jobs up that rival the big sh*t. But some big gigs are awesome. I got to work for NASA. I got to make a poster for Voyager 2. I made a stamp for America, where the first printing was 400,000,000.

Don’t forget to do what we do... for ourselves. Clients hire us but we forget we can make our own sh*t.

Check out the MAX “Creator Toolkit” today

These insights remind us that the human imagination knows no boundaries. Aaron, Karen, and Walker have also contributed assets to a brand-new MAX “Creator Toolkit”, which you can access and use today using Adobe Express.

We’ll continue to work hard to push the boundaries of creativity and continue to bring you Adobe magic.

What will you create next?