Driving design

Graphic Design graduate, Darren Dryden ‘18 had big goals for his automotive design business. His Mohawk education helped him develop the skills to reach those goals.

By Meaghan Drury ‘12

In high school, Darren Dryden ‘18 knew he wanted to combine his love for racing with his passion for design.

Starting out with a Sharpie and a blank helmet, his first design came to life.

Soon, word spread about his helmet art on social media and he was getting requests to design more for others. “I think I drew on 16 helmets before I began painting them. Then I used Sharpies on my entire racecar and realized that wasn't a realistic business,” he says laughing. “It took over 200 hours for one car.”

Around this time period is when Darren first took steps to pursue a postsecondary education in the field of graphic design. It only lasted two weeks before he withdrew and attempted to go at it on his own.

To help his son, his father stepped in and connected him with Mohawk College professor, Daniel McQueen. After speaking with Daniel and hearing how the program at Mohawk would provide Darren with practical experience to help grow his business, Darren enrolled in the three-year Graphic Design program. "Dan went over what the projects would consist of in the courses. Compared to the program I dropped out of where it was very textbook based and had a slow pace, Mohawk was the total opposite,” says Darren. “A lot of what we do in this industry is hands-on and you can only learn so much theory – you actually have to put it to use.”

Throughout his time at Mohawk, particularly during the final year, Darren was able to work with his professors to adapt the courses to apply to his business, DJD Graphics. “My classmates were creating their own brand while I was building up my existing brand,” he says.

Operating since 2015, DJD Graphics, focuses mostly on the automotive business. After switching from Sharpie designs to vinyl applications, Darren tested his work on his own cars. The early ones were flat race cars that were going to get damaged anyways, due to the nature of racing. He knew that he could always re-print and apply new vinyl.

Gaining experience with his own cars, he began wrapping cars for other people, first using an outside print shop before purchasing his own printer a year ago. “I always start with my own, then I post it to social media, then people see it and want it for their own,” Darren says. He now has expanded to designing full packages for racing drivers and teams, including car wraps, helmets, racing suits, shoes, and gloves.

Recently, Darren has received support from 3M, an applied science, technology, creativity and innovation company, due to his shop’s ability to design, print and install. With their support his business has become a one-stop shop for custom needs including paint protection film, ceramic coatings and more. Uniquely, both his cars glow in the dark with full custom prints on reflective vinyl. Darren’s graphic design training has placed himself and his shop ahead of other options in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Now that business is expanding, Darren has hired one employee to assist with the work. He is cautious of growing too quickly, wanting to ensure the quality of everything they produce remains in place. “I’m keeping it small-scale until I’m ready to open it up to a larger market,” he says.

Eventually, he sees his company growing to include an employee focused on each area of his business including design, printing and application. “Since I know each aspect of the business, I could then train their eye to see what I see,” he explains. “This wrapping industry is very unique – we're even wrapping goalie masks, which previously would have been painted. There are so many opportunities.”