Not yet thirty years old, Kailua-born graphic designer Moses Aipa has journeyed far from his small-town beach upbringing. He’s ditched the niche surf motifs he experimented with on Apple design software as a Kamehameha high school student, developed a more universal design aesthetic, and as Creative Director of California-based Incase, collaborates with celebrities like John Mayer on logos, designs seamless cases for iPhones, iPods, Macbooks, and is in-the-know about every up-and-coming Apple product–after all, he has to design the cases for them.

“Growing up, I wasn’t so into design itself,” Aipa admits, “but I was always finicky and curious, taking things apart, putting them back together.” True to down-to-earth local style, Aipa doesn’t mention this attention to detail is also firmly planted in his genes—his cousin Ben Aipa’s family is well known for surfboard shaping and artwork—and is just as modest about his career success. “It just kind of happened. I always had a knack for organizing and keeping things in place, so it’s a natural fit.” 

Since joining Incase in 2002 while a senior at the USF-CCAC, he’s quickly risen through the ranks from freelance brochure designer to directing photo shoots, sketching product and packaging concepts, and now driving the company’s next generation of fashionable, functional technology protection. “I’ve had my hands in everything,” says Aipa, including inventing Incase’s now signature logo and Topo design.

Something’s always new at Incase. This past Fall, they overhauled their nylon bag collection, introduced fresh case graphics like camouflage prints and new scales and combinations of the Topo print, and a seasonal color palette. But Aipa’s also watching trends toward hip and lively colors and no-logo and no-label fashion. “Brands like Muji and Uniqlo are on it,” he raves.

If he could create a gadget (and a case) for anything? “I wish I had a device to get me through airport security checks,” Aipa jokes, since he’s always traveling within California, back and forth to Hawai’i and Asia. Whatever the challenge, he’ll undoubtedly create a clean, simple, stylish solution. “If I have control over it, I’ll lay everything out in a visually pleasing manner. Right angles are king.”

I talked to Aipa at length for Modern Luxury Hawai’i magazine, but not much of our conversation fit into the article’s space. So below, check out a longer Q&A where Aipa reveals exactly how he got started and how he keeps on top of what’s new and hot.

C.T. You grew up in Kailua, so were beaches and waves your first design inspiration?

M.A. I got a good sense of design from nature in general, growing up outdoors and being in the water, hiking or outside with my family. Growing up, I wasn’t so into design itself but was a finicky kind of kid, taking things apart and putting them back together, or breaking things—more curious, so that led to an attention to detail.

C.T. How did you get from Kamehameha Schools to designing for Incase on the mainland?
M.A. I started taking design classes in high school–everything from screen-printing to ceramics in the more structure realm of learning about art. One of my art teachers recommended and I start playing around with Apple computers, designing on them as a junior/senior year—he promoted that and influenced me a lot to get into the software. That triggered my interest in actual graphic design—that was the turning point. I still was not so familiar with the actual profession—just logos and stuff.

Then I started applying to southern California colleges while in high school because they had surf teams. I made it into USF first and—and not others. So I went. They had a graphic design program and I thought, I’ll try it, and then they had a joint program with CCAC, so I started that. The first couple of years it was very surf inspired and Hawai’i waves and ocean—basically designing surf brands—but over time I recognized a universal design language rather than a niche surfing thing.

So in 4.5 years I transitioned to become an overarching universal designer recognizing simpler solutions for a variety of genres. It kind of just happened.
C.T. How did you get back into the bag/case niche?
M.A. A buddy who was freelancing at Incase during my senior year of college asked me to come in for some extra graphics help, so my first project was designing a brochure for the new collection. I started as a traditional graphic design laying out print collateral.

I always had a knack for organizing and keeping things ordered and in place it seemed a natural thing for me to work at a place where our goal is to provide solutions for people to carry their belongs and keep them together.

C.T. Are your Incase designs more about fashion or function?

M.A. What we’re trying to do is combine both on equal playing fields the idea of tech as lifestyle is what we focus on—that convergence. We are adding that fashion element to what we make for tech solutions.
C.T. How do stay ahead of what’s new and trendy?

M.A. We do a good amount of consumer research, talk to our customers and of course Apple has their own wants and needs, so we put those all together and go from there. A good amount is intuition, or we see what people aren’t doing and do that—we get creative.

C.T. Where are things going?
M.A. There’s the usual suspect—sustainable products. Gadget-wise, it’s toward the smaller and more powerful. I also think being able to sync and do everything on a smaller device whether email social networking or whatever you need. Within my market there seems to be an upward trend for more vibrant colors and hip and lively, but there’s also a trend toward a more timeless approach to fashion in general—no logos, no label apparel. Street culture is kind of going down. Brands like Muji and Uniqlo are on it, both from Japan. Japanese fashion is unreal, their trend-setting ways.

C.T. What’s the gotta-have-it gadget or accessory in the design crowd?

M.A. Definitely the iPhone, and not because I’m biased. Our entire company functions off Apple so based on connectivity and thinking it’s just so convenient. It’s a hugely useful tool, and it totally syncs. A iphone/laptop combo is what I and everyone here has.

C.T. What don’t you have a case for that you wish existed?
M.A. I’d create a surfboard case—coming full circle back to surfing. I usually find solutions for everything I need or have them make it. I can make do with what I have. If I had an entire house to organize I’d design my house around organizing everything I own.

C.T. Is everything at your house in a case?

M.A. Everything in my house is in a case or exactly where it needs to be. I’m pretty obsessed with grids and systems and how things are laid out, so everything around me, if I have control over it, is laid out in a visually pleasing manner. Right angles are king. A clean surrounding helps me think.
C.T. What do you wish you had a device for?

M.A. I wish I had a device that could get me through security checks, since I’m traveling so much these days—something to simplify that.

C.T. What’s your music soundtrack while at work?

M.A. I’m all over the place when it comes to music likings–everything from jazz, indie rock, top 40 hits, reggae, hawaiian, ambient, electronica, just not much country. It depends on my mood. Our company has its own site, a pretty good mixed plate of tunes:

C.T. What are your HOTS?

M.A. Aloha shoyu; right angles; Hawaiian food at my parents’ house; Muji 0.38 ballpoint pens; Moleskine reporter-style grid notebooks; clothing with no logo; biking to work; Steel Pulse’s Smash Hits; Boot’s & Kimo’s banana mac pancakes with Portuguese sausage; the beach in the morning.

C.T. And your NOTS?
M.A. Security lines at airports; television; long pauses in conversations; my laptop’s spinning rainbow wheel; country music; shoes inside the house; 24-7 Bluetooth headset wearers.

–Interviewed and written by Christine Thomas, 2009