Why I Was Angry Paul Rand
Over three months in the Summer of 2010, in addition to my normal Twitter account @mgoldst, I had a Twitter account by the name of @AngryPaulRand. Like every designer I have ever met, I had some things I had always wanted to say, and using Paul Rand as a foil seemed OK to me — he was dead, after all, and had a reputation as a brilliant but tough personality. It also seemed like a fun thing to do while waiting for Graduate School to start. I created the account, tossed out a few funny, pointed tweets, and two months later I had almost 15,000 followers. 15,000 followers on Twitter put this account in the 99.87% percentile in terms of Twitter infamy. Many tweets were retweeted hundreds of times, and many, many designers seemed to be amused by the account overall. It was blogged, commented about, and generally well-known amongst design circles. On September 13th I closed the account permanently — more on that in a bit. I have archived all of the tweets from the account on a page here.
Being AngryPaulRand was a lot of fun. The account started out as a combination of an irritable, disappointed “Mad Men” era Paul Rand with some George Lois and little Paul Sahre thrown in for good measure. A few weeks in, AngryPaulRand had matured; it was 90% me with 10% historical context for purposes of humor and obfuscation. To me, AngryPaulRand was a critique on design — or more accurately, a critique on designers and the profession itself. I have worked in a number of capacities as a designer, a design educator, and a design student since the late 90’s and I have amassed quite a few opinions.
Designers are missing some things that we should be thinking about, and AngryPaulRand was ready to point them out. Not individually, but as a whole, there is a lack of pride in what we do. I do not mean arrogance — there is way, way too much arrogance in design — but I mean pride. We devalue ourselves. We allow ourselves to be manipulated by clients. We do not present ourselves as the experts in our field. We have a hard time explaining, even to ourselves, what we do. I see so much design that ignores craft — just because we work digitally, does not mean we can ignore the craft of making, the integrity of the work itself, the manifestation of our ideas. Most of us take ourselves far too seriously. The best design I have seen is fun, not necessarily the deliverable itself, but the process. A designer should enjoy what they do. Not every single second, but at least most of it. Even if it is hard, it should be “the pleasant struggle” as Rob Carter likes to say. It is a wonderful thing to be creative for a living, to get to think and make every day.
I am not suggesting that being a designer should be all play and no work, but I do think we need to seriously consider what it is we are practicing — you should not be miserable in what you do for a living, especially as someone who is paid to be creative and poetic. There are many kinds of design to be had, and many kinds of designers to do it. As designers we need to reflect on what it is we are doing. What concerns me are designers who do not have a stance on design: designers who are not authentic in what they are doing, who they are, how they work, and what they work on. Design should not be about regurgitating trends, having a cool studio, or being an AIGA member. Design should be about how the designer relates to the world around them, and how they translate that into interesting stuff.
All of that sounds well and good. The problem is I am as guilty of doing all the bad stuff as almost everyone is — maybe even more guilty since I am the one saying all these things. Sometimes I think I am hitting the mark, but most of the time I struggle just like everyone else. AngryPaulRand gave me an opportunity to step outside of my own struggle. I do not know if it changed anyone else’s point of view, but it has helped me clarify how I want to spend my time as a designer.
So, why did I close the account? Simple — it became something bad and negative. Popularity is wonderful, and having your thoughts rebroadcasted through a community of people in an industry you care about is intoxicating. Unfortunately, I was also starting to get more and more negative comments about what I was saying. I think critique is great. Critique is the cornerstone of improvement for a designer. But, you cannot critique in 140 character anonymous tweets on the internet. That is not critique, it is just negative, pissy sound bytes. What was slowly dawning on me is that AngryPaulRand was equally guilty of this, too. My snarky aphorisms where just as bad as people telling me how unlike Paul Rand I was, or how full of shit my tweets were, or how elitist and ridiculous I was sounding. I was doing the same thing, but with a lot more followers. Then on September 13th I tweeted “Being a designer is not just a job, its a calling.” This is something I truly believe, but I received a tremendous amount of negative commentary from that tweet. I took it personally, and insulted a couple of people right back. To those individuals I am tremendously sorry — it was uncalled for and really not the kind of person I am.
That was when I knew it was time to close the account. Now I am at graduate school and I am trying to put into play for myself what I think is missing from design. It is a struggle to be sure, but, it is a pleasant struggle indeed.
(Note: This piece was originally published in the Fall of 2010.)