I’ve been, like, sitting around for days now trying to figure out if I have anything to say about Paula Scher freaking the fuck out on Imprint a couple of weeks ago.

I love it when Paula flips out in public. She’s one of the fiercest proponents of design’s necessary balance between service and artistry, and does a really good job defending that position. But this freakout seemed more reactionary.

Paula didn’t read Justified’s submissions criteria very throughly. That’s clear. She decided early on in her interpretation that because AIGA is now asking designers to point to ways they think their work’s effective, that effectiveness will be the only criteria for judging. That’s never said anywhere in AIGA’s admissions request.

Conversely, in a departure of logic, leaving selection criteria up to entirely emotional means (beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration) is portrayed as somehow more truthful than quantified proof.

Paula goes on to connect the act of delivering a rationale as “design bullshit,” then points to an account of a Richard Meier spat in which there was literally a boundary drawn between “his stuff” and “the other designer’s stuff,” followed by a wildly disrespectful third-party account of Vignelli basically being an arrogant cock in a meeting to a weak-kneed client (which, huge surprise).

According to her piece, ascribing value to the designer’s thinking (for which a client is paying thousands of dollars) by delivering proof supporting effectiveness is invalid—apparently because it’s boring and it takes a long time to write. But to leave the designer (again: thousands! of dollars! in expenditures worth firing people over!) free of any numerically-based judgement is totally valid.

To extend that reasoning, there is no connection between the constant calling into question of design’s value and the designer’s refusal to be measured in any way. Paula says herself that “The AIGA membership never believes that their clients respect them,” and I kind of don’t believe that’s true.

So, according to this line of thinking—measurement is idiotic, emotional judgement is paramount—there is no connection in the current spate of ten-dollar-logo sites and the fact that designers steadfastly refuse to give up any quantifiable information about the value they bring to the table. Instead, It’s a better idea to lie to the client to make them feel better like Vignelli did, or simply have a tantrum, like Meier did.


I guess I’m just let down to see such a normally-well-spoken designer spitting out thoughts that are virtually identical to those of a junior designer: “Numbers don’t matter! Our clients hate us! What about beauty!?”

That is design bullshit. The steadfast refusal to analyze the real value a designer’s thought brings to the work is complete bullshit. The absolute refusal to try to quantify beauty, to quantify excitement, is garbage. Those things can be quantified. Conversely, ideas which sound logical and effective can just as easily easily be disproven. Here’s a great piece that shows a very clear case of Jakob Nielsen’s so-called “usability studies” being shot down.

Design is in a much larger state of flux right now than it ever was in the print-only era. Right now, we need to prove that we do actually understand that our work is more than logos and letterheads.

I’d like to see someone of Paula’s level of talent and intuition publicly accepting our need to give clients what they need to report to their superiors. Nathan Shedroff posits that AIGA’s gone off the tracks, but we’ve heard it from interactive designers many times before. I was hoping for this to close the schism between graphic designers and other visual designers. Maybe next time.