Philosophy  •  January 23, 2013

Reflecting on the Death of Andy Jacobson

Today I was looking through my Twitter account and came across the account of Andy Jacobson, the graphic designer who used to work for Tibor Kalman. I noticed that he hadn’t updated his Twitter account since November 18, 2011. His blog too ends abruptly on September 28, 2011. I then noticed that his Facebook URL has been taken over by someone else named Andy Jacobson, and his LinkedIn profile has gone missing. Something was definitely wrong. Googling for “Andy Jacobson designer” didn’t turn up much but I eventually found his obituary on New York Times. I have to say I was shocked.

My first contact with Andy was the comment he left on my blog post about whether our business contacts should be on our Facebook. Apparently he was planning on going to Clinton Street Baking Company and found their website that I designed. He liked it, so he followed the link to my business site, and left the comment there. That was on January 13, 2010. I checked out his website too and found that we have a lot in common. I then emailed him and we decided to meet for lunch at NoHo Star. We had a memorable conversation about “branding”, and we kept in touch over email after that.

Many independent designers dream of building a design studio, branding agency, or advertising agency with many designers working under them, but he specifically wanted to stay small, essentially by himself with some freelance help. He didn’t want to grow. I think he truly enjoyed the craft of graphic design, and didn’t want to spend much time managing people. I feel the same way. He wrote to me once: “spend some time talking to someone that works at a corporate office—you’ll remind yourself how lucky you are.” What I sensed was that he simply wanted to enjoy his life, not try to prove anything. Here’s another thing he wrote to me once:

I’ve found that working from a coffee shop that I like, like Kaffe on Greenwich and Chambers, can be a nice way to break up the day. I also find that on occasion I need to be inspired by roaming around a museum or walking around Elisabeth Street, Mulberry Street, Mott Street.

His death must have been unexpected because there is no sign of that on any of his websites. There is no notice or announcement of his death on any of them. They look as if he is still alive and well, that is, as long as you didn’t pay attention to any of the dates. Now that I know he passed away, I find it a bit disconcerting that his websites seem to deny his death.

I’ve always wondered what would happen to my websites if I were to suddenly die. My friends and families would probably have no idea what to do with them, but keeping them around would be costly especially in my case because I have my own servers for my websites. So much of what I do is in the digital sphere and most of my work will quickly become unreadable because the technologies to support these files evolve quite rapidly.

In one of our email conversations, I wrote to Andy:

Ultimately, significance of most everything fades over time, but it is especially quick in advertising. Nobody cares about ads that ran last year. This makes you question the wisdom of the common advice: “Live in the moment.” That is precisely what people do in advertising, but in the end, they end up far outliving the life of the work they created.

His response was:

“For many of these [advertising] people, they have had interesting lives while living very comfortably. That’s something they’ll never outlive.”

Again, his consistent message to me was that I shouldn’t be concerned about the life of the things I create (whether it’s my writing, design work, or my business) but about my own life now, as mundane as it may seem. Well, Andy, now that you are dead, and I’ve carefully re-read your words, I’ve finally understood what you were saying. My interpretation of the common wisdom, “live in the moment”, was clearly misguided. When I questioned the wisdom, I was thinking about my work living in the moment and how unsatisfying it would be if my work only lived for a moment and was forgotten. You were trying to tell me that it is *I* who should live in the moment and I would never outlive the joy I would receive from living that way.

Rest in peace, Andy.