Nine Years of goat

Ann Dingli interviews Alexey and Paul following almost a decade of work together. They discuss their mutually weird taste in music, uncompromising honesty, and how death is the only thing that could break up the goat band.

The design world is full of duos. Many have made household brands out of their paired names, each helping build gravitas around the power of creative twosomes. Couples conjure intensified fascination. People are curious about the energy they share, how they achieve their imaginative alchemy – the Yin and the Yang of it all.

goat, a branding and digital agency launched in 2012, was created by two designers: Alexey Golev and Paul Attard. Their paths didn’t so much cross but were welded together when they enrolled in the same graphic design course in London – Alexey joining from Russia, Paul from Malta. They moved into a shared apartment, began working jointly on projects, and eventually started a business. Their story reads as a zealous, even passionate union. Even their brand, ‘goat’, is a fusion of their names. It leaves behind distinct characteristics, forsaking individuality for something… else. 

That ‘something else’ has been nine years in the making. I’ve been lucky enough to dip in and out of goat’s creative journey over the years. Collaborating with Alexey and Paul on projects that reflect their brand’s defining qualities: usefulness, wit, and a healthy hint of rebellion. At some point in this interview, they describe goat’s work as a product of their ‘duality’. As someone who is fascinated by language and communication, I latched onto that choice of descriptor. 

Duality is defined as a ‘condition’, ‘state’ or ‘quality’ of contrasts. Again, like their choice of brand name, Alexey and Paul are hesitant to separate or publicise their distinctiveness as designers. They acknowledge them constantly as part of their own design process, articulating them in endless debates and opinion-warfare. But to the outside world, their cohesion – their duality – remains sacrosanct. 

This unshakable, almost obstinate, togetherness is what has given their work its recognisability and, ultimately, its strength. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever remember their individual names. But I would hazard a guess that neither of them would have it any other way.

ANN: I want to go way back to the first time I met the two of you together – which was September 2011. You guys picked me up from the airport when I first moved to London. Which means the first time I hung out with you was on a train from Gatwick to central London, and I remember thinking – ‘do these two people actually like each other’?

PAUL: [laughs]

ANN: You introduced yourselves and then went on to have a heated debate, or several heated debates. You both have very strong characters, in very different ways. So, my question now is: do you, in fact, like each other, and did you like each other back then?

PAUL: That’s actually a very sweet way to start this. From my point of view, Alexey and I have always had very differing opinions, but we also both like to argue a point to understand where a discussion can go.

Sometimes we’ll have arguments where Alexey will say, ‘I don’t agree with what I’m arguing right now, I just want to argue the point so that we can continue this discussion’. So the first few years of our relationship, when we were studying together, living together, and eventually starting the company, were full of heated conversations. But there was always this respect where neither of us was offended by what the other was saying.

ALEXEY: I don’t remember any of it, obviously. Oh wait – it was after that party!

PAUL: Alexey and I had gone to a gig…

ALEXEY: And that dude was singing that bloody song on the bus. [Alexey sings] ‘You are my cinema’. It was next to Leicester Square. I remember that.

ANN: Do you remember first meeting Paul, Alexey? Ahead of this night.

ALEXEY: Yes of course.

PAUL We first met on Facebook.

ALEXEY: I was trying to figure out who you were – some random dude from Malta. But eventually we decided to get a flat; to live together instead of living in student accommodation. Paul being European was better at talking to other people from our university course. Me, being from a Soviet country, my reaction was: Jesus, so many people. So anyway, we met in Bayswater at a pub. We were both weird looking dudes at that point. Paul had his big hair…

PAUL: Alexey with his highlighter jacket on, with eight colours. Really big and puffy. At that point, we were probably both like – ‘who the fuck is this person and what am I getting myself into?’.

ANN: So you had already chatted and decided to live together by then?

PAUL Yes, we thought, well, we’re both going to LCC (London College of Communication), we’re both moving to London, both don’t really have a network. Shall we meet up, have a pint and talk about living together? 

ALEXEY: Yeah. 

ANN: That’s quite a leap of faith.

PAUL I remember I mentioned to a friend back home that I was thinking of moving in with an older, married guy. And he said, ‘no, you shouldn’t! You’ve got to have fun while you’re there!’. And I said to him ‘but this guy is really good at design, so I would rather spend a year not partying and enjoying myself and just learn from him. I’m going to London to learn and grow’. At that time, I didn’t realise how much fun we would actually have together. We didn’t party, but we went to gigs, comedy shows, we were constantly out and about. It was so nice that our interests matched up so well – even in terms of the obscure music that we liked.

ALEXEY: Music was the actual unifying factor. If we hadn’t enjoyed the same kind of music, I’m not sure we would have started anything. The music was the main thing.

ANN: I want to attach to what Paul said around – what better thing can there be than to be able to learn from someone? This is interesting, because you were quite young when I first met you – we all were – and I remember thinking: their leading trait as designers is pragmatism. Which, if you had to picture the archetypal designer, is not necessarily the first trait that comes to mind. What are your defining traits? To me, it’s always been this clinical ability to be sensible. In both of you.

ALEXEY: I think pragmatism comes from a ‘need’. Okay, so if you have one person, then he can be creative and do whatever he wants. But if you have two people, the only way you can communicate emotion is through language. Language makes things pragmatic. You have to be able to explain everything to another person.

So, to make something work for both of us as a product, we have to be pragmatic in the way we explain ourselves. We have to be able to say, ‘this is my idea…’. We can’t just dance around things. We have to understand the reason behind our work, and that starts from explaining to each other. We need to figure out who’s going to be responsible for what, how we’re going to share the budget for things when we’re living together. There’s a lot of explanation going on.

We’re also two completely different people from very different backgrounds and cultures. Completely different languages, completely different ways to communicate our thoughts. So, there’s no way you cannot be pragmatic – you just won’t be understood. Pragmatism is there as a cornerstone.

ANN: So, I guess that means you just had to be very upfront with each other all the time, so that you could understand each other and get on with things.

PAUL: I think it comes down to the fact that Alexey and I are both very honest people. This gets us into trouble with others, but because we understand that when we are telling each other something with honesty, there’s never an intention of hurt. It’s never coming from that. It’s never an intention to annoy or harm or offend. It’s a genuine thing, knowing the person on the other side will respond in the same way. I don’t have any other relationships like this – where I know I can be as direct or as honest.

ANN: It helps to flex your critical thinking, I guess, this constant conversation.

PAUL: Yes, and also on the point of ‘pragmatism’. Every project we do, we work on together. We at first thought of setting up a merely collaborative thing, where we worked as two freelancers separately, but together. In the end, we found it would be easier to start a studio. And if you’re just a designer on your own selling something to a client – you can bullshit anything. But when you’re a partnership like ours, you need to reason with the other person – why is this good for the client, why am I proposing this, how am I going to pitch this? The other person needs to fully understand the idea.

ANN: And that makes your ideas more robust – because you’ve had to put them through the first wringer of convincing your partner that it works.

ALEXEY: Yes.

ANN: You’re both in different countries now, and you’ve been that way for a while, I think…

PAUL: Two and a half years.

ANN: Does that mean that distance doesn’t really impact the work?

PAUL: I would say that technology allows it to not impact the result. The thing that did change and the thing that I miss the most, is the time-wasting. The thoughts we have – sometimes nothing to do with work…

ALEXEY: The water cooler talk.

PAUL: The water cooler talk, yes, that was sprinkled throughout the day because we sat next to each other for the past six or seven years before that.

ALEXEY: If we want to talk about something that is just a chat – we have to schedule it. It’s not very inviting for improvisation.

ANN: My last question is whether you think goat will be around for the next ten years – is it ten years that you are celebrating?

PAUL: Nine years.

ANN: Okay, the next nine years. What do you think?

PAUL: I definitely hope so. This is the scary thing: I can’t imagine doing anything else but goat. I enjoy it so much. My wife thinks I’m insane because I enjoy coming to my desk. She says, ‘how can you always enjoy it?’. It’s because I make sure of it.

I don’t know about Alexey’s viewpoint, but I don’t get stuck on [the future]. I used to worry so much about what would happen if we didn’t manage to succeed or had to close down. Now I’ve stopped worrying because I was losing sleep over it. Maybe because now, in our ninth year, we’re more stable. But also, because I realised that if it happens, I’m not going to lose Alexey. We’ll remain friends, we’ll still keep in touch – I’ll just be doing something else. 

ALEXEY: goat is not a company. goat is an idea of us working together. So, I think it is sort of limited by our lifetime, not by any economic factor.

PAUL: Even if we’re both working for other people, we’ll both collaborate on projects, because one of us will come up with an idea and the other will want to help out.

ALEXEY: The problem is that we’re getting older. At some point, we won’t be able to work for other people because we’ll be too old for anyone to hire us.

ANN: [Laughs] that’s quite a bleak outlook but, as usual, probably true.

PAUL: The only thing I worry about is Alexey dying. Because I wouldn’t continue goat if that happened –that would be one of the main reasons to stop goat.

ANN: Well, yes.

PAUL: There’s, honestly, no other reason. I might set up something with someone else, but it won’t be a design studio. Definitely not a design studio. Alexey brings the majority of the skill to that.

ALEXEY: Yeah, us dying is the main worry.

PAUL: But if it happens, it happens. But the thing is goat is two people together. It’s not like Alexey is one thing, Paul is another thing and we just happen to do things together. goat is a collaboration. There’s always a duality to all the work we do, and it comes from the duality of Alexey and myself.

ANN: I’ve rarely seen a partnership that is so strange but so functional. So, here’s to another lifetime of goat – or at least until one of you dies.

Read the full interview here.