Godfathers of design step on to the frontline

Who better to kick off a series on the “founding fathers” of design than Rodney Fitch (see page 14), a man who has suffered more of Shakespeare’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” than most industry players over the past ten years. The dastardly tricks played on him by property, people and punters make gripping reading – more poignant still are the bits honour and the law prevent us from publishing.

Fitch’s is a common tale for designers who made it big in the Eighties but whose businesses faltered in the early Nineties. Four of the five heroes who unwittingly informed Richard Williams’ approach when he set up Design Bridge ten years ago tell a similar story. All have since come back in a different guise, but most, like Fitch, first had to suffer a horribly public downfall, having floated their consultancies on the stock market in happier times.

Interestingly, those consultancies still remain, bearing the name of their founders (in the case of the merged BDG/McColl at least in part, and with MPL as initials). But their managements now comprise very different beasts, and the founder’s name is merely branding. Designers still sit round the board table in most of them, but the thrust is much more business-related than previously and “the creative hotshop made good” image is long gone.

Despite the traumas though, all have managed to pick themselves up and get on with life in the Nineties. Why was that, you ask, when so many lesser design groups failed? Astute management, yes, but also because of reputation – a reputation for creative strategies and solutions engendered in the founder. They are still selling good design.

The founders meanwhile have all donned new mantles but still wear the armour of great design. And their new enterprises gained reputation from day one as a result.

It takes a lot to dim the creative spark. When you temper that with the experience our founding fathers have gained, you could be looking to heroes for the future. Ten years hence you might even see them named as influences on groups formed in 1996.

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