What more can be written about Alan Fletcher? This was the challenge facing Mike Dempsey when he set off, at Fletcher’s behest, to interview the Pentagram co-founder who is arguably the UK’s most celebrated graphic designer and whose work is so well documented, not least by himself.
What more indeed, yet we believe Dempsey’s piece gives insight into some of the more private aspects of Fletcher’s life. But it is also worth considering the example Fletcher has set for the design community, providing a role model that is as relevant now as it was when Pentagram was founded in 1972, following on from Fletcher Forbes and Gill.
Fletcher invariably produces great work, characterised by wit and a beautifully crafted execution. He finds inspiration everywhere, even in the ‘objets trouvÃ©’ to be found in unlikely places such as the detritus of the streets around his local Portobello Road market. But he sees design as ‘work’, hard work at that, and approaches it in a business-like way on a day-to-day basis – members of his former team at Pentagram talk with affection of his bearlike gruffness before 6pm as he focused on the job in hand.
That same business-like approach is central to Pentagram’s ethos. It ranks 22nd in this year’s Design Week Top 100 based on its financial performance, while maintaining a significantly high position in our Creative Survey, to be revealed next week. Any arguments that creativity and financial success can’t sit happily together are scotched the minute you consider the track record of this supergroup.
Fletcher has also been generous with his time and talent over the years. On one hand, he has helped the career of designers such as John McConnell, who he brought into Pentagram, Thomas Manss and Quentin Newark, now of Atelier Works; on the other, he has been actively involved in various industry bodies and events.
Though now approaching 70 and no longer at Pentagram, Fletcher is still producing great work, not least for book publisher Phaidon, Swiss pharmaceuticals group Novartis and London contract furniture show Spectrum, for which he created the evolving ‘vase of flowers’ identity. He is still producing his own books, the latest being The Art of Looking Sideways, published last year, and tomorrow sees the opening of his first one-man show, Thoughts on a Wall, at the England & Co Gallery in west London’s Westbourne Grove.
His work is, meanwhile, still greatly admired. But designers are advised to look beyond the stunning visuals to the character of the man. There lie valuable clues as to how you can be passionate about design and still make your mark in business.