Journey turns sour for the founding fathers

As the pieces start to fall into place following the deal late last year between MetaDesign London and Scandinavian Web design giant Icon Medialab, the big question is what will become of Erik Spiekermann, German founder of the MetaDesign empire, who stepped down from the board of the global group last month.

Sources close to the typography guru suggest that he would have liked Icon Medialab – or a similar network – to also buy MetaDesign’s offices in Berlin and San Francisco, freeing him up to get back to what he enjoys most – design. Or, he would have liked to join Tim Fendley and Robin Richmond at the demerged MetaDesign London – a possibility not yet ruled out as the nine-month deadline approaches for the London group to change its name following the deal with Icon Medialab. The trio have, after all, collaborated successfully on projects such as the typeface for Glasgow ’99: City of Architecture and Design.

The Anglo-Scandinavian deal has created great opportunities for Fendley and Richmond, as Richmond’s new job within Icon Medialab confirms. The London group adds print design and typography to complement its new parent’s strength in digital media. But, ironically, Spiekermann – the real star of MetaDesign – remains in limbo.

Spiekermann isn’t the first pioneering designer to find himself in this position. High-profile “casualties” from the 1990s include Michael Peters and Rodney Fitch, both drummed unceremoniously out of the consultancies that still carry their names by co-directors with new objectives. Both have made a successful comeback, one with The Identica Partnership, the other with Rodney Fitch & Co, maintaining a lower profile than before, but showing as much commitment as ever to design.

Even in smaller consultancies, life isn’t always easy for the founders. It isn’t just a question of sorting out succession issues as founders take a back seat after decades in the business. Fundamental differences between directors can force the issue. Hence Design Bridge co-founder Richard Williams quit the branding group in the late 1990s after more than ten years at the helm.

But you can’t keep a good creative down for long, as Peters, Fitch and Williams – now a partner of creatively- driven branding group Williams Murray Hamm – have shown. Freed of complex management structures, they can build on their experience and shine again.

Spiekermann is such a man. What he does is always interesting. MetaDesign London might do well to snap him up now, before an astute rival recognises him as one of design’s hot properties.

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