A look inside Alan Fletcher’s studio, life and ‘seamless’ design approach

Asked what his most important piece of self-promotion was, Alan Fletcher dryly answers, ‘being in the right place at the right time.’

I Have Nothing to Say And I'm Saying It poster designed by Alan Fletcher.
I Have Nothing to Say And I’m Saying It poster designed by Alan Fletcher.

This type of quick-witted, self-effacing humour seems typical of the late graphic designer, as a film shown at this year’s Point conference delineates.

Alan Fletcher and his books
Alan Fletcher and his books

In the introduction by Fletcher’s friend and former Pentagram senior designer Quentin Newark, we’re given a touching portrait of the designer as an incredibly smart, quick witted man – one whose work changed the face of British graphic design.

‘There’s no way you could meet Alan Fletcher and not be affected by him,’ says Newark. ‘Alan had better claim to embodying what graphic design is and should be than anyone.’

Fletcher, who was born in 1931 and died in 2006, studied at the Central School of Art and later at the RCA. He formed Fletcher/Forbes/Gill with Colin Forbes and Bob Gill in 1962, left in 1965 and went on to form Pentagram in 1972 with Theo Crosby, Colin Forbes, Kenneth Grange and Mervyn Kurlansky.

V and A identity
V&A identity

Fletcher can be credited with producing some of the most iconic, clever graphic design of the 20th century, working on projects including identities for the V&A and Reuters, and designing the cover of Phaidon’s instantly recognisable tome, The Art Book.

The Art Book
The Art Book

The low-fi, hand-shot footage screened at Point shows Fletcher mooching about in the rigorously ordered eccentricity of his studio. It was filmed in 2005 – a year before his death  – once friends learnt of his illness.

As Newark says in his introduction, the striking thing the film shows us is Fletcher’s seamless approach to design. All of life’s problems, he shows us, are design problems – there’s no compartmentalisation  of ‘design’ and ‘non design’ thinking.

Alan Fletcher in his studio
Alan Fletcher in his studio

Fletcher is filmed answering a number of questions, all dealt with in an unblinking, dryly hilarious and typically sideways looking manner. ‘What’s your most well-used piece of equipment?’, he’s asked. ‘My head’, he responds.

We see the designer’s magpie-like mind transform his studio into a supremely tidy, organised Aladdin’s cave of inspiration, oddments and work drawn from the most disparate of places.

When advised by his doctor take daily walks, for instance, he turns this into a sort of aesthetic pilgrimage, pilfering discarded letters from cardboard boxes and packaging to form gorgeous typographic collages. Rubbish becomes colourfully painted creatures, pencils are painted green to form a large tree.

Fletcher offers the camera man a mint
Fletcher offers the camera man a mint

At times, he’s very much a normal ‘granddad’, offering the cameraman a mint, proudly showing the menagerie of wonderful animals he created from rubbish for his grandson. Well, they were for his grandson, until he realised the damage a small, enthusiastic boy’s hands might do.

‘So we came to an agreement that he could name them and make the noises’, says Fletcher. ‘He seemed happy with that.’

The menagerie of rubbish animals
The menagerie of rubbish animals

For Alan Fletcher, design wasn’t just producing something sharp and effective for a client. It wasn’t a job, but an approach to life. Want a way to hear the studio door opening? Easy, use a washing-up drainer, feather duster and some Peruvian bells, attached to a curtain rail.

A clever contraption for the studio's sliding door
A clever contraption for the studio’s sliding door

Asked if design is a necessity or both, he responds that it’s a ‘habit’.

Every problem is a design problem, he shows us, and when he solved them, he did so in the typically sideways, canny and bafflingly effective way that it’s highly unlikely anyone else could have conceived of.

Hide Comments (5)Show Comments (5)
Comments
  • Christine McFadden November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I worked for Alan in the late 60s. He helped make me what I am today. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about him.

  • Jon Daniel November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I had the pleasure of working with Alan on an advertising campaign for the Department of Education in 2001.

    He created a series of charming collages made out of materials, drawings and ephemera we collected from several primary schools.

    Like many, I was influenced by his intelligent design ideas and his complete holistic design lifestyle. I loved the fact that his studio was the mews house behind his own house in Notting Hill.

    This may be a much simplified view, but effectively I saw it as his ‘garden shed’ in which he pottered around creating designs for whatever took his fancy.

    Its a life I continue to work towards and still aspire to.

  • Mike Dempsey November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    For anyone who would like to read my original Design Week interview with Alan Fletcher you’ll find it here

    http://mikedempsey.typepad.com/graphic_journey_blog/2010/01/alan-fletchers-wit-remembered.html

    Mike Dempsey

  • Random Number November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I Have Nothing to Say And I’m Saying It

  • Random Number November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I Have Nothing to Say And I’m Saying It!!

  • Post a comment

Latest articles

Remembering Jon Daniel: 1966-2017

We look back on the life and work of the Design Week columnist, independent creative director and social activist “who helped put black participation on the political map”.