Retail design guru Rodney Fitch dies

Professor Rodney Fitch, who founded design consultancy Fitch and was one of the giants of the UK design scene, has died.

Rodney Fitch

Fitch was born in 1938 and studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. His career as a designer got off to an inauspicious start. As he told Richard Williams in this 1996 interview, he was arrested and jailed following a CND march and missed his first day as a junior designer at Conran Design Group in 1963.

After Terence Conran bailed him out he rose through the ranks at CDG, becoming managing director after five years. In 1972 he set up his own consultancy, Fitch, where he worked with clients including BP, Debenhams and Topshop. In 1990 he was honoured with a CBE for his services to the British design industry.

In his 1996 interview he told Williams: “Today they want me to be a designer in a garret – small-time, charge small fees, don’t raise my head above the parapet, don’t be flash, because it is not seemly for designers to do that. Designers are modest professionals who should enjoy a modest income and be content with their lot. I hate all that.

“I always felt that I had a mission in life to deliver to ordinary people better places to shop. I have little interest in Issey Miyake or haute couture design. The thing that really turns me on is working for Woolworth’s, Marks and Spencer and Boots stores – which touch everyone’s life.”

In 1982 Rodney Fitch took Fitch public and in 2004 the consultancy was acquired by WPP. Rodney Fitch served as chairman of the consultancy before leaving in 2009

Most recently, Fitch held a post as a Professor of retail design at TUDelft University in the Netherlands and ran consultancy Rodney Fitch Ltd.

Fitch died on 20 October following a battle with cancer. A statement from his family reads: “Rodney spent his last few weeks at his beautiful house in Wiltshire and passed away in the early hours of this morning peacefully surrounded by all his loving family.

“Funeral/memorial arrangements have yet to be finalised, but for now…take care and remember the wonderful man Rodney Fitch.

Tim Greenhalgh, chairman and chief creative officer of Fitch, says: “Rodney was a truly great man and one whom we in the design community owe a great debt of gratitude. He was a creative visionary and one of the most charming men you could ever wish to meet. He created a culture for designers that has survived over the years  – one that celebrates endeavour and the desire to change the world for the better.

“Rodney believed strongly in customer-centric design (a term he never liked using) and hated customers being referred to as ‘punters’. He believed they deserved great respect, and importantly, great design. He saw things in the world of brand and retail that others simply missed and he had ways of expressing his ideas that people fell in love with.

“Rodney was a wonderful man, who was loved and will be greatly missed.”

Professor Henri Christiaans, who worked alongside Fitch at TUDelft, says: “I got the chance in 2009 to set up a so-called specialisation Retail Design within our Master degree courses. And I asked Rodney to become a professor for that course. He did a marvellous job. Even though he was not educated as an academic his way of teaching and supervising students was so inspiring for them and also for staff.

“You cannot believe how active, vivid, untiringly and inspiring he was. Being a role model for all of us. Many of his students got a job in retail design and have very good memories of their their professor Rodney Fitch. I will certainly continue what he started in educating retail designers.”

Messages of condolence can be left here.

You can read our 2012 interview with Rodney, in which he talks about his early days in the design world and offers advice to young designers, here.

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  • Pauline Amphlett November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I remember meeting Rodney back in the 80’s in Manchester when he was giving a talk on his work and the business of design. He left a real impression on me. A noted and respected person in the industry who was influential in my own career as designer and educator.

    Cancer has a habit in taking people to soon in all walks of life.

    Rodney will be greatly missed in this amazing industry and I hope his work is long remembered.

  • Elaine Archer November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    A great and wise man. He set me, and many, many others, on their career paths, with the absolute ethic of design is key to success. Never compromise and always strive to achieve with integrity. Will be sadly missed as a giant of design ethic and implementation. Will be very sadly missed as a design light.

  • Sarah Perry November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    We had the great pleasure of working with Rodney on a project last year he was both inspiring and encouraging, it was a joy to work with him, I am so lucky to have had that opportunity.

  • Brian Minards November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    In the 1980s, as President of the CSD, Rodney negotiated a seemingly impossible deal with an irate bank over the society’s purchase of its Bedford Square building. He announced his success at a CSD council meeting which I attended, and when asked how on earth he’d managed it, he replied, ‘With a sparkling eye and a winsome smile.’ Yes, he’ll be missed for all that he did, and by everyone who knew hm.

  • Chris Radcliffe November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    In 1986 I worked with Rodney. A friend, I particularly liked meeting his Jacob sheep at his Summer BBQ at his beautiful home and the peacocks! RIP sir.

  • Mark Landini November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Rodney was the best mentor the design world has yet to produce. His opinions both frustrated and inspired us all. I’d love to argue with him again. Sadly not possible right now.

  • Dominic Stone November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I was generously sponsored by Rodney at the RCA in 1987, and subsequently worked for him at Fitch. I met up with him occasionally in the following years, through a shared interest in design education. He was, as others have pointed out, always unfailingly generous with his time, energy, and advice for those trying, like I was, to make a career in the design industry. His commitment to the development of design education, and design as a genuine professional practice, was absolute, as was his enthusiasm for taking a contrarian (but good-humoured) stance in any debate. I owe to him not only the opportunities that studying at the RCA opened up, but also the inspiration that his optimism and work ethic provided.

    Also, his summer parties were amazing!

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