Alan Fletcher Remembere­d

Alan Fletcher, one of the greatest designers that the UK has ever produced, died last month. Creative Review opened up an online book of condolences on our blog site so that the design world could say goodbye. Here, in tribute to Alan, we reprint a selection of the comments

Was Alan was the ultimate designer role model? In the 50s he studied with all his heroes: in the 60s he started the ultimate creative hot-shop (Fletcher Forbes Gill); the next two decades were devoted to the establishment and world-domination of Pentagram. Then he stepped sideways and became a one-man thinking, designing and publishing phenomenon. You couldn’t script a better career if you tried. But throughout this fantastic, 50-year design journey he always had time for people – he never had to resort to anything beginning with “don’t you know who I am…” But of course everyone knew who Alan was. Never was the phrase “living legend” so apt. Never has British design felt quite so deprived. 
Michael Johnson, johnsonbanks

 

Memories, dreams, reflections…

The endless evenings in his studio; him always opening a second bottle of red wine. The ache in my jaw from the laughter. Swapping books, ideas and dreams. Never heading home on anything less than cloud nine.

Ideas were his lifeblood, he seemed to be watching for them constantly. I’d get little notes and notions in the post: a follow up to a conversation from weeks before.

Earlier in the summer I arrived to see him with some layouts for his new book. I was wearing clear-topped flip-flops. “Fuck, your shoes have fallen off!” was his greeting.

The last time I was with Alan was in Paris in June. We had breakfast together at the Pentagram IPC. He was so frail; worried about the walk back to his room, yet he’d come all this way to be with us. He left the table smiling, I left in tears. Later that day I found a wonderful old wooden box in a market. It had “A.F” in rough Bodoni stamped on the side. I took a picture and framed it for Alan. When he called to say thanks, I said I was sorry it wasn’t the actual box. He laughed, saying he was pleased as it took up less space this way.

Very few in this industry of ours have real soul in their work; Alan had nothing but. To be close to him was a profound privilege and I know he changed the course of my life on several occasions, encouraging me in directions I would never have been brave enough to take had it not been for him.

The future will be impoverished without Alan unless we truly follow his example of intuitive design, from the heart.

I found him a generous, caring and inspirational man. The last book he gave me was called Life; the last book I gave him? Memories, dreams, reflections.
Harry Pearce, partner, Pentagram

 

Alan was a mentor to many, an inspiration to more, incredibly modest, he was never a snob but was the absolute enthusiast.

Alan was my hero, so I thought up a lame excuse to introduce myself to him, I was 27 and had just started a design company. He was at Pentagram and I phoned him, amazingly he took the call and invited me in, he saw through my excuse straight away and asked me why I was really there – so I asked him “how do you charge clients?” He took a little sip of his drink and told me to think of the right number then double it. If the client doesn’t have a sharp intake of breath then you’ve shot too low. A couple of years later he rang me wanting a day’s work on a project. I thought of a number and doubled it, he took a sharp intake of breath and said “bloody hell, for that much you can do two days work!”

I’m 41, I still need his advice and will miss him.
Tim Fendley, AIG

 

Way before I ever met Alan, he was one of my heroes. When I finally did meet him, I was in awe of him, but he wasn’t the least bit arrogant, condescending or distant. Having lunch at his house was like hanging out with old friends, although there were always people there who I’d never met before, but had certainly heard of. It is unfair that someone like Alan should not live to be 120. 
Erik Spiekermann, United Designers

 

I thought Alan Fletcher was one of the world’s most exceptionally talented graphic designers – until I worked with him closely on a book for Phaidon about his life and projects called Beware Wet Paint. Then I discovered that he was an artist, philosopher, linguist, all-round communication genius and much else besides. He told me lots of stories, as he told everyone lots of stories. My favourite was his true tale of returning as a young boy by ship from Africa, the “white man’s grave”, in the late 30s after the death of his father. The ship passed through the Straits of Gibraltar. In the sky he thought he saw fireworks but it was the opening volleys of the Spanish Civil War as Franco’s army advanced from Morocco. Perhaps there should be fireworks over Gibraltar to mark his passing.
Jeremy Myerson, Royal College of Art, author, Beware Wet Paint with Alan Fletcher

 

He was my hero, my inspiration. The best thinker that ever lived. He really was the ultimate smile in the mind. A gruff man in ironed jeans with a huge heart and a blotchy pen which gave birth to a world of ideas on a napkin. A man who was one of the founder partners of Pentagram and for me he was the reason it was great.

I want to thank you, Alan, for teaching me to think

hard, the power of ideas and to be playful and have fun

in the process.

My sympathy goes to his family at this very sad time.

Love and massive respect, 
Vince Frost, Frost Design

 

Alan Fletcher was one of a golden generation of creatives who managed to combine a renegade approach with charm and professionalism.

I will remember him as the fascinating man of the trademark black fedora, with the ability to depict the essence of a subject with a few swift well placed lines, and to cut through plethora with a keenness of wit and economy of words that at first terrified me, and then endeared him to me, as I realised that, although an undisputed “design icon”, he wasn’t too grand to respond in the positive to my many requests to be part of this or that ISTD event.

Receiving his faxed reply to an invitation to take part in ISTD’s 26 Letters 2004 London Design Festival project, I was convinced it was a “thanks but no thanks”. However, with his renowned brevity and humour, he had sketched in large capitals:
F
OK
A
Freda Sack, International Society of Type Designers

 

From 1990 to 1993, I sat adjacent to Alan Fletcher in Pentagram’s London office. Alan was a generous man, full of understated wit and an innate passion to express his take on the world through his distinct style.

I appreciated the time he gave to me; a genuine mentor with a gracious manner. That he could be both eloquent and brusque in the same sentence was a constant source of amusement – perhaps even his “trademark”.

Alan invited me to contribute to the Feedback series of books, even though I was very new to the Pentagram environment. He was a man of largesse, and was surprisingly open to new ideas in the field of design.

I extend my sympathies to Paola, and all who knew Alan should celebrate his significant contribution to advancing visual communications. 
Brett Wickens, MetaDesign

 

Of the many designers that Phaidon has collaborated with over the last 15 years, Alan was unique. He was a highly original thinker with an unusual thought process. He overflowed with creative ideas, and though some of them completely missed the point, others were pure genius that could only have come from Alan. He always cut through to the essence. He is one of the very few people I have encountered who had the ability to make me look at things in a completely different way to how I was seeing them, even though I was fairly certain I had the answer. Alan was a true editorial designer concerned with ideas, content and communication, and never satisfied with just a stylish but superficial solution. For us, he is irreplaceable. 
Richard Schlagman, Publisher, Phaidon Press

 

I dreamt about Alan the other night – I suppose it was due to the fact I had spent the morning searching through portraits of him for the commemorative ad we are publishing in Creative Review. I don’t quite know why he had entered my subconscious; it occurred to me when waking that the reason so many people in our industry had expressed their grief was because he was so unique, so irreplaceable. I suppose we all are, at some level. But there are a few whose passing seems to touch such a variety and breadth of people that they can clearly be regarded as special. And we always miss the special.
Angus Hyland, partner, Pentagram

 

 

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