You might not know his name, but chances are you’ve seen his work. Alan Fletcher was one of the most celebrated and prolific British designers of the Twentieth Century.
Fletcher was one of the most influential figures in post World War 2 British graphic design. His fusion of the cerebral European tradition with North America’s emerging pop culture and the formulation of his distinct approach made him a pioneer of independent graphic design in Britain during the late 1950s and 1960s.
A founding member of Pentagram, Fletcher helped to develop a model of combining commercial partnerships with creative independence. Fletcher also developed some of the most memorable graphic design of the era, notably the identities of Reuters and the Victoria & Albert Museum,
Born in Kenya in 1931, Fletcher moved to England at the age of five after his father became terminally ill. He was raised by his mother and grandparents in west London, growing up during World War 2. Like most children of the era Fletcher attended Christ’s Hospital, a boarding school in Horsham, where like his fellow classmates he was destined for a career in the army, the church or banking. But at the point where Fletcher had to make a choice about his career path, he chose a different route, opting out of the rigid groove of post-war British middle class life and took up a place at Hammersmith School of Art.
During the 1950s Fletcher attended four different design schools, each one more cosmopolitan than the last. Fletcher left Hammersmith for the livelier environment of the Central School, where he found himself in class with his future partners Colin Forbes and Theo Crosby as well as such other future luminaries as Derek Birdsall and Ken Garland. After graduating from the Central School, Fletcher spent a year abroad teaching English in Barcelona and then won a coveted place at the Royal College of Art, where his contemporaries included the artists Peter Blake and Joe Tilson. His tenure with the Royal College of Art lasted three years, at which time he entered an exchange program with Yale University.
At Yale, Fletcher was taught by American Masters Paul Rand, and the artist Josef Albers, which heavily influenced his emerging design style and sensibility. Fletcher also arranged visits to prominent graphic designers studios such as Robert Brownjohn, Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar in New York. It was through these visits that Fletcher won a commission to design a cover for Leo Lionni, art director of Fortune magazine, which at the time was a showcase for modern design and a client at the top of every aspiring graphic designer’s wish-list.
After graduating from Yale, Fletcher did a short stent with Saul Bass in his Los Angeles studio before returning to England via a trip to Milan. It was this trip to Milan that landed Fletcher one of his first design jobs that would help propel his career forward over the next ten years. In Milan, Fletcher took a job working for the Pirelli design studio. It was this brief job that allowed Fletcher to return to England with an established client, and one that would ultimately help him start his own design studio with friend Colin Forbes in 1959.
Over the next decade and a half Fletcher worked with a variety of clients helping to build his reputation as a designer, and establish him as a design influencer in both Europe and North America. His working relationship with Bob Gill, and Theo Crosby, set in place what would become the foundation of Pentagram which he would form in 1972 with Theo Crosby, Colin Forbes, Kenneth Grange and Mervyn Kurlansky.
Over the next 20 years Fletcher continued to work, expanding Pentagram, until leaving in 1992 to form his own independent studio at Notting Hill Gate in London. Over the next ten years Fletcher would work as a consultant to Phaidon Press, publish a series of books on design theory, and help to develop he visual identity of the Novartis Campus Project in Basel, Switzerland.
In 2001 Phaidon published Fletchers The Art of Looking Sideways on Fletcher’s visual philosophy. If you are a designer and you haven’t read it, go to the library and check it out. It’s worth your time.