I found out from the Design Observer blog that one of my heroes in the graphic design world has passed away last month on September 21. Alan Feltcher (one of the founding members of the influential graphic design firm Pentagram) is one fo the reasons why I decided to take whatever business learning I had and fuse it with whatever creative learning I could muster and lead the unpredictable life of a planner in the ad world. His work and especially his life has inspired me like no other personality from the creative design world.
He once remarked thus about work and life – “I’d sooner do the same on Monday or Wednesday as I do on a Saturday or Sunday. I don’t divide my life between labour and pleasure.” It is this ethos that, I think, that contributed to the amazing body of work he has done. When work itself becomes a pleasure, the results are bound to be extraordinary.
The British art director Graham Fink had once remarked that the creative mind should be like a sponge and absorb everything around it. And then squeeze the mind for the juices to flow in making the work happen. Alan Fletcher’s book ‘The Art of Looking Sideways’ is the perfect example of such a sponge of a mind. It is one of my favorite books of all time. ‘Beware Wet Paint’ is an excellent book on his thinking pertaining to the work he did at Pentagram. I keenly look forward to his upcoming book (which will be published posthumouslythis month) titled ‘Picturing and Poeting’.
His body of work embodies his fresh, modern, surprising and witty approach to find the most simplistic solution to a design problem. Which is quite evident in his quote – “I like to reduce everything to its absolute essence because that is a way to avoid getting trapped in a style.” – and some of the work below.
“I find myself thinking back to my first dinner with Alan, shortly after I joined Pentagram. I was seated at a table with some of my new partners, and the meal was winding down. Alan made a bet that none of us could duplicate a trick he was about to do. It involved two wine corks — Alan enjoyed activites that required the consumption of good wine — that had to be exchanged from one hand to another. “Ready?” he said. “Okay, watch.” He held the corks between his thumbs and forefingers, and then traded them in one quick gesture. It didn’t look like magic. It looked easy, something anyone could do.
“Got it?” Alan asked. “Now you try.” So we did try. And try. And try. And he leaned back in his chair, sipping his wine with a faint smile on his lips, watching all of us attempt, without success, to imitate the effortless simplicity of Alan Fletcher.”
For a man who lived by his quote, “Design is not a thing you do. It’s a way of life,” and who showed us the art of looking sideways, our gratitude will be lifelong.