Is it important to know where you’re going?
I first met Alan Fletcher at the offices of Pentagram in 1975, when I was a student.
Their studio was all white walls and red brick, with tasteful design by the partners adorning the walls. I say I met Alan Fletcher but I was one of a group, and at the time I knew a little about Pentagram as a design business and nothing about Alan Fletcher.
At a D&AD lecture where Fletcher, Forbes & Gill (the inspiration for Pentagram) were interviewed, Bob Gill compared himself to Alan Fletcher:
The difference between us was this – Alan would spend three days marking up a piece of type and half an hour pasting it up. I’d spend half an hour marking it up and then have to spend three days making it fit!”
I loved the way Alan Fletcher worked. He had great ideas and wit but he was also a real craftsman. Alan Fletcher enjoyed the process, he didn’t rush to get the job done. His book The Art of Looking Sideways sits on my bedside table, and is a bible and testament to the way he thought and worked. I’ve few regrets in my life, but one is that I never worked for a designer of his calibre. I set up my own studio within five years of leaving college and I’ve been very much self-taught and my own critic. In a small way, attending the Milton Glaser Summer Program in 2011, satisfied my need to judged and ‘shot down in flames’ by someone who I really respected, and made me realise how much I’ve still got to learn, and give (I’d add a slightly smiling face emoji here if this was a social media post).
I often thought about approaching Alan Fletcher to be my mentor, but he always came across as gruff, and a tad scary, and not the most approachable individual. One lunchtime in the cafe at the Design Museum I was having a coffee with my wife. At the next table Alan Fletcher sat drinking a coffee. He was wearing a grey collarless shirt with numerous pockets; he’d probably designed it himself; I wanted to go and say hello, and tell him how much I admired his work, and how he’d influenced me, but I didn’t. After he’d left I told my wife who it was. She immediately gave me an earful for not speaking to him.
Shortly after Alan Fletcher died of cancer.
He died wearing a printed T shirt with a phrase from one of the many posters he produced: ‘I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.’
I own a copy of that poster and it hangs in my studio. Every day I look at it. “Am I on the right path? Am I achieving what I should or could? Where am I headed?”
I’ve loved my life in design and it’s the love that keeps me wanting to get better, to keep doing it as long as I can. I have many personal goals I’ve still to get done. I dream of spending a year in Florence learning to draw like the old masters. My idea for a book remains unpublished, and unwritten. My daughter is only eight and there’s a ton of stuff I want to do with her.
Where all this will lead, who cares. One thing I do know, it’s not about where I’m going, but the getting there, that holds the real value.