Where are you 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 – I was one of a group, and at the time, I knew a little about Pentagram as a design business but nothing about Alan Fletcher.
Later 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 and 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 had heard me talk about him, and 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’ – a quote by Saul Steinberg.
I own a copy of that poster, and it hangs in my studio. Every day I look at it, and ask myself… “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.