I don't know where I'm going but I'm on my way

Alan Fletcher

Alan Fletcher was a hero and sadly a mentor I never had

I first met Alan Fletcher at the offices of Pentagram, when I was a student at the Royal College of Art. 

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 of Pentagram as a design business but not much about Alan Fletcher as an individual. 

Over the years I learned more, and grew to really admire his work. He had great ideas and wit but he was also a real craftsman. I remember at a D&AD lecture where Fletcher, Forbes & Gill (the inspiration for Pentagram) were interviewed. Illustrating the different qualities of the partners, Bob Gill said "The difference between us was this – Alan would spend 3 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 3 days making it fit!" 

I've few regrets in my life, but one is that I wish I'd worked for a designer, the calibre of Alan Fletcher. I set up my own studio within five years of leaving the RCA and I've been very much self-taught. 

I often thought about approaching Alan to ask him to be my mentor. But I never dared, he was so God-like to me. One lunchtime in the cafe at the Design Museum I was having a coffee with my wife. At the next table was Alan Fletcher and a younger woman. I remember he was wearing a grey collarless shirt with pockets. I think he 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 – who had been sitting next to us. She immediately gave me an earful for not speaking to him. 

Shortly after Alan died of cancer. 

He died wearing a hand-lettered 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 proudly next to my books on design. I often look at it and think, "One day I'll know". 

I think I'm getting there.

Yesterday I'd heard I'd been accepted on a week-long course in New York with Milton Glaser, another of my design heroes. 

I'm on my way.

Gary CookeComment