Winter 2006

Remembering a graphic artist

Richard Schlagman
Picture / Alan Fletcher [EXTRACT]

Alan Fletcher’s editorial design was informed by craft skills and a highly original way of thinking

The first time I met Alan Fletcher was in the early 1970s. I was just nineteen or twenty. I had started an electronics company and needed a logo. I had no idea where to go so a friend, Tony Kaye (later famous in the worlds of advertising and film) suggested I should see Pentagram. I met Alan who said ‘I can do a logo for you,’ but when he told me how much it would cost I was blown away! It was more money than I possessed at that time. So he kindly introduced me to someone else and the logo was designed elsewhere. Our paths would not cross again for twenty years.

When I acquired Phaidon Press, at the end of 1990, though I had an eye for design, I didn’t know much about it formally. But it was clear to me that Phaidon’s books didn’t look as good as some of its rivals. So I interviewed several top designers, including Pentagram’s John McConnell. John was involved with Faber so he suggested that I meet his partner David Hillman, who soon started working for us, commissioning book designs from a whole range of designers, including Alan.

In those early days of the ‘new’ Phaidon, David’s contribution was considerable but, for reasons I am still uncertain of, he soon decided to leave. John suggested I meet Alan who, at that time was just about to retire from Pentagram in order to concentrate on his personal work and a more select range of clients, so that he could focus on the type of work he really enjoyed. I knew that Alan was a hero to many people and thought that this might be an opportunity for us.

Alan’s first days at Phaidon were a complete culture shock. In the past, when I had needed a new book concept, David would just deal with it and present a new proposal a few days later. Alan’s approach was quite different. He would ask: ‘Why are we doing this book?’ ‘What’s it about?’ ‘What’s the point of it?’ You couldn’t get a concept out of him without him asking a million questions. Weeks could go by. I soon realised that Alan’s major concern was communication, and he could not act until he fully understood all the editorial aspects. He was a true editorial designer – concerned with ideas, content and communication…

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