Winter 2004

The fellowship of Pentagram

Profile: Pentagram Design

Edited by Susan Yelavich. Phaidon, USD59.95, £35

There are, as editor Susan Yelavich writes in her incisive and witty introduction, six books about design group Pentagram already in existence, so does the world need another one? This volume winks back, ‘Apparently, yes’. Pentagram, of course, is the hugely important international design firm founded on both economic and aesthetic principles. It adheres to both a communal sense of partnership and a Modernist, concept-driven approach to design. Profile reflects on and embodies these dual priorities by presenting essays on each of the nineteen partners by one of a group of design critics, fiction writers and essayists. Each piece is complemented by a few select images, but the emphasis is on the text and thus the character of Pentagram and its partners. Taken together, they are perhaps the most affectionate and funny series of essays ever published in the increasingly dicey category of design monographs.

Rick Poynor contributes a fascinating article on the history and philosophy of Pentagram; Paula Scher is hilariously appreciated and then perfectly appraised as a type obsessive by Karrie Jacobs; Michael Bierut gets a similarly humorous characterisation as an all-American boy of Catholic upbringing and tastes by Kurt Andersen. The essays are successful because each writer takes an intimate, knowledgeable look at its subject with no attempt at a comprehensive overview. Instead, by focusing on a particular aspect of each partner’s work, the writers are able to tease out larger themes and ideas in each life.

Pentagram has been much viewed and discussed, but each essay delivers new insights, and the book casts the enterprise in a new light. Profile succeeds where so many design books fail – in the writing. These kind of specific, human-centric articles are all too rare in design magazines. Here they comprise that rare thing: a design tome that is also a worthwhile read.

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