Alan Fletcher
FHK Henrion
Date unknown

When I first met him, Alan was a student at the Royal College of Art in London and I was his young tutor. He had come from the Central School of Arts & Crafts, where Colin Forbes, later to be a close friend and partner, had been a student with him. From the very first meeting Alan struck me as talented, sensitive and industrious and, uncommon to most students, he had an unusual sense of applying himself to projects, whatever work was to hand. He showed me drawings he had done in Spain during a holiday with his future wife Paola, prior to coming to the college. I still remember those drawings today – almost forty years later – as they showed promise of a typical sensitivity which he later wholly fufilled.

He met and was influenced by a host of good people: Herbert Spencer, Paul Hogarth, Derek Birdsall at the Central School, and later when a scholarship took him to Yale, by Bradbury Thompson, Herbert Matter, Norman Ives and Paul Rand. Afterwards he worked with Leo Lionni on Fortune Magazine. In fact he came in contact and worked with the right people at the right time both in the UK and the USA. His curiosity and intelligence enabled him to benefit optimally from these encounters and to gradually evolve his own personal approach to design.

In 1962 he became a partner in Fletcher/Forbes/Gill which later evolved into Pentagram. He still draws constant advantage from the partnership's multiplicity, inspite of his undoubted proclivity to be a loner, an individual designer/artist, the uneasy member of a team, which he, however, needs and which makes him thrive and achieve in a manner which he would not if he worked on his own. For the same reason, he makes a significant contribution to the other Pentagram partners' work. He, being valuable by irritation, seems to be the pearl in the Pentagram oyster.

His successful obsession with visual ambiguity, the apposite metaphor, the rebus and artificial pun seems to run counter to the general practice of design offices today, as well as to clients' marketing expectations. The imaginative yet pertinent way in which he uses visual illusions achieves pragmatic objective results by optically memorable solutions. Once he has found a design solution he is unlikely to compromise on the client's insistence. He gets away with solutions where many would fail, he can and needs to be very persuasive, rationally arguing for his most irrational designs.

His series of posters for IBM bring a breath of enchanting air, a lyrical hint which provokes a rewarding inward smile to the IBM worker and visitor – just the nuance of humanity and poetry which an inevitably rationally run, international corporation needs to make itself more acceptable – and possibly more enjoyable – for staff, customer, visitor, and opinion–former. The same cunning yet inspired light–heartedness pervades the design of his symbols and logotypes, which make them unique and often life enhancing. His forty eight sheet poster for Polaroid brings colourful summer joys into the drab English landscape – a bouquet of abstract flowers offered to the tired passerby.

Alan is a very private person, introvert – even shy – which can make him aggressive in order to hide an inner warmth and humanity. The Pentagram partnership has been good for him and he has been good for the partnership: the interface is a mixture of high spirits and tempers, wit, irritation and tolerance with a modicum of mutual understanding.