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Pentagram: The work of five designers, 1972
An introduction to Pentagram Design Partnership
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The following are excepts from the book Pentagram: The work of five designers published in 1972. If you enjoy articles like this, and would like to support the project, subscribe to Logo Histories.
There is something extraordinary in the stimulation of several minds concentrated on a single problem, when ideas are coined, turned over, discarded, resurrected. Such interchanges are perhaps the most rewarding part of a designer's daily life.
Partnerships are many faceted and are created for many reasons: for attack and for defence, for mutual aid and mutual criticism. The five designers whose work is shown here are of diverse origins, training and ambitions and their work is easily enough distinguished They have worked together, in various combinations for several years, and their partner. ship has come about through this experience in creative interaction. Though each is a specialist they are ambitious to be universal men, to grasp at opportunities outside their specia. lity, and to use them to explode the bounds of that speciality.
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Each partner had achieved recognition before joining together, and each had been involved in the territories of the others. They had also found that their own work required the creative participation of other skills: jobs which had begun with graphics led to exhibitions, a product led to a pack. Each collaboration sparked off new concepts
Pentagram is basically a consortium between the Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes design office and the industrial design practice of Kenneth
Grange. It is a link with the defensive aspects of a partnership: communal servicing by an efficient unit relieves the partners of much administrative anxiety. More positively they have found that the growth and complexity in the structure of society and industry must be matched by an equal sophistication of diverse design abilities and services. More and more, co-ordinated design teams are required to carry out work on a scale scarcely thought of ten years ago, when most designers worked on their own.
As complex tasks are undertaken, many skills must be deployed and they are most effectively marshalled on a basis of co-operation. The partners work with specialist teams, a federal arrangement, and avoid a pyramid of responsibility. Each is responsible for his own projects, for finding the necessary skills inside or outside his team.
The ambitions of the five designers are diverse. Each is concerned with the pursuit of excel. lence, but they have hopes of a communal in. volvement in solutions to problems of en-vironment, with the design, selection and control of elements at every scale. In this way they can perhaps feel their way towards a methodology of design which will reflect our complex century.
As Mies van der Rohe said, 'God is in the details'. It is just this concern with minutiae, the typographer's neurosis, that the partners share.
They also share a concern for communication, for explanation and controversy, and have published a number of books, individually or in collaboration. 'Graphic Design: Visual Comparisons', written by the early partnership of Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes and Bob Gill, set the scene for a great expansion in publications on graphics and sold over 40,000 copies. The Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes 'Sign Systems Manual', 1970, is already a standard work; 'Identity Kits' by Alan Fletcher and Germano Facetti is a visual exploration of iconographical meanings. Theo Crosby's "Architecture: City Sense', 1965, has been reprinted and also published in Italy. His 'The Necessary Monument', the result of several years involvement with problems of planning and conservation, was published in Britain and the United States in 1970.
The work of Pentagram falls into three broad divisions: buildings, interior and exhibition design; graphic design; and industrial design. There is also an office located in Zurich, in the charge of Georg Staehelin who worked with Crosby/Fletcher Forbes in London. Much of the partnership work is for companies and governments in Europe, Japan and the Middle East. With the enlargement of the Common Market the Zurich base will become increasingly important.
Building, interior and exhibition design:
Theo Crosby, responsible for the architectural division, is the most heterogeneous of the partners. His activities vary from being Chairman of a school for mentally handicapped children, to being a member of the Independent Television Authority Advisory Council. His character is complex, being an enthusiast for innovation and change yet also an active preservationist.
He is particularly known for his work in exhibitions. He organised the influential 'This is Tomorrow' 1956 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and has since been involved in many exhibitions of art and architecture. He was responsible for the buildings, exhibition and programme of art/architecture integration at the International Union of Architects Congress on London's South Bank in 1961, and for the British section of the Milan Triennale in 1964, which won a Gran Premio. The Industry section of the British Pavilion at Expo '67 Montreal followed. 'L'Idée et la Forme', an exhibition of British design was held at the Louvre in 1971.
Kenneth Grange has also worked consistently on exhibitions, most recently at the British Pavilion in Expo '70 at Osaka. He was also responsible for the series of Confravision studios for the Post Office which are illustrated here.
Interior design has generally tended to be for working environments, particularly where creativity and efficiency have to be delicately balanced. There have been a series of designs for advertising agencies, some entirely re-modelled after a period of years as the agency changed, grew and developed. Each agency needs a specific character to present an image which its clients can recognise and which springs naturally from its own attitudes and methods of work. For the designer each problem is a challenge which precludes the repetition of a previous solution
In some cases clients for buildings or interiors, such as Reuters and the stockbrokers Rowe Rudd, have also required graphics or corporate identity programmes. In this event the possibility of creating a total environment has been enthusiastically seized upon by Alan Fletcher and Theo Crosby.
Graphic design falls into two major catego. ries: information and persuasion; each of which require very different skills and mental attitudes which are rarely combined in the same person. Colin Forbes is principally an information man, to whom order and logic are primary. His particular skills are demonstrated in many complex informational pro-grammes, of which the most comprehensive is that for Cape Universal Building Products.
He has worked for many years to develop the company's visual image, information and advertising output in a tight collaboration with the marketing manager and other advisers and consultants. The result is probably the most consistent and intelligent information system in the building industry, winning many prizes including a British Industrial Marketing Association Grand Prix award in 1969. His work for BP and for ICI bear the same stamp of logic and discipline, often ruthless but always relieved by a classic sensibility for quality in the printed page.
Alan Fletcher falls somehow between the categories. A student of Josef Albers at Yale, he has absorbed some of that master's preoccupation with geometry and ambiguity. This makes him impatient with preconcep-tions, for every problem contains many solutions (and more problems) hidden within, like a series of Chinese boxes, or one of his own mazes. His handwriting is clearly distinguishable in the famous Olivetti calendar. His capacity for organisation and analysis is formidable; the 'Sign Systems Manual' is mainly his work, as are the Reuters and Rowe Rudd corporate programmes
The third partner concerned with graphic design is Mervyn Kurlansky, whose talents are unashamedly romantic, and whose concern is always for sensuous quality and evocative imagery. In the controversial Roche campaign for Nobrium, with a number or mailing and sample items, he has been able to bring off a highly complex programme with great panache and success.
There is a strong tradition of graphic design in Switzerland and its most eminent period was immediately following the Second World War. Georg Stachelin, the designer in charge ofthe Zurich office, has certainly inherited and been educated within this tradition but has quickly developed his talent by his international experience. Having worked in Paris, Amsterdam and London and having travelled extensively in the United States, he set up the office for Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes in Zurich. He has successfully married these European and American influences in his work which has included a launch programme for the new Dictaphone pocket dictating machine
The graphic designers, and indeed the other partners, are united by considerable common ground of ideas and design philosophy, but think naturally of very different solutions. The result is sometimes conflict, a creative opposition which is both painful and enjoyable to the participants.
Kenneth Grange heads the industrial design division. He had worked on his own and with his small group of assistants since 1958 and had built up a thriving practice
His work covers the field, including appli-ances, products and capital goods, but he is best known for his sophisticated approach to consumer products. These are immediately identifiable by their cool elegance and the care in detail that comes from close collaboration with the client's engineers. Kenneth Grange is able to bring a range of hard won skills from many industries to bear on a single problem as well as a habit of collaboration in complex production programmes. The sewing machine for the Japanese manufacturer Maruzen shows creative thinking that improves the function of the product in addition to the quality of the styling
He has won six Council of Industrial Design awards and the Duke of Edinburgh's Prize for Elegant Design (1963). His best known work is perhaps the Kodak Instamatic camera, but his Kenwood range of kitchen appliances have been highly successful for many years. Current work includes a diesel locomotive for British Rail, communications equipment and office furniture.
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