Beware of Wet Paint by Alan Fletcher

Phaidon were offering reductions on a number of books so I purchased this without knowing a lot about it or Alan Fletcher. Ignorance is not always bliss and it certainly was not in this case. I could not leave the book down.

beware_wet_paintThe book contains 265 Fletcher designs and the commentary is by Jeremy Meyerson. It is divided into themed chapters and there are four essays.

Each chapter moves and sways like a Fletcher design from the practical to the ephemeral. The book is full of Fletcher’s wit both in the written word, and in his designs.

He is generous with his information about how he went about ‘creating’ designs. An idea could just pop into his head or he sometimes had to work and re-work his first thoughts. Whichever the method he knew when he had found what satisfied him. It was always necessary that he be satisfied first in order to convince the client of the value of his thinking. This did not always work. But he always remained true to himself.

After twenty years with the agency Pentagram, which he founded, he left to become a freelance designer. Amazingly he admits to not receiving work for three months after he went independent. But he never doubted himself and little by little he built up a huge worldwide clientele. Some of these clients, like Pirelli, he had worked with at Pentagram. Others were new and came to him because of his growing reputation. He is very open about the designs which were not accepted as well as those which have become famous.

Every chapter is a delight but some made me laugh and gasp in awe at the same time. In “recycling materials” we see how he used everything he saved to create funny, quirky designs. Two stamps on a envelope with just a curved line became a wedding present for his friend. A label from a carton indicating the way the box should be held was inverted and the caption “Down with Dogma” added and this became a poster for the 1993 Design Renaissance Congress.

dsBut Fletcher’s work could also be precise and very formal when it needed to be. The logo for a company which manufactured queuing and routing systems, Design Symbols, is a geometric masterpiece. The signage for the V&A is another example although lack of funds meant that this was never properly installed – what a pity.


The Dog
The Dog

He created many calendars, horoscopes and cards both for his friends and paid work. One which made me really laugh out loud was the Chinese Horoscopes. he imposed strict criteria on himself whereby he used only ephemera which was in his possession.

the_oxThe animal heads he managed to create are ingenious. As someone who keeps all my tickets and material from travelling I could really empathise. Unfortunately I just stick mine into hand made diaries for my grandchildren. I’ll have to hope they might create something from them in the future.

I have submitted my assignment 3 for Core Designs in which I had to create guidebook covers for various cities. One city was Manhatten. When I saw what Fletcher had created I wanted to give up immediately and admit I lack that magical something which makes a designer like Fletcher.

I think the greatest lesson I have taken from this book it that ‘less’ can definitely be better than more…

I would suggest that this book be compulsory reading for all design students.