Pentagram

July 29, 2009

About Pentagram

“Established in 1972 when Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes (previously Fletcher/Forbes/Gill) the partnership of architect Theo Crosby and graphic designer Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes grew to include graphic designer Mervyn Kurlansky and product designer Kenneth Grange, taking on the black magic-inspired name of Pentagram, a five-pointed star. This partnership and the blueprint it established for growth was unique in several aspects: It was multidisciplinary, allowing a single firm to offer a broad scope of practices; it gave each partner an equal salary, equity, and profit-sharing; it centralized administrative resources while allowing each partner to operate in relative independence as active designers running their own teams and responsible for their own clients; and it established a precedent so the accumulated personalities through the years could compete against large, tiered, corporate agencies and firms. It was Forbes, for the most part, who was able to establish this unconventional structure as he took on the responsibility of setting the parameters for Pentagram’s growth as well as introducing, and chairing for the next 18 years, the partner meetings occurring every six months- a task that grew increasingly complex as partners around the world joined.

How designers become partners in the firm is a constant source of discussion in the industry, but an agreed set of criteria informs the selection process, which was more clearly defined around 1991, when Forbes decided to delegate his chairmanship: “A partner must be able to generate business, a partner must have a national reputation as an outstanding professional in the chosen discipline, a partner must be able to control projects and contribute to the profits of the firm, and a partner must be a proactive member of the group and care about Pentagram and the partners.” The criteria emphasize the need for each addition to be able to perform not just as a designer but as a businessperson as well- a symbiosis that does not always succeed. Across four decades, more than 35 individuals have either been partners or given the opportunity to be through the two-year probationary period, giving the firm a consistent flux as partners join and leave.

Pentagram grew quickly; John McConnell joined in 1974, and then in 1978 Forbes launched a New York office. The firm has since expanded at an organic pace, adding partners not to boost profits or billings but when the right person comes along, and opening locations not to exploit industries or markets but to blend with the partners’ original location. Not all additions have proven successful; Peter Saville and April Greiman, two of the most celebrated designers of the 1980’s, did not last more than two years, and a Hong Kong office headed by London-based David Hillman operated just three years.

Consistent throughout Pentagram’s history has been a remarkably multidisciplinary practice- first, across disciplines, from corporate identity to packaging, editorial design, posters, and exhibit design; second, across client types, from nonprofit organizations to consumer brands and business-to-business corporations; and, third, across a dizzying number of markets and industries, from fashion to culture and hospitality -all without a specific or implicit adherence to any given style, resulting in an extremely diverse portfolio. In its most recent incarnation, Pentagram’s roster comprises mostly third -and fourth- generation partners -San Francisco- based Kit Hinrichs, who joined in 1986, is the longest standing -yet the principles remain the same more than 35 years later.”

(from Graphic Design Referenced by Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit)

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