• Pentagramhero

    Pentagram Poster: 1981 (detail)

Graphic Design

We interview partner Angus Hyland as Pentagram marks 40 years at the top of the design industry

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Apparently life begins at 40, or so the saying has it. The idea is that once the callow and simplistic passions of youth are overcome, the combination of experience and fully-functioning hips is a winning one. I like this in principle but have one objection – when someone has achieved loads before they turn 40, how can they keep up that kind of pace? But in the case of Pentagram, celebrating its 40th anniversary this month, there’s no plans to rest on their considerable laurels. We spoke to partner Angus Hyland about the organisation’s past, present and future and we were given access to the posters produced on the organisation’s birthday every year.

The five (hence the name) founder members of Pentagram are a ridiclously impressive collection of design luminaries. But when Alan Fletcher, Theo Crosby, Colin Forbes, Kenneth Grange and Mervyn Kurlansky came together in 1972 to create a new kind of design studio, they could never have foreseen how successful their creation would go on to be. With a cross-discilpine approach and a “flat” (i.e. no CEO etc) structure they set themselves up in a way that had the potential to revolutionise the industry, but having potential and realising it are two very different things.

There’s now 19 partners around the world and Angus believes there are qualities that have endured over the decades. “The definitive monograph was Living by Design we published in 1978,” he tells us. “That captured the underlying message that Pentagram was a lifestyle. It is about doing quality design for big, medium and smaller businesses, from the cultural to the commercial, but we always retain that same quality.

“Everyone who comes in changes it slightly so over a period of time it morphs but the race memory stays the same. There’s no brand platform or overarching constitution, it’s more human that.

“Pentagram is like a multi-celled organism. If one bit drops off then a couple more get bolted on, so it changes but it carries the same DNA. It’s a gradual evolution rather than a strategic plan.”

  • P6

    Pentagram Poster: 1988

It’s more than just a neat metaphor. Angus also credits Pentagram’s fundamental set-up for its ability to stay astride a design industry which technology has changed massively over the past 40 years.

“LIke all evolutionary models the question is can you evolve quickly enough to adapt to a changing environment? If it doesn’t then clearly it’s in danger but if it does it retains its strength.

“We can trade on a really good reputation and a really solid foundation but clearly we have to evolve too. Technology always moves quicker and quicker and maybe we struggle with that at times. But rather than jumping onto the latest trend we miss it and then it’s gone and we’re in a better position. Our model undulates and weathers change quite well.”

Pentagram’s 19 partners act in many ways as 19 autonomous design studios operating under the same umbrella and so agreeing a course of action is not necessarily alway that straightforward.

“On a client-facing level we have a very quick response with our smaller creative teams able to scale up and down very quickly. But as an organisation we can only take collective decisions through consensus which is quite a slow responsive mechanism. I think there is a benefit in that.”

“Design is always in a state of anxiety, the human race is always in a state of anxiety… if you don’t have that then why bother – you need some kind of tension to be creative.”

Angus Hyland

The partner-selection process is a good example of this, taking as it does up to a year.

“It’s a really good platform if you’re at the right point of your career but for others it’s too late or too early – we can take people at a different stage if they’re on the right trajectory though. It comes down to can we sit round a table with that person and do we respect the quality of the work they do.

“We are always open to any discipline but we do not strategically say we need a filmmaker or a sculptor. If someone comes along and they’re the right fit then we’d jump on it.”

Angus doesn’t go in for anxious hand-wringing about the state of the design industry, the effect of new technologies and the democratisation of digital tools. “Personally I am kind of cool with it. Design is always in a state of anxiety, the human race is always in a state of anxiety. That’s normal. In a sense if you don’t have that then why bother – you need some kind of tension to be creative.

“I am working with publishers on a consultancy level and their businesses are thriving, completely against perceived trends. You adapt accordingly. The application of design does not really bother me – you can bring in the expertise as and when.”

And for the new generation of designers just leaving the sanctuary of their universities and entering the industry, what piece of advice would Angus give them?

“Keep calm and carry on. Look to that crappy poster!”

  • P3

    Pentagram Poster: 2003

  • P11

    Pentagram Poster: 1979

  • P5

    Pentagram Poster: 1989

  • P4

    Pentagram Poster: 2000

  • P1

    Pentagram Poster: 2010

  • P2

    Pentagram Poster: 2006

  • P7

    Pentagram Poster: 1984

  • P8

    Pentagram Poster: 1983

  • P10

    Pentagram Poster: 1981

  • P12

    Pentagram Poster: 1972

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. List

    It’s customary at the annual Swedish design awards, Design S, for a three-dimensional S to be awarded to the finest of Scandinavian practitioners; and it’s always made from traditional Swedish materials. Previous years have seen it crafted from finest Swedish wood, but this year’s award by BVD is folded from Swedish paper, fashioned into a giant origami letterform. We hadn’t a clue how they’d done it, but pleasingly there’s an accompanying video that shows you how to make your own.

  2. List

    Whether you’re a gherkin lover or a fastidious type who sits carefully peeling the little green things from between burger buns, there’s no denying just how awesome the identity for this Madrid pickle stall is. Barcelona-based graphic design studio Bendita Gloria is behind the look for the stall, named Bombas, Lagartos y Cohetes, which joyfully translates as Bombs, Lizards and Rockets. Owned by Kike Martínez, it specialises in “banderillas” – little morsels of different deli foods skewered together.

  3. Pentagram-list

    Pitting black and white photography against block colour, Pentagram’s new identity work for Queens Theatre in New York is slick, bright and strong; with as much vibrancy and grace as the performers that tread the venue’s boards. Designed by Paula Scher, the identity is based around a logo created from simple, geometric shapes alluding to the theatre’s architecture; which can be pulled apart and rearranged across various different applications to demonstrate the theatre’s broad and diverse programming, and appeal to an equally diverse audience.

  4. Listtt

    Year six is a tricky time to remember. Clearly we were too busy counting pogs, furtively worrying about training bras and forging detailed plans of how to marry Damon Albarn to forge many other remembrances. What it’s likely we’ve forgotten, then, is the terror of leaving for senior school and all that entailed – going from being a big fish (relatively) to a tiny one who suddenly felt a bit embarrassed about still wearing her hair in two plaits.

  5. List

    Featured back in January, Barcelona-based studio Querida has had a busy few months churning out more of its stylishly colourful and well-considered design work. One of its latest projects is this catalogue for Spanish opticians, Optiques Prats which takes the form of an incredibly stylish magazine catering for the optically challenged.

  6. List

    It’s wonderful when graphic design perfectly unites two seemingly disparate concepts – and Commission Studio’s branding for a Lewes-based homeware brand is a quietly brilliant example. The project saw the London studio (which designed our 2013 Annual) create the look and feel for a range of delicate, subtle pieces like candles and soaps with a name that deliberately sounds anything but delicate and subtle – Freight.

  7. Listtttt

    There’s a whole heap of great design studios in Barcelona with which we’re very familiar but it’s always a joy to discover talent we haven’t come across before. Such is the case with P.A.R, a graphic design and art direction studio run by Iris Tarraga and Lucía Castro. The way they talk about their approach eschews any kind of bullshit, as they write on their website: “Our methodology is simple: We listen to our clients, we understand their needs and we solve them. Our style is clear and direct, we take care of the balance and harmony in our designs, we use typography and colour accurately, we believe in functional design.”

  8. List

    We were lucky enough to meet some of the team from Singapore studio Foreign Policy when they popped into It’s Nice That HQ during a recent research trip to London. The same friendly, curious and open-minded approach that led them to drop us a line has also seen them develop The Swap Show, “an exhibition exchange between design studios and creative agencies from cities around the world designed to showcase and celebrate creative work internationally.”

  9. List

    It’s tricky to implement the intricate tricks of an optical illusion in a book cover design without the finished product appearing slightly heavy-handed, but designer Hansje van Halem does it with poise and perfectionism. She’s worked as a freelance graphic designer since graduating from Amsterdam’s Gerrit Rietvield Academie in 2003 (as her About section explains) and her enjoyment of what others might find to be repetitive shines through in the illusory patterns in her portfolio.

  10. List

    As serious art and design journalists, we’re not distracted by mere baubles. But when said bauble takes the form of an online game (think Space Invaders meets graphic design portfolio) then who are we to resist. It’s one of many trinkets to be found on karlssonwilker’s terrific new website, which shows off their work in the best possible light and confirms their status as one of the most accomplished design studios working today.

  11. List-0102-0103-0105-triptych-%c2%a9-david-shaw

    When the Design Museum planned its Women Fashion Power show, which opened last month, it was very much keen to take the “women” component seriously, appointing them to take care of both the exhibition design and graphics for the show. As such, it drafted perhaps one of the most famous women in design’s practices, Zaha Hadid Architects for the exhibition design; with Lucienne Roberts and her team (Dave Shaw and John McGill) at LucienneRoberts+ creating the graphics.

  12. List

    Based in Manheim, Germany, Deutsche & Japaner have a really great sense of what looks good. They have been on the site a couple of times for their stylish graphic design but this work for the Aesthetics Habitat project shows off a bit more of their own personality. The site is described as “a venture all about meeting objects with a personal interpretation, transforming its function and creating narratives” and in essence its curators invite creatives to respond to and reflect on their relationship with a favourite thing of beauty.

  13. List-flyers-for-the-institute-at-sexology.-photography-by-russell-dornan_-design-by-liam-relph-(3)

    London’s Wellcome Collection space always hosts explorations of the things that fascinate us most. It’s covered death, it’s exhaustively explored the human body in all its glory and grotesquery, and now it’s moved on to surely the most fascinating of all – sex, or more precisely, how people have studied it.