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Profile: Pentagram Design
If Pentagram were a film, Phaidon’s Profile: Pentagram Design would be the equivalent of AMC’s Backstory. A backstory shows you what you don’t see on screen. It holds a magnifying lens over the film’s actors, director, production department, setting, failures, and successes. Profile focuses on Pentagram’s cast. Like American Movie Classics’ series, this book provides interviews & anecdotes, some in depth analysis, and an overview of how each partner works and operates within Pentagram.

Before meeting the cast, you learn about Pentagram from its origin to evolution, and the structure and ideals that keep the machine going. I’ve often wondered how such a noteworthy group of designers can manufacture enough billable hours to sustain not just themselves, but also the firm. All the designers are tenacious in their own right, balancing a wide variety of projects and responsibilities as partners. Married to the firm, they seek out valuable clients, ensure commercial viability, create innovative work, and establish influence for the betterment of Pentagram.

One gets the feeling that they all want to be the best for Pentagram’s sake. Yet some have risen beyond the firm with individual accolades and recognition. These noteworthy designers, who’ve maintained a degree of success and popularity over the years, can be seen throughout the design community. Most of us look up to them. I found pleasure reading about these time-tested stars, but was equally charmed to meet the supporting cast. Lisa Strausfeld appealed to me. Her rich background in interactive and new media lends a degree of futurism to the partnership’s capabilities. I look forward to seeing how many of her projects can be implemented in the coming years. Daniel Weil draws. Seeing his sketchbooks reminded me just how important the concept is, and how expressive ink and lead can render line and tone. And through Robert Draper’s essay, we learn how DJ Stout—the Texas Daredevil—manages to face impossibility with nothing short of heroic vigor.

From Draper’s Texan portrait to Louis Begley’s sculpted narrative on James Biber, and onward to Karrie Jacobs humorous and insightful homage to Paula Scher, each distinguished writer examines their assigned partner in a unique way. They reveal the ethos and pathos that compose Pentagram’s cast, a firm that’s legendary in their own time. Through these backstories, we gain insight into the values, capabilities, and inetests of the partners. Design annuals do not provide this, and rarely do designer’s own monographs dive into these matters.

For those of you searching for a portfolio book, Profile contains just enough visual samples to wet your palette. With over 200 color reproductions, the real pleasure in reading Profile lies in the backstory because there’s more to Pentagram than the work. The partnership succeeds where others have failed. The designers that compose Pentagram matter most because without them, Pentagram would be just an idea, like unrealized design.

Book Information
Profile: Pentagram Design by the Editors of Phaidon Press
240 pages, Softcover
2.6 pounds, 9.9 x 8.5 x 1.1 inches
Publisher: Phaidon
ISBN: 0714843776
Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Oct.09.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
kit’s comment is:

A couple of days ago I bought Phaidon’s Pentagram: The Compendium and since then I jump back and forth between Compendium and Profile. Fabulous reading! I do recommend them both.

On Oct.10.2004 at 06:08 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

Thanks, kit. I've not read any of the other Pentagram books, but will look into Compendium per your suggestion. I think our library has it.

On Oct.10.2004 at 10:53 PM
Kosal’s comment is:

Does anyone know what happened to Fletcher, Forbes, and Gill (the Pentagram founders) after they left? Where they are now?

On Oct.11.2004 at 04:45 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

“Pentagram:Profile” fills a big hole that was left from “Book Five”. While “Book Five” displayed the wonderful wit and detail of Pentagram’s recent work, it unfortunately made absolutely no connection with the individuals who made the work. “Profile”, on the other hand, focuses on the partners themselves, and helps give insight to the person behind the design. (“The Compendium” did both, but not from an outside writer’s point of view.)

I’m admittedly an unrepentant fan of Pentagram, so my opinion is biased. However, I do have one critical observation of “Profile”. Since each profile is written by a different -- though respected -- author, the entire reading experience is similar to having read a really big magazine. You don’t get a singular point of view that you might expect from a volume this big. Instead, you get a variety of viewpoints, and a variety of writing styles, and a variety of impressions. In reality, this may reflect and capture what Pentagram really is. However, for those interested in an in-depth profile of what makes Pentagram tick as a whole, you’ll have to put the pieces together yourself.

As for Gill and Fletcher, they’ve both been designing and writing books. Fletcher has two very good volumes, “Beware Wet Paint”, and “The Art of Looking Sideways”. I’d recommend them both.

Gill has written several books, at least two of which have very long, very captivating titles, and essentially the same content. Read one, and you’ll have read the other, as well.

On Oct.11.2004 at 10:00 AM
Jason T’s comment is:

Rick Poynor provides a well-written essay at the opening of this book. It does tackle some of the things you long for, giving an impression of what makes Pentagram tick. Some wonderful diagrams outline the firm's evolution and growth over the years too.

Pentagram operates on a singular point of view or modus operandi: make the best design possible. Beyond that, there is a dedication to the firm that resembles a marriage. Take care of Pentagram, take care of your clients, and sustain enough business for the betterment of both.

On Oct.11.2004 at 12:42 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Yes, Rick Poynor's essay is very helpful in giving a bigger picture of Pentagram.

The diagrams are also humorously insightful, although they were previously published in Paula Scher's monograph "Make It Bigger." (They're worth seeing again, however.)

On Oct.11.2004 at 12:59 PM
Kosal’s comment is:

I am familiar with Fletcher and Gill's books but I was just wondering if they're still doing any work besides personal projects. I find the most inspiration in the Art of Looking sideways. It's great. There's a collection of Alan Fletcher postcards coming out soon, using some of the spreads from looking sideways.

On Oct.11.2004 at 03:10 PM
frank derose’s comment is:

I took a class with Bob Gill last year. He is teaching here in NY, and from what I could gather in class, he is still working.

On Oct.13.2004 at 02:38 AM
Denis Radenkovic’s comment is:

The Compendium is a great book. Next time I get a chance I'll have a better look at Profile. From what you all say, it must be good!

On Oct.16.2004 at 06:08 PM
Sarah Haun’s comment is:

Fletcher resigned to go on his own in the mid-90s. Forbes retired a few years later, now does a little consulting from his farm in North Carolina. Gill left more than a decade (if not two) earlier.

Having been an insider at Pentagram for 10 years, I was surprised when this book came out. It was a longstanding policy to promote only the firm's philosophy and work in its books ("the literature of the design profession," they called it), rather than the partners. Individual authorship was to be collective--if not downright ambiguous--for the benefit of all. The original idea behind the firm was, in essence, strength in numbers, and the names attached to those numbers would change over time as partners joined and left.

But times themselves have changed, and with this book the contemporary cult of personality, star system, designer-as-hero construct, whatever you want to call it, appears to supersede the founding partners' '60s-style collectivism. While I'm not a big fan of the starmaker approach in general, it does make the firm seem more accessible, human--and perhaps even vulnerable.

As Jason T points out, it's ultimately a good thing that *Profile* lets everyone see for themselves that the less famous partners in the current group are no less talented than their more voluble colleagues.

On Jul.20.2005 at 10:35 AM