Commentary — May 25, 2022

The celebrated designer and co-founder of Pentagram has passed away at age 94.

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Colin Forbes, the celebrated designer and co-founder of Pentagram.

Colin formed the London-based studio Fletcher/Forbes/Gill with graphic designers Alan Fletcher and Bob Gill in 1962. The firm evolved into Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes with the departure of Bob and the addition of architect Theo Crosby in 1967. This innovative multi-disciplinary approach eventually led to the formation of Pentagram in 1972, when product designer Kenneth Grange and graphic designer Mervyn Kurlansky joined.

In 1978 Colin moved to New York, briefly shared an office with industrial designer George Nelson, and established Pentagram’s second office with fellow Englishman Peter Harrison. He was instrumental in expanding the company’s reach in America with the opening of studios in San Francisco and Austin. Today, the firm has 23 partners with 200+ team members in four offices.

During his career Colin designed graphics and visual identities for a wide range of clients and industries.

His three-dimensionally two dimensional D&AD (Design and Art Direction) logo is still in use today. Other iconic pieces include his famous poster advocating free admission to London museums that was a petition he signed with famous artists signatures; Nissan’s logo (created with Matthew Carter); his George Nelson on Design book cover with the now commonly copied word within a word typographic idea; A Sign Systems Manual, an early book in the field that defined a logical approach to signage systems; and many complex and disciplined, but fresh, corporate identity programs for Lucas Industries, Toray, British Petroleum, Cunard, Pirelli, Neiman Marcus and others.

But perhaps his most lasting design contribution was creating Pentagram’s unique organizational structure, which enabled the partners to work both independently and in collaboration. This is how Pentagram continues to work to this very day, and has allowed the studio to flourish through several successive generations of partners, a passage that proves challenging for most design firms.

“There comes a point when a sufficiency has been invested in building an international reputation, developing management skills and a fund of case histories so that the organization has a value beyond the individuals…maintaining the balance between commercial and cultural and our aspiration to be the ‘thinking designers,’” Colin wrote in a 1992 essay about the structure.

In New York he ushered in a new, second generation of partners that included Woody Pirtle, Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, James Biber, and Michael Gericke. In the mid-1990s Colin stepped back from Pentagram, serving as a consulting partner and advising other businesses while settling down on his horse farm in North Carolina, which became a sanctuary for retired thoroughbreds.

Throughout his career, Colin nurtured a broad network of friends and colleagues in the growing global design community and received countless honors for his work. He was co-founder of the D&AD and recipient of its President’s Award, and a member of the British Design Council and the Royal Society of Arts. He was elected as a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI). Colin served as the President of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) and of the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). He was awarded the AIGA Medal, its highest honor, for his lasting impact on design, culture, business, and society.

For those of us who had the opportunity to work with him, he offered a link to Pentagram’s formative past and the roots of an ethos and culture that believes good design can only be found in a good idea. This mission was part of Colin’s character, carried out with elegant precision, unwavering focus and a fine sense of humor, as he worked to design the way the world looked around him.

He will be greatly missed, especially as we look forward to celebrating Pentagram’s 50th anniversary this year. We are sorry he will not be here to experience it with us, but are honored to carry on his legacy.

RIP Colin, and condolences to his wife Wendy and family.

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