Colin Forbes, a graphic designer who has been involved in countless logos, book covers, and interior spaces, but whose most enduring work may have been, essentially, designing for a design organization, Pentagram, which was developed from its founding in the early 1970s to have worldwide influence, died Sunday at his home in Westfield, North Carolina, near the Virginia border. He was 94 years old.
Michael Gericke, a current Pentagram associate, confirmed the death.
Mr Forbes was already a successful designer when he joined four others to create Pentagram in London. Mr. Forbes and his co-founders – Alan Fletcher, Theo Crosby, Mervyn Kurlansky and Kenneth Grange – wanted something between a boutique business and a big Madison Avenue type business. Mr. Forbes was the main architect of what they envisioned: a partnership structure that balanced independence and collaboration.
“As co-founder of Pentagram,” Mr. Gericke said via email, “he has shaped a unique structure for his intuitive and idiosyncratic partners to work as individuals, in a collective framework that has stature, collegiality and business acumen.”
During the first two decades of the partnership, the “business acumen” part of this equation came largely from Mr. Forbes.
“During those early years, whoever worried first about cash flow, the need for more studio space, or what might happen five years from now had the job of planning company progress,” Mr. Forbes wrote in a 1992 essay for Pentagram’s 20th anniversary. “It turns out it was me.
The label of a limited edition bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a range of cookware for French brand Soufflé, the Great Western Railway ticket office at London’s Paddington station and the promotional campaign for Shakespeare in the Park in New York are among the recent projects. in Pentagram’s extensive portfolio.
Mr. Forbes was also an excellent designer in his own right. Among the examples Mr. Gericke cited was the cover of the 1979 book “George Nelson on Design”, one of Mr. Forbes’ first projects after he moved to New York to open a Pentagram office there. Mr. Forbes came up with a word-within-a-word concept that has often been imitated since, making the “on” in “Nelson” double duty as a preposition by rendering it red, when the rest of Mr. Nelson’s name was in white.
The logo used by Nissan for many years was also the work of Mr. Forbes, and his designs for Pirelli, British Petroleum and other companies were familiar in their time. His career has encompassed a significant expansion in the field, one that has seen graphic designers go beyond logos and book covers to advise on interior spaces, corporate identities and more – something Mr. Forbes said he never considered when he graduated from the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London in his twenties.
“When I got out, I assumed if you could do some part-time teaching and a few book jackets, it would be Christmas,” he told The Honolulu Advertiser in 1991, when he was in Hawaii to give a talk. “So I never thought I could stand up in front of the Neiman Marcus board telling them how I could improve their business in Dallas.”
Colin Ames Forbes was born on March 6, 1928 in London to John and Kathleen (Ames) Forbes. He did his compulsory service in the British Army from 1945 to 1949, and he first had a completely different career in mind.
“When I got out of the army in 1949, I had thought I was going to do aeronautical engineering because ‘the airplane’ was so romantic to people of my generation,” he said. at The Honolulu Advertiser. Instead, he took advantage of a veterans’ scholarship program and went to the Central School of Arts and Crafts, graduating in 1952. He taught at the school for a time, but in 1960 he had left for private practice.
In 1962 he formed Fletcher/Forbes/Gill with M. Fletcher and Bob Gill. Their eye-catching work for Pirelli, Time Life, Penguin Books and others captured the spirit of the Swinging Sixties that was transforming popular culture in London and beyond.
‘As a team’, wrote The Independent of Britain in Mr Fletcher’s 2006 obituary, ‘they had the ability to combine the formal restraint of Swiss modernism with the spirit of the Madison Avenue advertising industry’.
Mr. Crosby replaced Mr. Gill in this partnership in 1965.
Mr. Forbes helped start Pentagram in 1972. When he left in 1993 – he retired soon after – he ensured that the structure of the business would allow it to continue even after the founders are no longer involved. (Mr. Grange was the last to go, in 1997.) Many small businesses don’t last beyond the first generation, but this year Pentagram is celebrating its 50th anniversary, with 23 associates whose work permeates modern life.
Mr. Forbes’ first marriage, to Elizabeth Hopkins in 1950, ended in divorce. In 1961, he married Wendy Maria Schneider. She survives him and his children, Christine Coppe, Aaron Forbes and Jessica Forbes, and three grandchildren.
Mr. Forbes served as president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts for several years in the 1980s. In 1991, he was awarded the prestigious AIGA Medal, which recognizes outstanding achievement in the field.
“For most of a long and spectacular career in graphic design,” said a biographical sketch prepared for the occasion, “Forbes focused its splendid energies on nothing less than the conception of the design practice itself. This makes him a creator of creators in a rather particular sense.