Bob Gill hand coloring a poster in his Brooklyn studio

Listen to the idea

On November 9, Bob Gill, the last living original Pentagram partner, passed away.

Here are some things you may already have heard or read about him in one of the many obituaries, articles or posts following his death:

In 1960 he moved from NYC to London to work in advertising. There he met Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes, and the three of them formed Fletcher/Forbes/Gill, the studio that would eventually become Pentagram, on April fool’s day 1962. Allegedly the decision to open was based on advice given to him by a fortune teller.

He was one of the original founders of D&AD.

After 5 years he left the partnership and went back to New York and freelancing. He repeatedly stated that had he stayed on he would have been a rich man.

In the late 70’s, he co-created the broadway hit “Beatlemania.”

He wrote a whole bunch of books, some for children, some for adults, some for designers, including “Forget all the rules you ever learned about graphic design. Including the ones in this book” and “Graphic design made difficult”.

He famously said that “There is no such thing as a bad client — there are only bad designers and part of our job is to do good work and get the client to accept it.”

And here are some things you may not know about him:

Fletcher and Forbes agreed to give up 25% to Gill’s London ad agency boss and make him a silent partner, because that was the only way he’d let Gill leave.

Before becoming a graphic designer, Gill was a piano player. At Pentagram in London, he convinced an apprentice by the name of Charlie Watts to give up graphic design and focus on his drums.

He directed a porn movie (“The Double Exposure of Holly”) because he thought it would be an interesting experience. He went on to say it actually put him off sex for a couple of years.

Paul Rand told Gill he was his favorite designer.

illustration for an article about how smoking a pipe improves your image

But all this, as Gill himself might have so aptly put it, “ain’t the point, Schmuck!”

The point being, he was one of the original few who took the concept, the idea, and put it front and center, ahead of style, in this business of communication design. As Steven Heller writes, he “totally ignored the niceties of design. Niceties were never important to Gill. Solutions were.”

The point of points, then, is this:

“if you are not concerned with what “good design” is and you let the design come from the idea, you get an original design. Just listen to the idea.”

I never met Bob Gill. I did not know him personally. I wish I had. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of his quotes, and again and again am startled by how they resonate with things I’ve thought and said, and feel all the more connected to him.

Here’s another one:

“I love to start from scratch with somebody who couldn’t care less about design and knows nothing about it. Because then it’s a very interesting process. I’m not a con-man, I believe I’ve got something to contribute to what this client has to communicate and also I never presume to tell a client what to communicate. The fun is to invent a way of saying it in an interesting manner: the client is the expert in shoes, or butter. So there is a nice symmetry there. They are experts in one area and I know something about how to do it.”

sources: Pentagram, The Daily Heller, The New York Times, Eye Magazine, OFFSET 2013




Pentagram>TBWA>K&CO. I know how to make things clear. & fun, if possible.

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Ariel Kotzer

Ariel Kotzer

Pentagram>TBWA>K&CO. I know how to make things clear. & fun, if possible.

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