The art of being idea-Velcro

Suddenly here was the answer to the question: How was one of the most inspiring books on design, creative thinking, and opening your eyes actually created…collected, written, drawn, compiled, gathered, jack-dawed, observed, scrap-booked together.

It’s ten years since The Art of Looking Sideways was published.


As an alternative to defining it (which is just about impossible) I’d describe  it as the sort of thing you’d wish to send into space in a time capsule as a semi-chaotic but inspired introduction to Earth and Human Beings. Because if found, a passing extra terrestrial life form would think positively of the fascinating, comic and absurd human race.

Alan Fletcher, who wrote the book, said there is no thesis within it. I think there is one:

This is how to open your eyes. Now keep them open because inspiration is everywhere and anyone can find it (and you don’t need to be a design pseud). 

Like anyone who has marvelled at the book I’d idly wondered how all this fabulous information had been captured and curated. What did it look like?

And then yesterday a wrong turn took me past a small gallery where the answer was hanging on the wall. In plastic folders.


In each of the 100 or so of these plastic folders are the guts of 100 or so selected pages from the book: each folder contains newspaper cuttings, notes, scribbles, sketches, cut out magazine pages. Stuff that Fletcher collected over 20+ years of practising keeping his eyes opening and “looking sideways”. Here and there, the occasional post-it note speculates  who owned the rights to a given image.

You can see here how Fletcher was unceasing in seizing the moment. In capturing the thing that fired up his synapses there and then.

I knew something of this. He once sketched my mother’s elbow. This was at a beach restaurant shack. Wanting to capture the view of the beach as he saw it there and then he began to sketch it and began with the thing in the way of his view. The elbow.

They began talking. He explained how he took his sketchbook everywhere. Because you never knew when you might find something interesting. And as this exhibition makes clear if you know how to look you’ll find it everywhere. And in his book he drew what he saw, wrote what he heard, put things he found.

Which meant I had an idea how he went about capturing the raw data. And now, thanks to this exhibition, the circle completes: the way that information was curated is clear. And it’s simple. And inspiring.

The plastic folders come from one of the mountain of boxes where Alan Fletcher’s accumulated ideas and observations are achived. It’s as if he was Idea-Velcro in human form and as he passed ideas, musings and insights attached themselves..then occasionally he would return to base and shake off these ideas, curate them and share them for the rest of us.

Fletcher, who created the book was the founding partner of design agency Pentagram, creative director of Phaidon (the publishers) and died some years ago. His family have put together this exhibition with the Kemistry gallery. 43 Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3PD.