Obituary: James Pilditch

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The Independent Online
The design world has lost one of its foremost visionaries and evangelists with the death of James Pilditch. He was the first of his generation to link the specific value of design to economic success. Through the company he founded, Allied International Designers (later Aidcom), and his prolific writing and speechmaking, he set the course for the development of the design profession.

Pilditch founded Allied in 1959. He had earlier observed the role design played in the industrial life of North America and became convinced that design was vital to Britain's future growth. On his return to Britain he found design existed as a cottage industry, with commercial artists working independently and not considered of strategic relevance to business. His vision was realised through his company: marrying creative and analytical skills to make design effective; developing a multi- disciplined team with two- and three-dimensional design skills, marketeers and business consultants; and working internationally, learning and trans- ferring experiences and not being financially reliant on one national economy. The work of the company spanned corporate communications, packaging, product and interior design.

Pilditch worked energetically building his company and persuading business leaders for the first time that design was a valuable tool in improving profits. Clients included large organisations. The company produced corporate identities for the TI group and Philips of Eindhoven, retail design for Burton Group and Debenhams, and product design for Kimberley Clark and for Hasbro, the largest toy manufacturers in the world. The company prospered and after 20 years (in 1979) joined the stock market, becoming the first quoted design company. Pilditch said design had thus become publicly accountable. Although this made him a wealthy man, in later years he regretted the move, believing design consultancies succeeded best as private businesses, or partnerships.

As chairman of Aidcom International (as his company had become), Pilditch steered the company into forming new divisions in market research and technology, and it became one of the first integrated marketing consultancies. He successfully led the group until the early 1980s, when he chose to concentrate on his wider design interests and writing.

Pilditch was a tireless campaigner for design's role in business, which he expressed through articles and books - a number of which, including The Silent Salesman (1961, about packaging) and I'll be Over in The Morning (1990, about marketing) have become standard works in higher education - his stylish speechmaking (delivered with casual aplomb belying hours of careful preparation), and his membership of many governmental and educational committees. He was honoured by professional bodies in Britain and the United States and in 1983 was appointed CBE for his contribution to design.

James Pilditch was brought up in Iver, Buckinghamshire. He studied fine arts at Reading University, then did National Service as a gunner when he received the Sword of Honour at Mons, the officer cadet school. He emigrated to Canada where he worked first as a journalist and then for design offices in Toronto and New York. Although educated in the visual arts and trained as a writer he was instinctively a businessman and returned to England to start his own firm,

Pilditch was a mercurial personality and was full of contradictions. He was a handsome, urbane man who had a sophisticated sense of style whilst maintaining a boyish naivety. Ideas jumped from him like sparks from an anvil but often he could not tell the good from the bad. He had a restless spirit and developed a well-argued viewpoint on a range of subjects, perpetually writing his thoughts to friends and newspaper editors. He was ambitious for his beliefs and colleagues; delegating and creating opportunities by setting high standards. But sometimes he wavered in taking responsibility and, although modest, was frustrated by feeling he was not recognised for his contribution. He was a patriot, sustaining British traditions - a passionate supporter of English cricket, a keen real tennis player and a lifelong admirer of Lord Nelson - but was full of modern innovative thoughts and helped forge design as a new industrial force.

Something of an outsider in most areas of his life, he was a loyal and generous friend. His charm was pervasive and, although a businessman he was really an artist in all he did. This was expressed through his taste in clothes and food, his houses, his delightful line drawings many of which were privately published, and at the end a most beautiful and moving funeral service which he arranged when he knew was dying.

Bryan Brown

James George Christopher Pilditch, design consultant and writer: born 7 August 1929; founded 1959 Package Design Associates (later Allied International Designers), Chairman 1980-83; CBE 1983; twice married (one daughter); died London 23 August 1995.