During its first ten years Pirtle Design produced some of the most celebrated graphic design work of the time. That work included identities and marketing material for Baylor University Medical Center, The Dallas Museum of Art, TGI Friday’s, Dallas Opera, Diamond Shamrock Corporation, Centex Homes, and Simpson Paper Company, to name a few.

In 1988, aged 44, Woody became a partner in the New York office of Pentagram, the international design consultancy founded in London in 1972. From then until 2005 Woody worked on some of the firm’s most prestigious projects, with clients such as Brown-Forman, Bacardi Global Brands, IBM, Champion International Corporation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Knoll International, Princeton University, Brooklyn Law School, Amnesty International, and many others.

In a UCDA interview Woody was asked where the Pentagram name came from.

“Because the names of the five founders were cumbersome when listed together, they had to find a name that would continue to represent the firm even if one or more of the partners left or if a new partner was added. Pentagram was a provocative choice and of course makes a direct reference to five. And no, we are not a satanic cult!”

Woody was awarded the AIGA Medal in 2003 before leaving Pentagram in 2005 so he could re-establish Pirtle Design.

Woody Pirtle portrait
Photo credit

A few designs stand out from Woody’s logos and symbols, such as this personal mark for Mr and Mrs Aubrey Hair (1976).

And this monogram for Railex (1984).

For his logo for Fine Line Features (1991), a division of New Line Cinema, the “F” and clapboard become one.

This next one for the artist Ward Schumaker is my favourite, where a seemingly simple flip of the “R” and “D” creates a beautifully relevant and distinctive wordmark.

When asked if there had ever been a job offer that he didn’t accept, Woody replied, “Sometimes there are products that you don’t like or feel are not socially responsible. I once had a dilemma about whether or not to enter a competition to design a cigarette package with a prize of $100,000. Paula Scher and I both decided to work on it but agreed that if we won, the money would go to the American Cancer Society.”

For many years Woody’s studio was housed in a stunning late 18th-century, three-building compound in New Paltz, upstate New York, before the property was sold in 2019.

Woody gave this advice to those starting out in the design profession:

“Being a designer isn’t a job, but a way of life. Everything a passionate designer does is guided by design. My life is tied together by design. The commercial work, the socially focused work, my home and surroundings, my paintings, collages, and assemblages all come from my love for design and my aesthetic sensibility. Passion is the key. If you don’t love what you do, and do it with passion, you probably won’t do it very well.”

More from Pirtle Design.


Woody Pirtle, Bill Bernbach, Pentagram, Minale Tattersfield (you should do a post about them David), Bob Gill, Michael Peters, Robert Brownjohn were all design heroes of mine. I’m sure I’ve missed some. Thanks for posting this David.

Oh boy, I’ve quite literally proposed that Fine Line Features concept myself having never come across this before. It’s all but identical, I was gutted at the time that the client went in a different direction, but thank god they did!

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