After a succesful Kickstarter campaign last year, production on Graphic Means started and it looks like it is getting close to a release date. When it hopefully comes to a theater near me I’ll be going to see it. I want to see it for the history not the nostalgia, well maybe a bit of the nostalgia. The thing is, I did all the things shown in the trailer from paste up, to color stripping and I do not want to go back to it. Sorry folks, the computer changed everything and the way we design today is better. Yes graphic design is still a refined craft that takes a lot of skill and dedication. No design wasn’t better back then simply because it was analog. I hated making Chromalins, doing paste up, and cutting color separations by hand. Did it teach me a lot? Hell yes, there are things I learned 30 years ago that still apply to what I do today, but that doesn’t mean I want to go back to the olden pre-digital days.
The trailer looks good, and the history of how the graphic design business has evolved should be pretty interesting though. So yes, I’ll be sitting in the theater, reminiscing and hopefully learning about the history of my trade as well.
When you think about graphic design, the last thing you probably think about is total nuclear destruction, or chemical weapons, but back during the analog days of the cold war the two were oddly connected. The images below are analog calculators from the late 1940’s through the 1970’s. They come from a period of time when the world was locked in a cold war, with the possibility of it turning nuclear hot. These calculators were used by the military to quickly determine in the field things like blast potential, damage potential, fall out rates, chemical weapons effects. They are chilling, oddly fascinating, and in some ways striking examples of visual design.
Each of these calculators follows a basic design formula. They had to be easy to read, and use in extreme conditions. For the most part they follow that rule. Type faces are sans serif, color pallets are bright or minimal, legibility is good even though they had to cram so much data into each one, the layout while predetermined by the math, is visually appealing, and if you look at these objects removed from their original context, they are visually interesting. From a production standpoint we have to bear in mind that the original design for these objects was completely done by hand using ink pens, french curves, ruby-lith, and possibly type pasted up by hand. Pretty impressive when you think about the intricate curves, and type that is set on an arc.
If you want to know more about these devices, why and how they were used, click through to Calculating for some fairly interesting reading.
OK, hold up your hand if you remember the days of graphic design before the computer was king. Hold up your hand if you used Letraset type, and Rapidograph pens, and Gouache, and rubber cement, and…
Over at Creative Pro they have a really great post about Letraset. It brought back so many memories, especially the shot of the flat file you used to store the sheets of type in. I think about when I made the move to 100% digital, how I held on to those stacks of type for years because they had cost so much. How things change, and for the better I might add. I might have a soft spot for the nostalgia, but I don’t miss the old days of building comps with Letraset type.
Today is my birthday and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. I think the nostalgia stems from the fact that a long time ago on this day, (no I am not going to tell you how long ago) I started a new job in the design department of a local shop. My job was like many in that era. I did paste-up and cut color separations with a xacto knife and rubylith. This was long before computer graphics and the easy of Command-Z.
As I was sitting here working away on my Mac, building some complex animated title sequences in After Effects it got me to thinking about how much easier things have really gotten since the introduction of computer graphics. Seriously, there are people who will never know the arduous task of rebuilding an entire page, by tearing off all the type that was laid out by hand using gangs of copy and hot wax or rubber cement, or the joy of re-stripping an entire page because the client changed a series of price points 4 hours before press time.
Believe me I am not complaining, and this is not a post about how I walked up hill to work in the snow so I could slave over a hot light table and drawing board all day. I just got to thinking about what it used to be like back in the day, and how I wouldn’t go back to that if I had to. I remember having a conversation with another designer a few years later, and they kept saying that there would be no way you could ever produce anything on the computer that would look better than what was done by hand, especially illustration, and painting. I wish I could talk to them now to see if they even remember our conversation, and if they ever changed their tune. The whole time the two of us were yapping about this we were making Chromalin proofs for a presentation the next day. God I still can’t believe I worked with this stuff. Chromalin involved all sorts of nasty toxic chemicals, and solvents, and they were just a pain in the ass. You had to mix your color to match the PMS chips by hand, and hope that you didn’t screw up when peeling the backer off. If you did it was back to square one.
I still believe in the idea that you should have some solid drawing and sketching skills, if you are going to be a designer. It’s just the way I was trained and the background I come from. Know how to set type and all the fundamentals that go with it. Know about color theory, visual layout, gestalt, balance, use of white space, all of it. OK now I’m getting preachy. Enough of this. It’s my birthday and I am going to go eat some cake while I draw in Photoshop on my new iMac and think about how I never have to smell rubber cement or Bestine ever again.