Step-by-Step Graphics magazine

Young creatives—back in the transitional years of the digital revolution in design—coveted Step-by-Step Graphics magazine. One reason, the price of the publication was expensive for university students. Not as expensive other trade journals, but college students did not have a lot of disposable income. The cost of art supplies ate up most of the budget. Another reason, there was one copy of the latest issue for twenty students. Magazine copies were placed in the fine arts building’s library. The main reason is obvious, university students devoured each issue in hopes of creating work inspired by the amazing artists and illustrators featured in each publication. That was the goal. Graduate and earn a living creating graphic and commercial art.

I used to enjoy reading articles in Step-by-Step Graphics magazine. The editorial content was one part inspiration, one part innovation and a healthy dash of technical craftsmanship. The periodical was the inspiration and trend source for many Gen X graphic design student. Of course, we were never called, labeled nor pursued as Gen Xers at the time. We were simply called students.

One memorable story—for me, at least—was the 1992 feature of a medical illustrator. There was a page devoted to perspective and painting—airbrush painting. What does a 30/60 prospective grid mean, and will I learn about it in this semester, I pondered many winters ago. I marveled at the color photos of the artist pencilling arrows on a perspective grid and drawing ellipses with a template. And all the tracing paper required to pull off one truly amazing image about how a pharmaceutical product responds to cholesterol molecules.

Rabbit trail. There used to be an old bookstore in Milwaukee’s downtown area that had back issue copies of Step-by-Step Graphics and other resources like Communcation Arts and Émigré. I bought these back issues and toted them back to university. Some of you may remember when Step-by-Step Graphics magazine’s cover logo design changed—sometime in the late 1980s—from the rectangle black box with “graphics” in script font under the words “Step-by-step” to the square reflection logo.

When I graduated, the digital revolution in design matured. The need for hands-on technical skills that I spent years learning dissipated as computer hardware and software flooded ad agencies and publishing houses. New digital skills were learned on the job. Learn quick or go hungry was the unwritten motto.

Step-by-Step Graphics magazine disappeared sometime around the appearance of the iPod. Today, if you are searching for pro tips on graphic design and illustration, you search for YouTube videos on the topic. Imagine the graphic design profession without the internet. Without YouTube. How did graphic arts and designers work before 2005?

3 thoughts on “Step-by-Step Graphics magazine

  1. Nice to read such appreciative comments about Step-by-Step graphics. I wrote for the magazine for many years:
    Goldsmith, Marianne. “Made to Order: Michael Mabry identity design.” Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine, September-October 1997. http://www.michaelmabry.com/images/michael_mabry_article_step-by-step.pdf
    Goldsmith,Marianne. “Type is the Message: Bob Dahlquist typography design.” Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine, May/June 1996.
    Goldsmith,Marianne. “Storytelling by Design: Book design.” Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine,Nov/Dec 1995.
    Goldsmith,Marianne. “Colors of Hope: Sam & Becca Smidt design.” Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine, Spring 1994.
    Goldsmith,Marianne. “Multicultural Variations on a Typographic Theme: Lucille Tenazas.” Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine, Sept/Oct 1993. (trans. for French edition, Sept/Oct 1994, Etapes Graphiques.
    Goldsmith,Marianne. “Balancing Act in a Bank Card Makeover.” Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine,May/June 1993.
    Goldsmith,Marianne. “Signage and the Disabilities Act.” Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine, Sept/Oct, 1992.
    Goldsmith,Marianne. “The Greening of Catalog Design: Esprit.” Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine,Nov/Dec 1990.

  2. Much gratitude for your writing contribution to Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine! Thanks to you and others I was able to navigate those transitional years in the design industry to allow for a career that enabled me to work for magazines, newspapers and book publishers. Again, much gratitude to you for your instructive writings published in Step-by-Step Graphics Magazine. Are you still writing on the same topic and/or subject material?

  3. Step By Step Graphics WAS my design school. I went to school for film and took coursework in illustration, but the only places hiring in the 1980s were ad agencies, so I had to learn the rudimentaries of design fast, and there was no money left for more school. I subscribed right into the mid-90s and like many others, I guess, I just let the subscription lapse because on-the-job computer learning steamrolled over everything, as you referenced.

    However, without the hands-on tactile experience I learned in SBSG, I don’t think I would have know how to apply technique and style to my work; the computer just made it easier and faster.

    Sadly, like a lot of other things, the computer also enabled those who didn’t have training or innate talent, so a lot of awful work came from it as well.

    I had bound copies of the books for ages until my wife finally convinced me to toss them because they took up a lot of room at the time. Now, with a much larger office where I display much of my work, collections and trophies, I lament that I can’t show off my squarebound-design-school along with all the sketchbooks I still keep (going back to the 80s).

    Thank you for this, with all the influence the magazine had, I’m amazed at the dearth of coverage. And Marianne, thank you so much for your work, I recall the “Signage and the Disabilities Act” piece vividly. I worked for an event promoter when that came out and I used it to convince him we needed to make additional signage for that very reason.

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