Rented Mac computers and other joys of graphic design in the 1990s


Discovered an old portfolio during spring cleaning. The book predates the iPod. Or, for those readers under the age of 20, the iPhone or Twitter. The design samples were probably created using an old Macintosh Quadra series. Or maybe a Macintosh LC II with an integrated Sony Trinitron display screen. Aldus PageMaker 5.0 was the software used for digital design page layout. Or maybe Adobe PageMaker 6.0 or QuarkXPress 3. Either way, the software had to be installed using removable media — 3.5″ floppy disks. No internet connection on the machines — unless you were an art director or lead graphic designer. Projects and tasks did not flood your email inbox. They were assigned by paper envelope work orders or creative briefs or landline telephone.


Each portfolio sample was mounted on black core matboard with spray adhesive. It was not that I did not own a classic black leather portfolio case with two handles and black filler pages and acetate covers. I did — and still do. But I remember being advised by someone in an ad agency to present work on boards. That way a client may spread the design samples out on a conference room table for a better examination.

Back in the early days of the digital revolution in design, a commercial artist needed to include a spectrum of work: page layout, photography, product design, illustration, package design, logo, branding, infographics and so on. As design technology advanced, the pervading question asked was, can you draw? A senior graphic designer at the ad agency where I interned had boxes and boxes of drawings for advertising campaigns. The paste-up boards featured his illustrations on the bottom layer with an acetate overlay for text and a top layer had written mechanical instructions for the printer. One of my goals as a young graphic designer — improve my illustrations skills.


The hardware and software during that period were rather primitive by today’s standards. Much of graphic design tasks veered toward desktop publishing. That consisted of typesetting blocks of text around images in a page layout. The cathode ray tube display screen became more of a designer’s interface than a drafting or light table. Within in years, the tactile connection between commercial artist and the art object were severed indefinitely.

Whether spoken or internalize, the mantra of young graphic designers in those days was adapt or die. The desire to rapidly assimilate to the new tech outweighed the intellect to consider the consequences. In the mid to late 90s I recall young designers often took full-time jobs in construction or sales to pay off student loans. The pay was better than design jobs. But when they tried to return to a career in graphic design a few years latter the advances in hardware and software were too much. For those of us desiring to be an art director in five years, creative director in ten and partner in 15 to 20 years, we took the low wages with the long term goal in mind.


There were no web sites in the mid 1990s where designers could download a free vector-based template of a t-shirt or book cover in order to showcase custom designs. I created all my own templates. Often on a rented Mac computer at Kinko’s that charged by the hour. Now the question remains. Do I recycle these samples? or store them in a museum — in the early period of digital revolution in design wing of the museum?

Advertisements

Hidden in the closet

Hidden in an old portfolio

Something hides in the closet. Below the button down shirts and dress slacks for work, behind the winter wardrobe of sweaters, vests and jackets, and against the back wall is an old black leather portfolio with handles. Years ago it was a mandatory item for any and every graphic design student or young professional with goals of becoming an art director, illustrator or creative director. I pulled out the old portfolio and the oversized heavyweight document envelopes behind it and entered a gateway to another time and place.

Like time travel, I am back in the 1990s. There were three main portfolios I presented. One presentation was corporate, ad agency design samples. The kind of material that ranged from logo design, brand campaigns and the like. The second presentation was print design. That portfolio exhibited all manners of print designs from brochures, books, direct marketing collateral, magazine spreads, cover designs, etc. For presentations, I would rotate the design samples in the black leather portfolio based on the interview. Sometimes I presented a hybrid of both that included work that featured my copyrighting and marketing pieces. But the third portfolio was my favorite–the illustration portfolio.

Professors, peers and even my first art director advised it was the weakest of the three. The general critique was that technique needed improvement. So I kept working on improving technique and execution. A black cloth case bound sketch book always accompanied me almost everywhere I traveled. I’d sketch landscapes, still lifes, portraits and tried various techniques using pencils, Sharpie markers, charcoal, ink and watercolor. But soon I learned that I could earn more financially and find more consistent work with digital designs.

It is not that I abandoned illustration. A few years ago, a national news magazine featured one of my illustrations on the cover of its annual books issue. Earlier this year, another illustration was featured as a book cover design. Also this year, a few spot illustrations were published in a book.

As I look at these old illustrations and sketches, I see a younger, self-doubting me at a time before home computer, internet, or smartphone entered my life. Back in those days, the only entertainment devices I had was a stereo set with a five-CD player, a stack of maybe 30 audio CDs and a shelf full of books. Through the portal of this time capsule, I see the mistakes and accomplishments with a new perspective. Hidden away in that closet is a portfolio of dreams, aspirations and ideas that was slowly replaced with a portfolio of duty and responsibility. A thought occurs to me as I examine an unfinished sketch of a female portrait, did I focus on pursuing a career path rather than a vocation? Maybe that is a thought I should hide in the closet while I bring some of these illustrations into the daylight.