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?

What will graphic design look like in twenty years?

Ah, ye ole Zip disk[1][2] circa 1990s. Once the preferred removable storage device for young graphic designers — now, well, . . . these days you will have to scavenge Amazon[3] or eBay to locate a Zip disk. Then you will need to find a Zip drive that will connect with a USB port in order to salvage any data.

Somewhere between the days of floppy disks, magnetic tape and CD storage,[4] the Zip disk was a practical way to transfer files from art department to pre-press department.

There were deadline nights in the art department — back when Friends and Party of Five were on network television. I would scramble with the rest of the design team to print out press proofs for a project. Then we folded all the proofs and color separations into a FedEx Envelope or Box. Next was to save all related files onto a Zip disk —the QuarkXpress document file, native Illustrator and Photoshop files, and fonts — and pack that into the FedEx package. One of the design team was tasked with driving the package to the FedEx dropbox by 7 p.m. pick up.

When I shared this story with an intern several months ago she displayed a perplexed facial expression. I took for granted the evolution of systems and technology experienced during my career in graphic design. It is something she may never fully appreciate. She will experience an entirely different progress of technological applications as she begins her career in advertising and marketing.

I told her that on those press nights a few of us at the office would use it as an opportunity to grab supper together at a favorite Mexican restaurant. Or maybe catch a movie. Some nights we would go play bowling as a team or hang out at the Village Cafe downtown. We were a twenty-something tribe of professionals working in an industry that was rapidly changing.

Kind of a reward for putting in long hours, she commented.

Yeah, I replied.

I wanted to continue sharing details of those days during the digital revolution in design, but stopped. She will have her own stories to share about those days when everyone used flash drives to transfer data. And how easier it was to upload PDF files from a laptop or mobile device to the cloud.

I cannot help but wonder what will graphic design look like in twenty years?

 

NOTES:


[1]Image originally posted: May 18, 2011. https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2011/05/18/anyone-remember-using-these-old-zip-disks-better/
[2]Christopher Phin, Think Retro: Who else kinda misses their Zip disks?, Macworld, January 27, 2015, accessed April 11, 2017 http://www.macworld.com/article/2875893/think-retro-who-else-kinda-misses-zip-disks.html.

[3]Amazon sells discontinued Iomega Zip disks (accessed April 11, 2017): https://www.amazon.com/Iomega-Formatted-reformattable-Discontinued-Manufacturer/dp/B00004Z83E

[4]History of Data Storage Technology, Macworld, May 5, 2016, accessed April 11, 2017 http://www.zetta.net/about/blog/history-data-storage-technology