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Love it or hate it, change happens (part 1)

This is the first in a series of blogs that will look back at how the graphic design industry has changed in the last 25 years, and then look forward to what’s in store for all of us in the future.

We can all look back over our careers and see many changes that have affected the way we work. Whether you loved or hated those changes at the time, now with the benefit of hindsight, you can probably see the advantages and inevitability of those changes.

Techology is moving so fast it is a struggle for most of us to keep up, but somehow we do and generally, in the long run, we come to appreciate the benefits.

Looking Back

I left the London College of  Printing in 1989 (now the London College of Communication) having spent 2 years learning all about graphic origination and reproduction – how to translate designs into ‘finished artwork’ from which the printer would then make their printing plates. I also learnt all about the processes involved in making the printing plates, which was then a highly skilled craft.

I started my career in graphics at a large firm of city accountants, BDO Binder Hamlyn. They had their own in-house marketing department and even their own printing presses in the basement.

My job was in the studio producing artwork for their marketing materials. The had recently had a new corporate identity designed by Wolff Olins and we had the task of applying it to all their business cards, leaflets, booklets and brochures.

This was a laborious task. First the copy had to be marked up for the typesetter – specifying the fonts and working out the size of the type and the spacing necessary to fit the required copy into the space available.

But much of the terminology we use today in, for instance Word documents, as well as design and layout programmes, originates from the printing industry and dates back to the very early days of hot metal typesetting. For instance:

Point sizes were the unit of measurement for metal type.

Leading referred to the strips of lead that were put between the lines of metal cast type. The more leading, the greater the space between the lines.

So – the typesetter would produce ‘galleys’ – which was the copy on rolls of photographic paper which was then literally cut (with a surgical scalpel) and pasted (with hot wax so it could be lifted off and repositioned if necessary) on to artboard.

Position guides for photographs were marked on the layout. The original photo or slide was supplied to the printer for scanning and finally positioned by the printer at the plate making stage. Finally, the finished artwork would be marked up with an overlay which contained instructions for the printer – mostly relating to the colours required.

Colour Specifications

Back then the only colours that a graphic design needed to concern themselves with was either Pantone (also known as Spot) colours, or what is still called ‘CMYK’  (also referred to as full colour or 4 colour).

Pantone or spot colours are solid colour inks – like choosing a tin of Dulux paint to print with.

CMYK refers to 4 process colours, cyan, magenta, yellow and black which are used to print all full colour printing. Full colour printing is an illusion. These four ink colours are screened into tiny dot formations (hence dpi – dots per inch) which together create the illusion that you are seeing millions of colours. You can see this if you look at a printed document with a powerful magnifying glass.

Moving on

I hate to admit it but there were no software or computer classes when I was at the LCP, but then as soon as I started work, the age of desktop publishing was about to absolutely revolutionise the way everything was done.

My next blog will look back at the massive changes in the creative industry brought about first by the introduction of computers and, later, the internet …

Barbara Pilgrim.

Designer / Director, FactorEstudio Ltd.