I am currently taking part as a guide in an amazing project called “Sparks”. The essence of the project is to share with teenagers (7th -12th graders) your “spark”, something that you are passionate about, that gives you pleasure and satisfaction; that thing you love busying yourself with as much as possible.
My “spark” is my profession, visual communications design, and any handmade craft. During this project I share with students, who chose my “spark” from a list of offered “sparks”, how it all started for me, what I do as a designer and a creative individual, what excites and inspires me, what design means for me, as well as how it’s done.
So, yes, I really love designing and crafts. I live it, breath it, and since completing my studies, I also love teaching it. In my interaction with these kids (in my case they are 12 and 13 year-olds), I realised just how much…!
The project is quite short, and its main goal is to encourage kids to search and find their “spark”, in any field.
The aim is not to turn them into graphic designers or persuade them to study design, but to “infect” them with what it means to feel excited by something that comes from within, something that you love and are never fed up of doing, that generates that spark in your eyes. I thought it would be a good idea to let them experience the designing process of a logo, each kid his or her own, without using the computer, but the original tool of the designer instead - their hands!
The idea of asking the kids to try and design a handmade logo, and the search after material to communicate my “spark”, led me to my dusty portfolios, in this case actual huge semi-hard plastic ones, and to the projects I designed last century, all of them handcrafted while preparing the required portfolio to get accepted into design school.
I admit I was surprised to be reminded of what the long time that has passed (since 1990), and the use of the computer, had made me forget: how sisyphean the task of preparing a decent portfolio was in order to get admitted to design school; how much planning was needed for each step, how everything was made by hand - every mark, line, letter and form - using scissors and glue, a copy machine, colored sheets and rulers, paper and cardboard, markers and pencils, x-acto knifes, rapidographs, lattraset and more… Without having the option to “delete”, or “save as”, without being able to reduce or enlarge, change color, font or format. Only starting over.
I was taken over by nostalgia while looking at all these projects. How full of innocence they were, how much yearning to get admitted to design school was in every line, dot and pasting that I did then, and how natural it all felt to do it that way.
When I chose to study graphic design, I did so because I loved crafting by hand, and not because I wanted to learn to use the computer, let alone the fact that this was not even an option. That was the time when the first Apple Macintosh computers were launched around the world, and very few designers, if at all, worked with them then. During my studies at “Vital - The Tel Aviv Center for Design Studies” - we were not allowed to enter the computer room until we were preparing our final projects, and even then, the computers were used only by those who really knew how to work in those graphic programs.
I chose a profession that existed before the computer age.
Yes, graphic design was a profession before the computer age, and if you ask me, people saw the graphic designer as a specialized professional (just like a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer or an accountant) more so than today, because the PC, the technological age and the easy access to graphic design programs has turned everyone into a potential graphic designer.
Graphic designers that worked in the field until the late 80’s, when the Macintosh was introduced, utilized methods and tools that for the most part I did not get to know, and I believe that in order to be a graphic designer back then, you needed to be a craftsman in the practical sense. The different stages of a project were longer then, and consequentially, so were the time-tables.
Every action made today by pressing a key on a keyboard and moving the mouse, was a tiny step in a very long chain process, which I will try to describe here:
Text was “printed” on a paper sheet using a typesetting machine, paper was cut using a cutting knife in order to set it on the layout board which was itself affixed to the drawing table. In case of a spelling mistake or a need to change the text, you had to repeatedly return to the typesetting machine (a service that was usually provided by an outside supplier).
Images that were ordered in a specific size were developed in a dark room. If the designer then asked to change the size, new developing was needed.
Only after the text and the images, or what is called “the layout” were cut to the desired size and arranged on the layout board the way the designer and the client wanted, the pasting stage began. This is the origin of the term “cut and paste” that we are all familiar with when using our computers. The completed work was photocopied in the desired size using a special copier (Photostat). This copy was then photocopied again, this time on film that was then turned into plates from which the final work was printed… (I have not included the necessary proofreading stages, which very probably required going back to the starting point). Now try to imagine what was needed in order to print a 500 page book…
I’ll conclude with a quote from an entertaining piece that compares the pre-computer era to today, written by the designer SPEIDER SCHNEIDER in “Design Before Computers Ruled the Universe”:
“Despite the health hazards and rampant insanity, there were some great things about this whole “hands-on” process.
When type was sent out for galleys, it signaled the end of the workday. Since type was due at the typesetter (which was a business across town as it wasn’t done in-house) by 7:00 pm, nothing else could be done after 6:00 pm and we went home.
With computers setting type instantly, the 9-5 day became a 24-hour possibility most employers welcomed with glee and evil laughter.
Editors didn’t understand the paste-up and mechanical page and seeing what went into it with all the smoking and such, they seldom if ever made changes to the layout design.
With computers, editors, writers and janitorial staff feel they can ask to see what an image looks like blown up, shrunk down or moved left-right while they stand over the designer’s shoulder, usually drooling and breathing heavily.
Although glue products were highly toxic, the fumes provided a legal and fun way to get high at work while bad memories were wiped from the brain cells that carried them.
With computers, designers have to sneak off to the back stairwell to huff from paper bags to get high.
Food stuck to layout boards was a hazard, so we were encouraged to take a lunch hour out of the office.
Computers are impervious to most sandwiches and so we are seldom allowed to wander far from our desks, just in case of a fourth or twelfth design change from an editor or marketing person pops up in the middle of the day and they need to “see it for themselves.”
Doing production by physical paste-ups required a steady hand and good eye to make sure everything was square, even, and clean of dirt and smudges for the best printing.
Computers do that all for you so even a “Shaky-nerves” McGee can produce clean, straight lines and type.
Nobody but designers understood how to do paste-ups and mechanicals, so we were considered demigods and walked the halls like untouched giants.
Now that even four year-olds have computers with image software, everyone is a “designer” and we are just “overpaid crybabies.”
The good news is: we know we are not “overpaid crybabies.” We are talented and adaptable, “underpaid and underappreciated professionals” who get to evolve with technology”.