Sparkling Cut and Paste

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”‭.‬

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