Graphic design before desktop publishing

Graphic design before desktop publishing

Cover image KR, featuring TG1 Faber Castell .35, .50, & .70 technical drawing pens, purchased 1989, sitting on 1992 final year illustration project.

by Kym Ramadge, February 2024

Our industry has a diverse, multi-stranded history full of fascinating and now, lost crafts and trades. Graduating on the cusp of desktop publishing ascension in the early 1990s, I was fortunate to witness the phenomenal change in technology sweeping graphic design and associated industries. This is a brief overview, each point could easily have in-depth research and an essay.

Many people are aware the advent of the Apple® Mac and development of software by QuarkXpress® and Adobe® was a revolution for creative industries, beginning 1984. The WSIWIG interface removed the need to learn ASCII or other clunky PC-based languages and the speed it replaced traditional typesetting and artwork creation was breathtaking, on the scale of the time.

But, how did graphic designers, commercial and finished artists work before this? What mysterious means were used to conjure up the printed material, film and television graphics, signage and all the other touchpoints of commercial advertising?

If you have seen Madmen or Darrin Stevens on Bewitched, you may have some insight, with Art Directors showing marker-rendered concepts to clients, working at an angled desk to make drawing easier. Prior to the ’90s there was a huge tactile part of work that is now, mostly, replaced by digital technology.

From left: Apple Mac II, 1984; QuarkXPress 3.2, 1993, Darrin Stevens in ‘Bewitched’, 1960s; Kellogg’s ‘Frostie Flakes’ 1960s ad; US Surfboard Championships 1965 poster, example of three colour artwork.

Here is 1960s footage from London inside Foote, Cone and Belding ad agency, (includes 1960s social values).

From 28 seconds, the inside of the studio is shown with the overhead desk lamps. Design students in the late 1980s–1990s had the same setup at university, with slightly newer desks. Professional studios were setup all over the world with similar layouts and furniture. Of course, by this time, the angled desks were barely used as we migrated to the computer lab with rows of Mac SE 30s.

Graphic design students were trained in methods to use in the professional workplace. They not only studied traditional Fine Art subjects such as Life and General Drawing, they were also taught how to use markers, overlaying the colours to carefully blend tones; paint with gouache, which is a flat paint for illustrations; rule lines with technical drafting pens; enlarge and expose artwork in the dark room to create bromides for paste-up; accurately hand-cut mockups of packaging with scalpels and use an Omnicrom CT 1000 hot foil colour transfer machine to apply colour to toner with heat.

These methods were primarily to have full colour mockups of design work for folios/presentation. This was the same both for design students, and in professional studios, before the widespread adoption of colour printers (either ink jet or toner-based laser printers). In the early 90s, colour printing meant taking a floppy disk or Zip Drive to the local copy centre, waiting, sometimes days; returning and paying for your prints.

To prepare an image for Omnicrom, the parts of the design, ie, text and image had to have toner to adhere to. The toner was either from a laser printer or photocopier. This forced the creative exploration of papers and best way to get the look the envisaged artwork required. A favourite technique of students to simulate gloss finishes was to use black paper, photocopy the pattern required on there and run through the Omnicrom machine with a clear cover sheet only, creating a gloss effect on the pattern. Pantone® colour sheets were used in the Omnicrom machine.

Left to right: Omnicrom CT 1000 machine, sheets of the Pantone® colour transfer film and machine with artwork being fed through.

Omnicrom machine in action on YouTube.

In our final year, 1992, we learnt the fine art of Cromatech. This involved creating separations for each colour required in the darkroom, mixing flat colours and using a silk screen with an underlay with adhesive. This was then applied onto the artwork to colour typography or other elements. Inside the darkroom was all analogue and included developer fluids and washing up facilities, as well as the enlargement camera.

Agfa is one of the large international companies involved in prepress, going back to the 1950s. With their history in photography, they were market pioneers in prepress, which all worked on analogue photographic principles. Pictured below left is an Agfa Repromaster designers and finished artists of the era will recall. The simple explanation is these machines were used for enlargements or reductions and to create separations of artwork into constituent parts. This step was prior to sending to a trade house for combining and setting the plates for offset printing. One challenge was keeping the glass at the bottom and at the top perfectly clean so as not to enlarge dust particles.

After the bromides were produced, paste up was the next step. This required using lined artboard, blue pencil (blue was invisible in the next prepress step), technical pens for line work and pasting the artwork into place. Accuracy and cleanliness were vital. Above are two photos from the 1960s showing paste up in progress. Pasteup also involved using Letraset sheets with text which was rubbed down into place. Letraset was a huge change when first released as it opened the range of available fonts and sped up the process of pasteup.

Also available were clip art books. These were used for decorative borders, simple graphics or in advertising in the same way stock graphics are incorporated into artwork today on certain projects. Instead of cutting up the Clipper book pages, the page was taken out of the folder, a bromide created, and then added to the paste up. Which is probably not what Clipper intended but likely a common practice in many studios.

Before the precision and ubiquity of digital full colour printing, there was far more use of special mixed colours for one, two and three colour printing. The Pantone® system was common. Paste up instructions for prepress would include putting a colour chip out of the book onto the side of the paste up, with instructions. Brands had (and still have) specific Pantone® colours to maintain colour consistency across all printed material.

All the materials referenced above were generally expensive and design students would save up for top-quality fine paint brushes to use with gouache; fiercely keep all scraps of Omnicrom, sharing with friends when you needed a scrap of colour; and keep coloured paper from previous projects.

The benefit of learning these methods back in the day was to comprehend the intrinsic link between the artwork design, prepress and all print outcomes. Designers had to understand setup for production. It demanded a rigorous attention to detail and meticulous fine skills. Of course, no one would deny the options available now in the digital world are far superior, in most ways, to old technology. Still, as letterpress type, film photography and vinyl LPs are all enjoying a renaissance, there is always the opportunity to incorporate some of these techniques, particularly in illustration work.

For those interested in further info:
Paste Up
How to Paste Up 1980s Style
When Letraset was King

Article on Omnicrom:

Printing Techniques: Omnicrom Hot Foil

Excellent article on working in packaging design in the early ‘90s in London:

Keeping it real

The Importance of Art Education: Nurturing Creativity for life

The Importance of Art Education: Nurturing Creativity for life

“The benefits of the visual arts are lifelong. Visual art does not have boundaries. It enables people to play with materials, to express their thinking, to problem solve and make sense of emotions,” says Dr Lindsay, Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the University of Wollongong’s School of Education, “Art makes us resilient, it is great for problem solving and understanding the world. It helps us develop our creativity across every aspect of our lives.”

Innovative thinking

As we head into a new era of technological development, with advances in Artificial Inteligence, robotics and other various science-based wonders, it would be a mistake to dismiss the human element in education. Arts education – across all creative fields – visual arts, performing arts and music – all contribute to the development of innovative thinking.

We are at a precipice. At the moment AI is functioning on what we have and can input into a dataset. It is not functionally sentient. It is interpreting human content, rearranging, and presenting it back to us. It is not creating something completely new and unique. It is an amalgam of human achievement. Once AI and quantum computing become both prevalent and stable, these systems will be self-sustaining, and the space left for humans will be in creative innovation.

The creative element of new endeavor remains the domain of people. Skills for the future of humanity, and future economic participation are deeply rooted in arts education.

NAAE (National Advocates for Arts Education) advocates for the inclusion of Arts in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to create STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) in order to better prepare students for the future. We don’t know what the jobs of the future will look like. Many jobs that exist today were unheard of 40 years ago. A diverse and thorough education gives our children the best possible foundation for the future. While specialization is important, a strong foundation provided necessary skills for future learning.

Transdisciplinary engagement

Skills from Arts education, and their outcomes are important for transdisciplinary engagement – from critical and creative thinking to communication with collaboration and teamwork. One example of this is science communicators. Interfacing between science, media and the community requires a skillset that is not found solely in STEM education. Communication and teamwork skills are intrinsic to a school drama class. Should a student be exposed to both STEM and Arts learning, there is the opportunity to engage and understand interpersonal creative learning.

We also should not think that creativity is limited to the arts. An engineer without creativity is unable to ideate to develop, design and build a bridge. We should not underestimate the amount of creativity across all STEM disciplines. By also being exposed to Arts education, we encourage people to experiment and grow, skills which can then be applied to all aspects of life and learning.

Enriching lives

Aside from flexible career skills, arts education also benefits people in everyday life. A willingness to experiment and problem solve is vital to many aspects of life, from organizing your household, cooking delicious food, communicating with friends and family or even developing fulfilling hobbies.

As mental health is becoming better understood, the balance arts provide for some is invaluable. The arts cultivate empathy, cultural understanding, and creative thinking, fostering well-being, empowerment, and a deeper appreciation of the human experience.

Benefits of arts exposure is not limited to individuals, as engagement with public arts projects creates a sense of belonging and community. Art nurtures and enhances problem-solving skills, and encourages innovation. Perhaps bringing people together to spark new business or social enterprise.

A more colourful, creative life experience

Irrespective of whether a student goes on to practice art as an element of their career, learning the fundamental skills associated with the arts is beneficial in all aspects of life, both working and personal. Lifelong learning of any kind enriches and enhances experiences not only in the direct area of study, but across all aspects of human experience.

Cover image by Alexander Ant / Unsplash

Behind the scenes on a very beachy Christmas

Behind the scenes on a very beachy Christmas

Christmas gives us an opportunity to create something unique – something to celebrate the season and the year that has been, and the year to come. Each year we try to create something engaging, fun and different.

Some years these ideas flow easily, others take a little more time. The KRD Christmas project is put on the WIP list on 1 July, and we keep a file of ideas. These then tend to be formed into a single direction later in the year.

This year’s theme ‘a very beachy Christmas’ developed to combine the shared European (winter) history of Christmas with the Australian experience of a summertime celebration.

Starting point is the end format

Our starting point is knowing the formats we want to produce. In years past, this was mostly printed with a simple digital accompaniment. This year we started with the knowledge we wanted to create an animation as the primary piece. We also need a suite of material for social media, emails and our website. In the studio it gets a job number and treated like a client project, and is worked on incrementally as workflow allows.

Our starting point for this years animation sequence was Australian flora and beach landscape imagery. This becomes the overarching theme and narrative.

This is the point where we create (now digital) mood boards to capture the type of imagery, colour, vibe and aesthetic for the project. Initially we work on simple sketches to communicate ideas within the team.

 

Inspiration

When deciding the graphic style of the pieces we find a lot of varied inspirational images for both techniques and styles. The beach theme brought the broad brush stroke textures to our rendering, reminiscent of sand. The illustration components are simple shapes that get their personality from the colour and textures used.

Sometimes along the way, there are happy accidents. In this case, when storyboarding an animation of a flower made from beach themed icons, it was noted that the final frame looked a lot like a snowflake. And so, the idea of a summer snowflake began.

The idea that a traditional motif from a European Christmas could be flipped to an Australian summer theme was the hook needed to bring the project to conclusion. Taking the motif of the snowflake, we altered this to apply to summertime.

Thematic colour choices

Initially we were working with the traditional Christmas colours, but this was not creating the look we were after. Changing the colours of a piece can do so much to change the feel and the messaging.

To really push this to an Australian theme, we needed to find a colour pallet that communicates ‘Australian’ and ‘summer’ that was also beautiful and sophisticated. We drew inspiration for our colour pallet from Bluey, which so wonderfully illustrates the Australian landscape using tertiary colours for nuance and feeling.

Final storyboarding and test animation

The next storyboard was made to show how we could bridge the two vastly different Christmas environments together. This included how the scenes would transition, how the individual elements would move and the timing. Also, how this would incorporate our Christmas messaging. An idea of a scene was developed for the summer snowflake to morph into, including an iconic seagull who would become the star of the production.

All elements were then built and illustrated as separate components to be synchronised within the animation, with final testing focusing on the speed of transitions and incorporation of sound effects and music to complete the scene.

Reaching our audience

To serve a business purpose, the animation must also incorporate important dates and information. The end credits are a signoff to the animation, but are also covered elsewhere to ensure consistent messaging. From a business perspective, it would be nice to think everyone in our audience will watch all of our video. We know however, that audiences are fragmented, and consume media and information from varied sources. As such, it’s important that vital messaging is repeated in different formats and locations.

The final step in what becomes our ‘Christmas Campaign’ is to ensure that our messaging is distributed effectively. That means sending the video as part of an eDM, incorporating matching messaging in our email signatures, posting to socials, and even putting this article up on our recourses page. Ensuring that messaging is across as many touch points as possible to reach our audience how they like to consume information.

The Power of Visual Storytelling

The Power of Visual Storytelling

Visual storytelling starts for most people with picture books when they’re children. Images form an integral part of the story message. The images and text combine, creating evocative messaging to resonate both intellectually and emotionally.

Visual storytelling is the essence of graphic design. Graphic designers take information and present it in a way that makes sense, tells a story. In today’s media landscape, visual storytelling is increasingly complex, with various mediums to communicate through. Effective and cohesive visual storytelling must work across print and digital media, including static and video or animation formats.

With a more complex environment, and an increasingly crowded marketplace, it is important for brands to create consistent, engaging and relevant visual material. To be able to cut through the white noise, a brand must stand out with unique, compelling visual stories.

Imagery – especially video – can convey much more in a few seconds then a headline ever could. Video stories are dense communications, while also being simple for a viewer to decode. Consistent branding and brand story allows for a whole ethos to be communicated through a short video, viewed in context. The viewer needs to bring less knowledge to the interaction.

Entertainment value

Successful and engaging visual storytelling leans more heavily towards emotions and entertainment than product information. An example KRD worked on is the #LikeABosch campaign for BSH Home Appliances – where videos created by the Bosch Gobal team combine humor and product interaction to create engaging social media advertising material. The campaign also allowed for still imagery to be taken from the videos to use across various print and outdoor advertising sites for consistent visual storytelling. The #LikeABosch campaign was produced in Germany, and adapted by KRD to local market requirements. Global campaigns for BSH have flexibility for in-country modification.

The #LikeABosch messaging is a parody of “Like a Boss”, which itself is a parody by comedy hip hop troupe The Lonely Island, of a song by hip hop artist Slim Thug. The campaign draws upon the comedy credentials of the parody it is parodying – so has layers of meaning and cultural reference which go a way to explaining the more outlandish ‘stunts’, like the toddler with a bottle throwing it into the dishwasher. If you want to see the original parody, there are clean and explicit versions available on YouTube.

Visual storytelling has the ability to reach multi-lingual audiences, as it is not reliant on words. The #LikeABosch campaign was produced in many languages worldwide which meant that the humor was conveyed as a whole – however there are enough sight-gags to still be entertaining without sound and language.

By using parody, the #LikeABosch campaign was able to capitalize on trending themes, and stand out in a crowded marketplace. At the same time, the humor of the clips stands alone for audiences who are not familiar with the existing parody.

Visual storytelling is at the core of what we do as graphic designers. It is not limited to motion graphics, or story books. Every piece of graphic design work produced is a vehicle for storytelling – communicating a message. Video marketing allows us to add layers to the messaging that may be limited across other mediums. How effectively this message is conveyed is the measure of successful visual storytelling.

Image created with assets from unsplash, ballons by Jean-Philippe Delberghe, landscape by Johanes Plenio

Evolving as a designer

Evolving as a designer

This overview is aimed at recent graduates; however, we’ve included general advice based on our experience, suitable for all designers. As you embark on your professional journey, it’s important to recognize that the world of visual communication is a dynamic and ever-changing field. Our designers at KRD embrace lifelong learning, and in this article we share what we have learned for enabling growth and evolution throughout your design career.

Embrace the learning curve

As you begin in the professional world, be prepared for a continuous learning curve. It is impossible to gain complete industry knowledge in a tertiary course and you will find there is much to learn. This learning arc extends throughout a career: the industry is constantly developing, driven by broad macro-economic directional shifts, technological advancements and changing design trends. Our advice breaks down to:

  • Write notes. It is proven that writing instructions moves them from your short-term memory to the long-term. It also provides a quick check list to make sure you have understood client instructions and you can then cross-check after completing the task.
  • Share information and ask questions. As a recent graduates new to the workplace, ask plenty of questions. Keep notes of the answers to refer to later. Remember to share learnings with your colleagues so everyone benefits: “Hey, I’ve worked how to do this cool thing…”
  • Stay hungry for knowledge and invest in your professional development. Seek out workshops, online courses, and design conferences to expand your skill set and stay abreast of the latest design tools and techniques.
  • Design skills are transferrable across all facets of visual communication. The fundamentals apply across digital and print. The important point is to keep learning and honing your skills.

Seek inspiration

Inspiration is the material that drives creativity. Surround yourself with diverse sources of inspiration such as art, design, photography, and other creative disciplines. Visit galleries, read design blogs, follow influential designers on social media and embrace new ideas. By staying inspired, you’ll keep your creative juices flowing and continuously push the boundaries of your own work.

Don’t limit yourself. Design can be likened to journalism, where the opportunity to learn about areas of life you have no firsthand experience is key. Fuel your mind with science, nature, current affairs, travel, craft, music, history, philosophy, sport. Whatever themes or topics motivate you.

Lifelong learning

As you begin in the world of visual communication, remember the journey is a continuous process of growth and evolution. Keep in mind, success as a graphic designer lies in your willingness to adapt, learn, and evolve. Embrace the challenges, listen and reflect on feedback that is given to you. Ask yourself: ‘how can I improve’? ‘What would I do differently’? Finally, act on critiques. Demonstrate to your employer and professional colleagues you are willing to learn and improve. A designer should always be observing, consolidating knowledge and seeking to understand the world around them. This in turn, enhances your visual skills and has practical outcomes in your work.

AI beta testing in creative industries

AI beta testing in creative industries

KRD Creative Studio has recently been given access to Adobe Firefly, the Artificial Intelligence offering from Adobe. This is currently in Beta mode, where we can experiment with how AI can integrate within the current workflow and range of Adobe software in professional use.

The first and most obvious thing to try was text-to-image. Writing text prompts to create imagery is not as simple as it may seem, and initial results are not always as expected. After a short trial, my initial impression is that this is most definitely not a replacement for a stock image library search. And certainly not a replacement for a planned photo shoot. There is an element of surprise which is interesting when experimenting but is not acceptable for professional work.

Prompt writing is, and will be, a skill set of its own, just like mastery of any computer coding. Until the software is developed enough to produce repeatable results from identical commands, it is unlikely that without extensive self-education within any given data set, to become a replacement for traditional media generation. In the interim, it will likely become a sub-genre of image creation, specialised in by some.

For testing, the prompt attempted to render a kitchen and modern living area. Interested to see if we could craft a rendering ourselves for our kitchen appliance clients. After many iterations, Firefly managed to get some that looked ‘nice’ overall, however the detail is lacking. The legs of chairs and whole chairs were disjointed, out of perspective. They pass ‘at a glance’ but any deeper viewing and they fail to capture the real detail of a whole scene.

ai render of a luxury kitchen

These initial images could perhaps prove useful for ideation before a project begins, but at this point are unlikely to be suitable for detailed real-life finished art.

Once we can upload our own images into the software to be edited it may prove to be more useful to our professional workflow. Eg: being able to change the colour scheme in a real photograph with a click, instead of painstakingly masking, overlaying and manipulating.

As the software develops, the gap between ideation and real life will diminish, but whether it will diminish equally across all subject matter will determine its usefulness to professional workflows, and its level of disruption to the creative industries.

More useful are the tools to remove and change backgrounds automatically from images, which photoshop already has to a limited degree. But much the same, these tools will become much more useful in a combined workflow when using traditionally made images.

More likely to be disrupted quickly is language-based content. ChatGTP is easy to use, and can generate reasonable content at lightning speed. However, these pieces of generated content still need to be checked for accuracy. As with any database, the content you get out is only as good as the content you put in. ChatGTP appears to write with authority, so this is something to be closely monitored if used in a professional capacity. For an alternate way of wording what you already know, it is a fast effective re-writing tool. But don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to, and if you do, make sure to check it against reputable sources.