How has graphic design changed the world

The life of a graphic designer: from the nineties to the present day

The way a graphic designer worked in 1990 had next to nothing to do with the day-to-day work of this profession. It's still about creating designs and images to advertise to customers, but the process has changed radically.

Graphic Design College 1990

Imagine the scene: the lecture hall of an English college of graphic design in 1990. What do you see? I can tell you what it looked like because I was studying at the time. A room with free-standing drawing tables, each with a box full of felt-tip pens, pencils and paints. No computer in sight.

Even though the design industry had switched to digital a few years earlier, it still took universities a while to catch up, and the cost of doing so was significant. At my art school there were 15 computers with tiny black-and-white screens for hundreds of students. Back then, the design industry used Quark Xpress layout software, but the university had only one version of it that only lecturers could use.

To add computer-generated text to a hand-made design, software called Freehand (similar to Adobe Illustrator) was used. However, there was no color printer. Instead the text was printed out in black and white and the Omnicron machine was used. It was a strange device that looked a bit like a laminator. A sheet of Omnicron paint was placed over the black and white printout. Then you pulled it through the machine and the paint stuck to the black paint. At least in theory, because in practice only an irregular effect of black and bright colors emerged.

If you needed photographs for your design, they were taken with a 35mm camera. We developed black and white photos ourselves in the darkroom. We brought color films to the photo business for development.

Working as a young designer in 1992

I started my first job as a graphic designer in 1992 in the university's marketing department. I was thrown straight into the deep end and got my own computer. I didn't have to share it with anyone else, but I had no idea how to use a computer.

As mentioned, Quark Xpress was the most widely used software at the time, and I was quickly introduced to the basics of the program. My Apple Mac was a chunky box with a tiny rounded monitor, but if I remember correctly it already had a color screen, which was a step forward. However, I couldn't use Photoshop on it because this program required a very high processor power.

The first job of any designer is always intimidating, but this one is very special: Before I had 6 weeks to design a poster by hand, and now I suddenly had to create one on a computer that I couldn't operate within six hours .

The labor market in the mid-1990s

In the mid-1990s, the job search was completely different than it is today. Everything was much less complicated and there were standard requirements almost everywhere: You needed some work experience and the only software programs you had to know were Quark Xpress for page layout, Photoshop and Illustrator / Freehand.The internet was still a long way from being accessible to the masses and most, including me, had never heard of it.

There were no ads for web designers or related jobs that came up later. The job advertisements were simply looking for graphic designers with different work experience or Mac users. Mac users were generally considered to be people who knew how to operate a Mac and the software that went with it, but didn't necessarily have a clue about design. They could then work on the projects once the designer had completed the basic concept.

The work of a graphic designer in the mid-1990s

In the mid-1990s, getting your designs approved was still a complex affair. Few were already working with email. If you wanted to present designs or changes to your customer, there were three options:

  1. Arrange a meeting with the customer and show him the designs in person.
  2. Send the work to the customer by courier or as an express mail.
  3. Fax the design to the customer.

Faxing was a terrible business because most of the time the customer could not read the broadcast properly. Sometimes they even made a fax-friendly version of the design, with no images, to make it easier to read when faxing.

At that time, if you wanted to add pictures to your design project, that worked (before the internet) like this: You either created your own illustrations, commissioned an illustrator or a photographer or created a design that only contained font and color. Around that time the royalty-free image catalogs came up. You could search the catalog for potentially royalty-free images. It was around £ 200 to use an image. If you decided on a photographer, you would get slides from him, which you then sent to a professional scanning service.

Many projects during this period were in one or two colors created what was much cheaper to print. Digital printing has hardly ever been used. Before an order was sent for printing, it came to the “repro house”. There the files were converted into films that were then used to make printing plates. The printing plates were large plates of transparent acetate with black ink. There was a film for each color. Sometimes customers didn't want to pay for a color proof. Then you had to try to find possible flaws on the films, which was no easy task.

Working as a graphic designer from the mid to late nineties

I can still remember the moment I found out that Photoshop had layers as a novelty. It was like a miracle. But first my boss had to explain to me what these levels actually are. Before, everything that was edited in Photoshop was saved directly and permanently. The only way to try things out was to save many different versions of the design in each step. The "levels" were a huge step forward, but the Macs of that time still struggled to provide the processing power they needed. Often you could have a cup of tea after moving a level, as it could take about 15 minutes for the computer to execute the command.

At this time the "Internet" also became more and more popular and web design began to develop. Back then, websites were built statically with HTML and few specialists had the knowledge to do so. In 1998 the design company I worked for gave me a modem as a parting gift and I just thought, “What should I do with it?” Until then, I didn't really know what the web was, and it was only now that I discovered it Advantages of dialing up the Internet. And although that was still frustratingly slow, I realized that there was great potential in it.

Work as a graphic designer from 2000 to 2005

At that time, email communication was becoming more common in the design industry. In the design firms I worked for, however, email access was only available on the management computers that were responsible for all customer contact.

Digital cameras had now become more affordable. They were only 1-2 megapixels at the time, but they were a real step forward in graphic design. If you needed a picture of a building, all you had to do was go out and take a picture, and then you could be Call in a professional photographer later. The photographers also began to switch to high-resolution digital cameras, which made the entire process much faster and the scanning step became superfluous.

Istockphoto was founded in 2000. I didn't discover it until a few years later (before it was acquired by Getty Images). Before Istockphoto, if you needed a photo for your design, you had to either take it yourself or pay at least £ 200 for a royalty-free image. Istockphoto provided royalty-free images for just $ 1 each. This made them cheap enough to use in graphics, and a lot better than the low-resolution and watermarked images from other websites. While this made the graphic designers' job easier, it also had its drawbacks. Because we all used the same collection of images and almost never created any of our own. I myself, for example, used to create a lot of my own illustrations and now only very few. With tight schedules and budgets, customers prefer to get cheap, decent royalty-free images rather than paying for a bespoke illustration or photographer.

Another important feature of this period is that Quark Xpress got more and more competition in the page layout market. InDesign 1 was released in 2000, but its success was still a long way off. However, when it came in a pack with Photoshop and Illustrator, more and more designers started using InDesign. I tested a very early version of the program that didn't run very well, which kept me from switching for a long time. If you already know software inside and out, it can be daunting to familiarize yourself with a new program, especially if you send work to press and errors can be costly.

When I started my own business in 2003, broadband was not yet available where I lived and I had to mail the artwork files to customers on CD. How many times did I run to the post office during this time! When I got broadband a few years later, sending by post was a thing of the past.

WordPress was founded in 2003 and has been growing in popularity ever since. This application not only made it easier for non-tech-savvy users to create a website, it also made the work of designers a lot easier. Some even made a business with it by creating WordPress templates and frameworks. At that time, job advertisements were already asking for web experience as well as Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator.

Working as a graphic designer from 2005 until today

So much has changed again in the last 15 years. Smartphones and tablets create completely new jobs for graphic designers in the fields of UI, UE and video game design. Web designers now have to keep mobile devices in mind when they design their designs, almost more so than desktop devices. And that's not all, there are also video and animated graphics, which a graphic designer should also be able to create. Since Adobe switched to a fully subscription-based service for its software in 2013, designers have had a wide variety of different software options available in their Creative Cloud subscriptions.

With the growing popularity of iPads and tablets, new on-the-go design apps have emerged. And don't forget: the Apple pen, which can be used to draw high-resolution illustrations directly on the screen. I had wished for something like this for years.

Today you don't even have to pay for royalty-free images. Sites like Pixabay and Unsplash have free images that would have cost hundreds of pounds twenty years ago.

Another advantage of today is that you can acquire knowledge thanks to a quick Google search or online courses. I wish I had this opportunity back in 1992 when I had no idea how to use the software in my first job.

The future

What changes will the next 30 years bring to the work of graphic designers ...?