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The Last 30 Years of Graphic Design History

The Last 30 Years of Graphic Design History

For this article I’m going to speak from my own personal experience. I started working at a small Midwest newspaper as a graphic artist in 1980. The newspaper was still doing some printing using lead type but was transitioning to newer technology.

This newer technology involved cutting and pasting long strips of text on paper that had just gone through a waxer onto a newspaper page template. We used X-acto blades for cutting and glass rollers for pressing the text onto the paper templates.

For photographs we created halftones. These were created with a small vertical camera in a large darkroom. The photographs were imaged onto paper made up of small halftone dots. These halftone images were developed, fixed and dried. Then they too were pasted on a newspaper page template.

Sometimes we also cut and pasted line-art either from stock books or created by an artist to make the pages fancier. In 1989 I went to work for another newspaper, but this one had high tech Israeli equipment called Scitex in another department. I started out as a paste-up artist, then worked my way into the Scitex department on two different workstations that were valued at between $500,000 and $1 million apiece.

One workstation scanned high resolution photos and then we color-corrected the photos. The other workstation was a page layout station where we assembled photos, graphics and created newspaper pages that were output to film.

In that year, the Art Department had an Apple computer with Photoshop 1.0 and Illustrator 1.0 loaded on it. These were considered “non-production” tools used by the Art Department just for creating art. These desktop computers did not have the horsepower of the Scitex system for creating an entire daily newspaper and outputting film.

In 1998, I worked for one of the major companies that printed the Yellow Pages. Adobe finally came around to creating Photoshop and Illustrator that would work on a PC and not just on Apple Macintoshes. It was then that the graphic arts field really opened up.

Scanners for the PC became incredibly cheap, dropping from $500,000 to $5,000 in just a few years. Scitex workstations were replaced by Macintosh and PC workstations running Photoshop, Illustrator, Freehand and QuarkXPress.

And after Y2K came and went, the prices dropped even more. It was now affordable for anyone to become a graphic artist or web designer. Software, computers and scanners were cheap compared to the early 1990’s.

But, what I’ve learned is that just because anyone can now be a graphic artist, not everyone should do it. It’s like saying that because you learn to write a paragraph in school you qualify as a professional writer or because you can take pictures with your iPhone you are now a professional photographer.

There is still a place in the world for professional graphic artists and designers who have talent. Like any other profession, however, competition is fierce. Mastery of the tools is essential. I just can’t wait to see what kinds of graphic arts tools the next 10 years will bring.