From the Desk of Dermot - Were 'the good old days of design' really that good?

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From the Desk of Dermot - Were 'the good old days of design' really that good?

As I sit here at my desk I’m thinking back to the time when I first started out my graphic design career (in 1974!) and how the design and print process has come a long way since those days.

The client usually had a vague idea of what they wanted and our first task was therefore to create design visuals. A designer would act as a “visualiser” and would use Pantone markers (glorified and very expensive thick and thin felt tip pens) to draw initial basic designs. He or she would sit at a drawing board and ‘scamp out’ quick renderings – basically doodles – at a rate of up to 20 ideas an hour. 

These visuals were sometimes presented to the client for their feedback but usually the designer would take two or three chosen routes into the design phase. This would entail drawing a more accurate representation of the design than that done by the visualiser. These designs were then stuck onto cardboard backing for presentation to the client. They were even covered with coloured paper overlays, used to create excitement and anticipation before the client saw the designs that had been produced!

A large design project, such as an advertising campaign or multi-page brochure, could take many days to produce. If we had not got inside the clients mind as far as the brief was concerned, the client might completely reject the designs and then it was back to the drawing board… literally! The designer often went through the whole process to develop their designs into second, third or more stages before final approval was given by the client.

Once the designs were approved the work would be passed to an artworker. If any text was needed for the job this would be written by a copywriter. Additionally, illustrations and photographs were needed. These were either commissioned photography or we used images from a photolibrary. A photolibrary, for those that don’t know, is the equivalent of stock images nowadays, but you would have to choose from a selection of photographs that were printed in a catalogue. Once you had chosen the general kind of images you wanted from this catalogue you would receive a vast selection of transparencies through the post to choose from. They were worth a lot of money and cost a fortune to replace if they were lost of damaged.

With a signed off design and approved copywriting, the next step was to send the typesetting brief to a typesetter. We had to do all sorts of complicated calculations called ‘casting off’ and ‘word counts’ to be able to obtain typesetting that fitted the design. The artworker would take the typeset text and black and white copies of any illustrations or photographs needed and lay them out to create the artwork which was again glued onto cardboard.

Once all these elements had been merged together to create the final version of artwork, it was photocopied in black and white and sent to the client for their approval. Even at this late stage artwork could still be significantly amended and the whole process would have to start again.

A repro house was needed to change the artwork into 4-part CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) films ready to be etched onto the printing plates. All photos at this time were still taken on film and the repro house had state-of-the-art, high quality and very expensive laser scanners to scan the photos and illustrations.

The repro house had very skilled scanner operators who were relied on to be able to get the best possible results when combining the 4-part film and making the printing plates which were used to make proofs which were sent to the client for approval.

Last of all, before the job was printed, the printer often employed a plate reader who examined every printing plate very closely to flag up any queries or errors before the job was printed.

There a few other key roles used in the whole process, for example:

- A proof reader read the typesetting and artwork proofs to make sure everything was spelt correctly and was grammatically accurate. This is still a vital role these days and something we are very hot on here at MAXX!
- An editor whose job was pretty similar to the proof reader but they rewrote the text, if necessary, to make it easier to understand or fit the design more accurately.


Phew, I really don’t miss those days of design. Since the time I started there has been a technological revolution in the way this whole process works. Almost every skill described is done by a graphic designer on an Apple Mac and it is this designer who has complete control of all aspects from creating the first creative ideas to sending the job to print.

Graphic design has come a long way since I first started and the versatile designers at MAXX are involved with the design of branding, websites, campaigns, exhibition stands, brochures and other printed marketing materials, signage, advertising and more!

The one element that is a vital part of MAXX is the quality of everything we produce as this needs to be rigidly controlled. As proof of our thorough processes, we applied for and achieved ISO9001 quality standard.

If you need help from our talented graphic designers to help with a project that’s on your desk at the moment, get in touch and make an appointment to meet so that we can fully explore your needs. Alternatively, take a look at some of our work on our website or other blog articles.