As the resident elder (i.e. The Old Guy) here at TQS, the youngsters milling around the office often ask me to tell them about “the good ol’ days”. So, when I’m not yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn, or wearing my underwear outside of my pants, I’ll often entertain my young cohorts with glorious stories of days gone by.
Okay, none of that is actually true – with exception of me being the oldest person in the office. Though I’m only 45 (that’s not old, right?), and I can’t say for sure that I haven’t worn my underwear outside of my pants at some point — there are some points of my life that remain a bit hazy.
Anyway, not too long ago, I did find myself reminiscing with a former art school classmate about the days of yore. When T-squares, Design markers, and gum erasers populated a designer/art directors drafting table. Those were the tools of the trade at the time, and marker renderings were the method of delivering your brilliant ideas to clients. Now? Almost everything we produce is in the digital realm. You need to show the client something? Email a PDF file.
Back in the day, bringing those ideas into a printed reality (yes, print was the dominant medium to reach consumers at one point) was even more involved. Layout board, drafting tape, Rapidograph pens, non-photo Blue pencils, photo stats, overlays, proportion scales, halftones, and cutting Amberlith (or Rubylith… I preferred the color of Rubylith myself) using an Exacto knife were the requirements – along with a keen eye – to create a mechanical paste-up. It was typically a tedious exercise that involved a bit of skill, a great attention to detail, a steady hand and often a good deal of luck (when attempting to separate things that weren’t supposed to be stuck together, but somehow suddenly were with rubber cement, spray mount, or wax). When finished, this “mechanical” would be sent off to a printing company to do their thing. Now? We take the digital file we created and upload a PDF file.
When I was in school, those “old school” ways were still the norm and the kind of things we spent a great deal of time learning. Outside of school, I also had the opportunity to cut my teeth with these same techniques during an internship at one of the more notable agencies in the Buffalo area (which still exists today). Learning the ins and outs of the production process at the time – particularly in the heat of unnerving deadlines – was certainly quite the experience for a young lad. And considering all of the noxious fumes I inhaled during those years, the fact that I have enough brain cells remaining to write this is probably some form of minor miracle. But I digress. Within a couple short years after my graduation in ’92, a lot of what I had learned in those previous few would quickly go the way of the dinosaur.
Computers were taking over. By the early ‘90s, the desktop publishing revolution had begun to transform the design/advertising world in a way that would forever change the production process. Design layout went from cutting with an Exacto and pasting with wax, to cutting and pasting with a couple keystrokes – then delivering on a disk instead of a board. Always being a bit of a technology geek, I jumped in straight out of school and managed to get a Computer City credit card to purchase my first computer: An Apple Macintosh IIci with 4mb of RAM (there’s no way I could afford the 8 or 16mb options at the time), a 40mb hard drive and a 3 1/2” floppy drive—along with Aldus PageMaker and a “borrowed” copy of PhotoShop 2.5 that I somehow acquired. Let the freelancing begin! It’s worth noting here that the phone in your pocket probably has something like 1000 times the processing power and memory of that computer (which I still have in my attic).
Meanwhile, the early-‘90s also saw a guy, named Al Gore, realize his long-sought dream of creating an “Information Super Highway” come to fruition. The commercial Internet started to emerge and the world is forever changed. I think I still have some AOL “free trial” floppy disks laying around somewhere. Once again, I dove in, embracing this emerging technology trend and learned to design and build websites.
As a mildly entertaining aside, the web design company that I co-founded at the time (circa 1995) had a booth at a local business tradeshow in which we planned to give away two websites by drawing business cards people put into a fish bowl at our table. I think we had about 20 cards by the end of the day and wound up calling 5 or 6 different people. They ALL turned down the offer, responding with comments like “what would I need that for?” or “what does that do?” or, “oh, I don’t need that. It’s just a fad”. So, we gave up and ended up just building sites for a couple friends. It’s a shame that World Wide Web never went anywhere.
Again, the design/advertising worlds were transformed by technology. However, this time, it wasn’t only the process that changed – it was an entirely new medium that created many new channels of content delivery. Businesses now reach more consumers than ever thought possible – in new and continually evolving ways. Anytime. Anywhere. As the Internet and its offerings continue to evolve, the marketing world is constantly forced to adapt to the trends that emerge online. It is the primary means to engage consumers. I’ll bet those people that turned down our free website offer are really kicking themselves now.
It’s undeniable that computers are now the center of our universe (figuratively speaking, of course). And it’s truly astounding how the technologies we mostly take for granted in our day-to-day lives have completely changed not only the advertising/marketing industry, but also the way we live. All within a relatively short time span. While I still pick up a pencil to sketch out ideas on occasion, the computer on my desk here at work is the primary tool that routinely assists me with writing, communicating, scheduling, video editing, audio recording/editing, designing for print and web, coding, learning and of course a bit of entertainment here and there.
Do I miss the “good ol’ days”? Not a chance. It’s been a great ride so far. What will we be doing next and how? Who knows. But I’m looking forward to finding out, even if I’m wearing my underwear outside of my pants.
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