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Brown Fox, Crazy Dogs, Full Stop

Aldus Darwin

Aldus Darwin

I haven’t always been a designer or a photographer: I was once even the milkman of human kindness. Well I was a milkman anyway.

A Full Stop, Literally

My first encounter with the world of digital design and Macs was as a courier in West Yorkshire in the early ’90s. At that time Apple was moving in on the old world of typesetters who used to output galleys of text via steam driven phototypesetters to waiting grubby couriers (AKA me). This was the cutting edge era when whole evenings could be wasted by the technologically bewildered trying in vain to get the final full-stop to output onto the sheet. I think on one ‘full stop’ occasion I dared to ask “hasn’t anyone got a suitable Rotring?” The suggestion was not well received.

These were dangerous times too, the grubby courier (AKA me) would fly off through the rain sodden streets of Yorkshire to the waiting printer, and, at the doorstep would release the sheet of type into the evening rain. The type of course then revealing it’s Darwinian lineage with buttered toast would land face down in the mud. The grubby courier (AKA me) would do the only reasonable thing, wipe the sheet, get the signature, and fly.

He flew like only text unfettered by punctuation could fly.

Hail Pagemaker

The Darwinian fittest survive and fit for purpose in the ’90s meant willingness to move on from phototypesetting machines to the world of the Mac.

Quadra and Centris were the hallowed names, along with Aldus. No not the15th-century Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, we are talking about Aldus PageMaker the Desk Top Publishing package, which along with Adobe’s Illustrator and Photoshop packages meant that design, and publishing were ready to move fully from the artboard on to the computer and the computer of choice was the mac. Let’s not forget Quark, introduced in 1987 and rising to a 90% market share in the ’90s ultimately to be met head on by InDesign. I don’t like Quark but long may it survive, the competition is what has made InDesign such a really good programme.

(I overheard someone mention DTP recently, I thought ‘how quaint?’)

Nowadays a complete design studio can be bought for around five grand, (me old china) and I think it’s a bit of a snip. You can pick up an iMac Quad core £1650, Adobe® CS5 £1800 and still have enough for a pretty useful DSLR, in fact you should be able to get a full frame Nikon if you shop well.

Yes I know one can mooch over the details and the list might be longer but this will cover most bases and when I look back to an era where the same amount of money got me a van or a motorbike for the despatch business I think we are getting a lot of stuff for our bucks.

The bottom line though is what we do with it.

You Must Have a Really Good Pencil

That’s a nice drawing you must have a really good pencil?

No I haven’t heard anyone say that, but I have come across many people who make the assumption that a great photo is borne out of technology, and technology alone. I’m sorry but no, that’s not the case.

Once as a trainee teacher I saw a furious parent berating my department head “why isn’t she top of the class, we bought her a really good computer?” The truth was she wasn’t really interested in the subject (ICT) and had no natural interest or aptitude for it.

I remember once, speaking to a dentist of mine, he said ” you must have a really good Mac?” At the time he had just bought the latest, bestest full on PowerBook that money could buy. I didn’t like to spoil his ideas with the truth that I was still chugging along with an old G3.

The Exepnsive Bit

I have always thought that technology possibly helps to remove barriers to the expression of our imaginations, and in that respect it may indeed widen the franchise. I regularly hear people banging on about the prohibitive cost of computer technology, particularly macs: but for the designer of today owning your means of production is probably less than a despatch rider or a taxi driver and I know where I would rather be and what I would rather be doing.

Recently though one of my favourite litho printers ‘went to the wall’ as many have before. So as I send my latest 4pp 4 colour brochure off to be printed on one of Heidleberg’s finest I realise that this is the point that it gets serious, very serious indeed, with presses starting at around the £250k mark and rising much higher. Fabulously so.

Once again I find myself thinking how think how pleased I am to be where I am, doing what I do.


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