Points to pixels ’ a lifetime in communications

The year was 1977 and straight out of art college at the ripe old age of 18, I fell into the hectic world of design and advertising in Aberdeen with an Edinburgh-based agency, MCS Robertson & Scott. Six weeks after starting I was the sole occupant in the art department. Sink or swim. I should’ve sunk. No Apple Macs, no email, no dropbox (we just about had the telephone back then).

It’s jaw-dropping to look back and see the transformation of the communications industry in a relatively short space of time. The basic form of setting type and printing had not changed in more than 500 years. In the late 70s, cold metal type was just on its way out and the innovative IBM Selectric typewriter with interchangeable font ‘golf ball’ meant you had a choice of typefaces and point sizes for your advertisements and print collateral. It was a Eureka moment for the industry, but also the death knell for typesetters – now anyone could set type. 

Although the fax was invented in the mid 1800s its commercialisation didn’t begin until the 1970s. This was another glimpse into the future, with instant messaging saving you sometimes days (depending on postal strikes) on delivery of information.

In those days I spent a lot of my youth keeping fit by running down the length of Union Street, on a daily basis, to the railway station for 6:00pm each evening to make sure parcels of artwork were sent on time to Glasgow, and even London, by Red Star delivery. 

Enter the Apple Mac in 1984. Apple concentrated on desktop publishing (initially unique to Apple) but was quickly superseded by Microsoft with cheaper components, but they kept a loyal following amongst the graphics fraternity with programmes such as FreeHand, QuarkXpress and Adobe’s Illustrator and Photoshop. By the early 90s the world’s graphic design industry had picked the Apple, many considered it to be a more stable platform than Microsoft and one which had the programs that allowed them to multi-skill and dispense with the need of third parties such as typesetters, image retouchers, scanning houses.

Thirty years ago, a straight forward advert took at least a whole day to produce, through sitting at an architect’s drawing board, drawing up the advert, to outsourcing the text for typesetting (running to and from their premises for delivery and collection), pasting in the typeset copy and photographing the advert, then finally taking the finished print to a print-maker to have it made into a hot metal slug before running to the Red Star parcel office for delivery. Now I can receive the brief or request via email, produce the advert, send for approval on email and upload the print-ready file to the publication never having left my computer screen – all within an hour. Job done.

So after 500 years of no change, the last 30 have been the most revolutionary since the printing press was invented. And just as I’ve got to grips with all of that, along come ‘pixels’ as we move even further into the online space, the changes that have taken place these past 30 years are set to change once again. I can’t wait.