• This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn more.

Advertising and Design B.C. – Before Computers


Active Member
I thought since we have had some interesting discussion this weekend over the future of graphic design, I would just post this article that is on our blog - Berry

Advertising and Design B.C. – Before Computers

When I first came into this business at the time when Kate Bush was warbling Wuthering Heights and Grease was the word, the marketing business was fairly simple. Advertising co-existed with Design under the same roof quite happily and designers and artist worked with a smile on their faces happily living off the fumes of Magic Markers. Memory was something you lost with age, an application was for employment, a virus was a flu that happily kept you off work for a week, a hard drive was a trip up to Glasgow and a 3½-inch floppy was something boys wouldn’t admit to girls or their mates.

Every young marketeer had on his shelf a Pantone swatch book, drawers full of Letraset transfer sheets, a copy of Ogilvy on Advertising, and some severely dog eared D&AD annuals. Life was simple. Client rang; agency took a brief, copywriter and designer/visualiser mocked up a concept or scamp. Client the said Yes or No, and the concept then went into production, art direction photography, typesetting and final artwork. And so the big Ad world turned, the tills rang and the lunch tabs grew bigger.
In 1984 when Frankie was going to Hollywood and the Bananarama girls were waiting for Robert De Niro I unwrapped my first Mac. A small beige box of technology that would change the way we would work and think forever. The Apple Macintosh M0001 had a 9-inch mono screen, 128k of Ram (whatever that was) and the design capabilities of an Etcha-Sketch on acid. I remember Shaun the Finished Artist almost falling off his drawing board into his Cow Gum as we tried to fathom out what to do with this bundle of Beige.

At first it proved to be a short cut to typesetting costs by outputting the copy twice size and scaling it down on a PMT machine. The Type houses weren’t happy. The aroma of Magic Markers and original thinking still drifted through studios around the country and the biggest change came when Cow Gum evaporated to be replaced by stickiness in a can called Spray Mount. Sometime in the late early nineties after a duel between PageMaker and Quark, the Apple Mac sat alongside the drawing board and the Finished Artists started to twitch nervously. The only ones who were still full of the joys of Spring were the Account Managers, or the Bag Men as creative’s would hiss. In their eyes Computers saved time and time was a billable commodity that had to be used. Enter stage left – the Options!

“Can we see that concept in green, red and yellow with a different headline, one with a bigger picture, maybe reversed out and why a not a landscape version” Technology gave us diluted thinking and the rise of the Bag Man and the Gallery Show. Quantity not quality was the name of the game, so long as the client picked one, the BMW was safe in the company car park. Creative’s became slaves to the computer. Original thought and craft was slowly replaced by a drop down menu. Young designers picked typefaces at random, not understanding what an x-height or a terminal was, or why Gill Sans is a poor choice for body copy text under 10 point.
And so the Ad world changed.
Design got a quick divorce from Advertising when he separated and set up his own bachelor pad. A few years back Design got a taste of his own medicine when his offspring Web went walkabouts. The Web family prospered and grew and finally changed its name to the Digital family which is reproducing offspring at an alarming rate.

The current world is fragmenting into so many niche areas that we have a niche of a niche’s, niche, niche. Targeting and drilling down into and niche marketing areas is great expediency and eliminates the mass wastage of earlier years, it’s just a question of how far we will end up drilling down before we fall out of the hole we are drilling.

So life before computers? What was it like in B.C?…Well for a start I think we actually had a life, to be honest. We weren’t slaves to technology, original thought was a valued prize, and a person’s craft and skill were honed over well-balanced judgment, implementation and experience. Focus and application were the name of the game, not Option 3-9.

To survive the modern designer has had to evolve into a new breed of hybrid animal, one that has more tools and resources than ever before, but also one that is living in a multi-tasking environment that requires a huge skill base and knowledge and instant results. Colours and Coding have to exist in an uneasy balance of purity and commercial commerce. With so many design short cuts available and so many applications to make projects efficient, the basic understanding of original thought and idea, many times lay abandoned in the sake of a quick fix and a few options without thought.

The very word ‘Menu’ signifies a choice. Choice without thought and judgment is as useful as using a spoon to go fishing with. A computer is a simply tool and technology that needs to be mastered, but are we constantly being mastered by technology? Let us not forget that an idea ultimately comes from a brain cell not a piece of software.
Maybe sometimes to go forward we have to go back. Back to B.C.

Advertising | Armadillo Creative


'Back in the day'.....Berry sitting in his rocka by the fire.....

Still PMT (Photo Mechanical Transfer) machines were good for warming pies and dark rooms were great places to hide if you had a hangover....


Staff member
I actually caught the tail end of that stage of design when I was at school. Mac's or pc's weren't readily available until I was in my final years of high school. I still remember my old c64 and atari computers, tape and floppy drives were there for loading games etc lol. I was also lucky in that my parents were able to afford the 2-3k needed for a pc back in those days (a lot of money in those days) and I was able to learn about them in my own time, paid dividends when I look back on it now.

All my design training when I was younger was very much theory, pen and paper, even down to drawing out plans. I've got no end of rotring isograph pens, spare 0.1mm nibs, their yellow erasers and layout pads sitting in the cupboard, I'm not throwing them out when they cost me a small fortune. Even at a-level the use of computers (at least in course) was minimal, actually thinking about it so was my btec although that was more art (and photography - optional) focused. Then I went to uni and we actually had lessons on how to use marker pens (spent a small fortune on these too) which was useful for all of 3 months when all the tech savvy students went sod it and started doing cad models instead as we could also make our plans from them lol.

The funny thing is though by the time I was in the second year of my degree, we had first year students that were lacking in the traditional sense of design but were realistically relying on the software that was on the computers to produce their work.

So I suppose in some respects I was taught in a more 'traditional' way but evolved with the tech as it became better. But the thing with my work is that yes it's very tech reliant but I personally feel that without my photography, which helps my understand composition and lighting, and the traditional/classic training in things like perspective/layout etc I wouldn't be able to do the work as well or efficiently as I do.

Although I wouldn't mind learning a bit more about the traditional side of typography, that area was never really covered in any of my courses - any book recommendations Berry?.


Senior Member
Our PMT room was haunted so I'm glad technology moved on.

But while we're down memory lane, who remembers non-reproducing blue pencils, burning themselves on a waxer, and my favourite - the Omnicron machine, on which you could make your own coloured (rubbish) Letraset-type stuff for visuals.
yes I remember the Omnicron...cutting edge at the time. I still use blue pencil for sketching...and yes I have burned myself on the waxer. CS10 anybody?


Active Member
OmniCrom, CS10, Cover paper for visuals,Frisk Film, Cow Gum, Set Squares and Rotring Pens with nibs that broke or got blocked
Frisk film....I remember sticking a scalpel into my head at KDA whilst cutting some of that lo tack masking film type stuff....I kinda...(!)..miss Rotring pens... .25 was my fav. Masking tape around the finger to stop blisters....but that's another story.