Thursday, July 15, 2010

Flashback to 1983

Boom box, Ray Bans, high tops, and giant clocks on gold chains...what do all these remind you of? That’s right (or should we say “Fer sure”), the ’80s.

As our file server was being attended to its annual maintenance, the Menagerie team flashbacked to 1983 – to the decade of The Police, Eurythmics, and when Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was the top pop album of the year. The average income was a whopping $20,800 and the price of a gallon of gas was a measly $1.29. This was also the time when a graphic designer’s hands, dirty with graphite, cramped from hours of sketching and Apple was just a glint in the eyes of two “Steves” in Silicon Valley.

On this day, work (yes real work) still needed to be completed and designers were challenged with four current projects: A Self Promotion Photo Essay, Title Treatments, Type Speccing, and a Color Marker Comp for a Consumer Ad. Just one restriction…use only tools available in 1983 (Cheryl’s Grad year).

Assignment 1 – Typographic Photo Essay. The first project was to create a typographic photo essay spelling out “Menagerie” using a disposable camera. 27 shots. No preview. No multiple exposures. Instead of searching iStock or browsing the digital photo archive, designers had to be resourceful with their surroundings, objects found around the building and even themselves as props. They soon realized that the instant gratification of digital cameras and an unlimited Flash card space was a huge advantage in the modern design process. For this project, they had to wait a couple of days before their photos developed and if they caught the perfect shot.

Assignment 2 – Title Treatments. For this assignment, each artist designed a title treatment without the aid of an electronic font library, Veer or even Apple’s system fonts: Monaco, New York and Geneva. The only electronic device available was a copy machine with color copies at $10 and black and white copies at $1 each (in fake money of course). They were given reference books (only available in the ’80s), tracing paper, pencils, rulers and rapidograph pens. Also available were rub down lettering sheets ($10), which proved to be time savers for some. Designers could no longer scroll through the font library and click on whatever felt good. They spent serious consideration over their font choice before taking the time to sketch an entire title.

Assignment 3 – Speccing Type. This was by far the assignment that proved most challenging. Since the average age of the crew is 27, setting type without the aid of Quark, InDesign or even a keyboard seemed unheard of. They were given only a sheet of paper with typewritten copy and a Pica ruler then Cheryl guided them with the process of manually calculating how to fit the copy into a predesigned layout. What would have taken minutes on the computer, took designers hours to figure out. At $100 a pop (in 1983) each time instructions was given to the typesetter, they had to make sure that the measurements and proofreading marks indicated exactly what they wanted.

Assignment 4 – Color Marker Comp. With this assignment, designers conceptualized a 3D TV Color Print Ad. The materials and assets given to them were copy, a print of the TV, drawing materials, and of course the use of the copy machine. Usually the designers’ first instinct would have been to surf the web for images and use Photoshop to put a quick composition together. With this assignment they first needed a clear idea in their head, sketch the vision, then tighten up the sketch with the use of the markers to convey color and composition. It was exciting to see the raw energy which came out of each unique concept.

All in all, Flashback Friday proved to be a truly educational day for the Creative team who began their design career in the age of technology. They realized that a workday without computers and other distractions (Facebook; chats - yes even cell phones were restricted for the day) was liberating and helped them think smarter and more efficiently.

In an age where anyone who knows how to use Photoshop considers themselves an artist, this day brought out the core creativity inside a true graphic designer.

So next time the server goes down or your Mac crashes “don’t have a cow, man”. You’ll never know, a “gnarly” idea might just come out of the other side of your brain.

All photos in this post were taken by a disposable camera.

All collages in this post were composed using Photoshop circa 2010.

Article written by Nancy Sanchez