It is really funny – as in holy crap we really did all that work?- thinking back about my graphic design training. I went to college back in the prehistoric, pre-computer days, (when I tell people this they are like whoa! You are old! Maybe so, but I know stuff! Haha!), so we learned everything the old school way and everything was done by hand, everything. These young whippersnapper (insert lifer designer knowing glances here) design students these days are pretty lucky to have computers to make their job a bit easier, but! I think a lot of the actual craft of design gets lost in design training these days. There isn’t as much hands-on stuff and it’s surprising how many young ‘uns can’t pick up a pencil to work out their concepts, aka thumbnailing, which I find to be absolutely necessary to do, and an important and integral part of the design process. Anyway.

I thought it would be interesting to share some old design projects from my college days, back when there was no computer, no internet as we know it to rely on for researching, and everything as far as printing processes, and technical art files preparation, was done manually, including typesetting.

In our final semester of design school, we actually got one Mac I for the entire 4 semesters worth of students in the program, so one of  those old teeny screen Macs. It was really exciting and the instructors were crazy over it. But we were not allowed to use it. It had a tech guy, and we had to ask him to do whatever we needed, typesetting usually. It also kept getting stolen, being such a new and expensive item, so basically, we had no computer for the most part.

One of our final projects was to design a booklet/resume kind of deal. I wish I still had my final piece, but I was digging thru my huge old portfolio and came across the pieces of it and thought I’d share as it’s kind of interesting.


This is the entire booklet in layers. (My maiden name in there too, lol.) Every piece of typography was printed out on paper, then glued to layers of mylar, depending on what colour or screen it needed to be. You can see even back then I had a thing for dogs, and quotes. Some things never change! Setting type on a curve involved taking a straight line of text, then putting slices between each letter and gently curving it/glueing it down into place. omg.

The little dogs, the brushy swooshy thingy, the texture on the sides, all drawn by hand with technical pen and india ink, cut out meticulously with an Xacto knife, and stuck down with a waxer on the appropriate layers. All the layers were holepunched and held together by tiny metal registration pins. I still have mine somewhere.

The orange stuff is “ruby lithe” (often it was red, hence the name), which is a plasticy film adhered to a mylar backing. You would cut around the parts you wanted to be a colour/screen, and peel away the rest. It had a very distinct smell, and I still remember it and kinda miss it. I also miss the smell of fresh-off-the-press printing ink. Is that weird?

booklet2Once you had all the layers prepared, you took it to the hugemongo PMT camera- it took up 2 full rooms- and shot negatives onto film, giving you the reverse images that technically would go to print. In our case for this project, it didn’t get that far, but we prepared final PMT’s of each page- basically black and white photos, that were then pasted onto card stock to make our final booklets.



You can see my notes on the masking tape for each layer. To get a screen, so if you wanted a grey tone instead of solid black, there were special screens you layered in with your film to shoot your PMT pieces with. It was a very involved process that is for sure, along with fighting for darkroom time to shoot and develop your pieces!

At any rate, you had to keep your layers of mylar spotless, no fingerprints, smudges, or marks. Everything had to be neat, clean, and tidy, and perfectly trimmed. I believe that training really stuck in my head to this day, as even when I paint, I hate getting paint on my hands. It drives me crazy, really.

Now, everything is done on the computer. If I was to do this project today, it would be laid out and typeset in InDesign. Illustrations drawn, scanned, or created in Illustrator, and placed in to the layout. All colour separations would be handled by computer at pre-press. Print-ready pdf proofs would be sent by email (and you wouldn’t be expected to go to the printer’s shop at 4am like the old days) to presscheck! Not to mention digital printing where there is no need for colour separations at all.
Layout now is so flexible and easy to change. Back then, you had to make bigger design decisions and commit to them before you ever laid anything down on a page. I remember there were books of page layouts, so just pages and pages of black and grey bars and boxes, you could use for inspiration in how to lay out your design. Title here, subhead here, body copy here. Crazy hey!

But when all is said and done, I really appreciate my old-school training, and everything I learned to do by hand, still has influence on my work today. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and it makes me happy!

So, pulling a quote from this old project, here’s a pinnable!


I’d love to hear from you, if your job or industry has changed drastically over the years, what did you learn back in old school days that you still use today? Do you miss it? What was good or bad way back when as opposed to now? Let us know!