What It Was Like to Be a Graphic Designer Before Computers

You might've recently seen this video of Photoshop experts trying their hand at Photoshop 1.0. If you thought that was amusing and a little mindblowing to think about designers having to use that rudimentary program to do professional work, here's something even more interesting to chew on: What was it like to be a designer before computers even existed?

Graphic designer and assistant professor at Portland State University, Briar Levit, considered this question and decided to create a film about it. Graphic Means, which is currently in Kickstarter mode, will explore what it was like to design before the invention of the desktop computer, and to highlight and celebrate those groundbreaking graphic arts professionals who transitioned from working by hand to digital. 

Levit explains on Kickstarter, "I came up as a designer in the late '90s. This was when the page layout program QuarkXpress reigned supreme, and Adobe was on version 4.0 for Photoshop. While I’ve been designing on a computer since the start, the remnants of the pre-computer era were around me at school, and in my early design jobs. From the quasi-paste-up formats my teachers required us to turn final work in, to various tools that lingered around production areas in my first jobs. I thought I knew how things worked before the desktop computer. It wasn't until I started collecting obsolete design production manuals on my regular Goodwill treasure hunts, that I realized that I actually didn’t understand the level of skill, process, and various technologies that predate the computer."

Graphic Means will include interviews with notable designers, illustrators, and educators including Paul BrainerdCece Cutsforth, Lou Brooks, and Walter Graham. Levit told It's Nice That that she hopes her film will give today's designers "a sense of belonging and respect for what you're doing, and who came before you."

Levit was also curious about understanding how technology affected the culture, since projects that used to take four or five people often only need one person with a computer these days. "Many more hands used to touch a project in the production process, from designer, to typesetter, to photographer, to production designer. What were those relationships like? What did we lose when we gained the ability to pull all these elements together with just one person? What did we gain?”

If you want to see Graphic Means become a film, make sure to donate to the Kickstarter project. The campaign ends in about two weeks, but it still has a ways to go to become a reality. Let's make sure this important graphic arts history gets documented.  

h/t: It's Nice That; images via Graphic Means