Designs on computers

Just as the printing press changed an illustrator from a painter of parchment to a carver of boxwood, the computer has changed the way a designer thinks or at least works out his ideas.Fifty years from now, the effect of computer...

Just as the printing press changed an illustrator from a painter of parchment to a carver of boxwood, the computer has changed the way a designer thinks or at least works out his ideas.

Fifty years from now, the effect of computer technology on design will become obvious.

What will not be so obvious is just how hard it was to ride the wave of innovation and yet somehow hold onto our values as creative thinkers.

The computer is a compelling thing. You can take ideas and extrapolate endlessly, seeing a range of alternatives that was impossible before.

It is, by definition, a machine that will respond faithfully to instructions with incredible accuracy, at breathtaking speed.

But if we are quicker and more accurate, are we more creative? More thorough, perhaps, but not more creative.

In fact, there is a danger that the hypnotic dazzle of the computer will obscure the real task at hand: to create compelling and relevant images for the consumer.

False credibility

The computer can bring false credibility to many half-baked concepts, spectacular images draped on token answers.

Good, solid marketing solutions start on paper, with marker in hand and, one hopes, a few ideas in your head.

Ideas need to be nurtured off the computer so they can be, initially, judged for their wit and pondered carefully for their potential.

For many designers, this kind of preliminary thinking is an aggravating preamble, but I think the best designs can be always be traced back to a good old-fashioned rough layout stage.

Many stylistic issues that are guided by intuition are inherently difficult to articulate. They are easily overwhelmed by the precision and technological prejudice of the computer.

Since there is no user’s manual on creativity, the designer must be committed to an understanding of how best to articulate the intangible, and create compelling graphic imagery.

Design questions

Should there be photography or illustration? Loose hand lettering or standard fonts? What aspects are resolved and what need further development? Designers should be determining how to construct the design before deciding what program to do it in.

One of the most revolutionary aspects of the new technology is how it has blurred the boundaries between designer, repro artist and separator.

It used to be, well, black and white.

Designers did concepts in color, the repro artist converted the design to black-and-white artwork so the separator could then take the artwork and transparencies and separate them into process film.

It was a satisfactory arrangement.

With the advent of the electronic design station, designers can, in theory, do it all.

For the past five to 10 years, the computer industry has been scrambling to offer designers the promise of taking a design from concept to film completely digitally.

This ‘promise’ has yet to be adequately fulfilled.

Now, designers are often finding themselves immersed in technical issues that were traditionally left to others.

In some ways, this is good. There is the advantage of continuity with the original designers and, therefore, a more focussed effort.

The down-side is that electronic technology is fostering the jack-of-all-trades approach (or should I say, master-of-none.)

The complexities inherent in the graphic process – particularly package design – have made it a difficult endeavor.

With software and hardware manufacturers learning about design, and studios learning about digital technology, it has been a precarious coming of age.


It has been an evolution fraught with anxiety as designers, separators and service bureaus have been trying to anticipate where all this is going.

Design firms have had to rethink the way they produce design. Century-old methods have been abandoned within a decade.

Considering the relative infancy of electronic design, it is not surprising that few standards of operation have been set by the industry to help keep the digital design process on the right track.

A more universal approach to how the digital file is created and transferred to the separator would mean fewer headaches for all involved.

With a disciplined approach and practical procedures, the design industry can offer marketers a better product with digital technology.

Used improperly, the computer is just a toy. It is the commitment to the concept and not the computer that makes winning design solutions.

Chris Plewes is president of Toronto-based William Plewes Design.