Lovegrove Design & Photography, Tiverton, Devon 20 Years of Change - |
20 Years of Change
Feb 2012 10

A client asked me tonight to supply a “mock up” of one of my designs and it suddenly struck me just how much my beloved industry have evolved over my twenty years in the business.

I felt compelled to write a blog on the subject. So forgive me if my ramblings become a touch nostalgic…

you see my first experience in a design agency was that of a fourteen year old, keen as mustard, if very naive. In that environment the scalpel and omnicrom machine were the tools of the trade and attention to detail was everything.

I remember pasting up black and white lazer printed proofs with colour film in order to heat seal the colour onto the very basic monotone proofs of that time. Pantone references were non existent at that conceptional stage and more concern was placed on ensuring there were no grease fingerprint marks on the proof…rather than the accuracy of the colours used.

This is indeed a memory that will stay with me until I am old and grey. It strikes me now that whilst some of that attention may have been somewhat misplaced on less important elements of the presentation, the care that went into the proofing stage has most certainly been lost in the modern digital age.

From there I progressed as a young apprentice at a full blown advertising agency with blue chip clients all over the country and the spectrum of expertise widened, incorporating marketing campaigns across print, press, television and radio.

At this point my tools of the trade were once again the trusty scalpel, but now with a reprographics camera and a spray mount booth..oh how I laugh now! I wasn’t allowed near an Apple Mac at this point although to be fair..why would I want to be allowed near a Mac Classic!

However time did pass by and once I was judged to be competent at manually pasting proofs together with my scalpel, I was on occasion allowed to play with the new technology that was the Apple Macintosh…the world of design did then gradually open up to me and progress to where I am now.

For the last ten years or so it feels like I have to some extent been in a constant battle with clients, especially with regards to proofing designs. When I was fourteen, the technology of the time meant that much had to be left to the imagination of the client and therefore the parameters in which the designer and printer had to work within were much broader than they are today. It dictated a greater element of trust in the professionals commissioned to undertake the design and production.

Then we enter the digital age and whilst the technology that surrounds my industry has grown at an unbelievable rate, I for a number of years have wondered if that sometimes is to the detriment of us as people and consumers.

“Now it seems we are stuck in a sort of proofing Nomandsland. Time and money dictate that sacrifices must be made and 99.9% of the proofs now are PDF files.”

Clients suddenly became far more conscious of colour management, inkjet proofs became remarkably accurate, and a great deal of my proofing process became about educating clients about the science behind the printing process. Why spot colours differed in vibrancy from process colour printing and how choice of materials also impacted on the finished result. Sadly some of the trust appeared lost.

Suddenly Mr Joe Bloggs Carpentry Services required the same colour consistency as the CEO of BT…at a fraction of the cost of course!

I will skip a few years because whilst important to me, those years aren’t necessarily important to the story of technological and ethical progression. Afterall it’s only really the start and the end of a story people are really interested in…(I say with tongue in cheek).

So now twenty years in and to some extent the pressures on time and money have won over. Gone are the days of inaccurately coloured, hand mounted, grease mark free, branded proofing boards. Matchprints are a thing of the past and also gone are the wet printing proofs for the ultimate in colour accuracy at hundreds of pounds a throw.

Now it seems we are stuck in a sort of proofing Nomandsland. Time and money dictate that sacrifices must be made, and 99.9% of the proofs that I produce for clients in this latest phase of my career are ALL digital PDF files.

I assure you this is not my choice. I am well aware of the risks this type of proofing process carries with it, but the time and financial pressures applied onto my clients and in turn onto me, appear to be winning the war.

So it seems in some ways that we have turned full circle. Proofing processes have, despite the resistance of the professionals, reverted back to a fairly inaccurate technology with a high element of risk. The difference twenty years on being that parameters of client expectation are much narrower and the risk factor lays more heavily on the designer.

This surely is a bum deal for the creatives?, well yes frankly and the only reason that I am happy to work under these conditions is the twenty years that lay before me. Because even if the client has no understanding of the journey my industry has taken during the last two decades…I do! It’s my job to educate my clients about the technology they are dabbling with and it’s also my responsibility to stand firm and be the expert when a client requirement warrants a cautious approach.

I am lucky that I understand the limitations and pitfalls involved on all sides of the production process, because I have first hand experience following my work from quotation, conception through to printing and finishing. But I confess with the squeeze being applied on speed and efficiency whilst maintaining accuracy, I do feel for new graduates and designers that lack the “behind the scenes” experience that I have been fortunate enough to have gathered during a such a period of technological and behavioural change.


  1. Matt says:

    A great article! I agree that in a variety of fields whilst advances in technology have opened up a world of new opportunities, many people appear to have forgotten about the basic principles that got us to this point. Too often we want things fast and easy where careful consideration and true craftsmanship would produce a far superior result.

    • admin says:

      I completely agree and in my industry it can be regarded very much as “cutting corners”. The lack of a reliable proofing process leaves the designer and printer somewhat walking through a minefield.
      It’s only confidence in your knowledge and ability that helps you avoid the IUD’s!

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