How the design industry has changed over 25 years

How the design industry has changed over 25 years

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The design landscape has changed so much in the last 25 years. As Design Inc turns 25, we look at the changing role of the graphic designer from 1997 to the present day.

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Back in 1997 when Design Inc was founded, we classified ourself as a design agency (as opposed to the full service agency we are now). Back then, all our work was about design and we believed that no matter the request, ‘design would be incorporated in all we do’, hence the name. But, the design industry was embarking on an evolution – and for some it may have felt more like revolution!

Old school designers and artworkers were no longer working at drawing boards, using parallel motions and set squares. Layout pads and Letraset sheets were gathering dust, Omnicrom machines and PMT cameras were essentially defunct, unfortunate accidents with sharp scalpel blades (watch the fingers!) were thankfully reduced, typesetters, photo retouchers and reprocompanies were pretty much out of work.
The digital era was well underway as studios tooled up with Apple Macs and design software such as QuarkXPress and Photoshop – it was time to get to grips with desktop publishing.

Certain conventions remained. Account executives and project managers still needed arms of superhuman length and strength to transport presentations in A1 portfolios to client meetings. Couriers, be it on motorbike or in a van, flowed in and out of office receptions throughout the day to collect or deliver revised visuals, artwork or final printed items – speed and time was of the essence to make sure the package would arrive ahead of the client’s deadline.

Communication was largely done by phone, but briefs and client corrections to artworks also spewed out from the fax machine – we just had to remember to monitor it! If you were out of the office, you were absolutely out and unavailable – there was no chance of another client crashing in on your last-minute prep time (train journey maybe!) ahead of an important pitch presentation. The downside, of course, was that a one-hour meeting could constitute an entire day away from one’s desk, depending on where in the world you needed to be. Meanwhile, modems and ISDN lines were meant to speed up the transfer of digital files, but it was incredibly frustrating to send work only for the connection to fail with just a few megabytes left. Time to dial up and start again!

How times have changed

Roles within a design agency were, at the time, clearly split between design and artwork. The creative director would have overall control and head up a hierarchy of designers – senior, middleweight and junior. The production manager would lead a team of artworkers, who were all about precision and finessing the creative team’s concepts into final artwork for print. But roles gradually blurred as designers were able to take their initial creative ideas right through to finished artwork thanks to the available software. Today, designers cut their teeth on computers and everything happens on screen. And over the years we’ve seen new roles created, especially as online communications developed, from back-end developers, UX and UI designers to app developers, jobs that could never have been imagined 25 years ago.

Back in 1997 the end result was often something printed on paper – posters, direct mail, brochures, flyers and so on. Knowing the best litho printers around was key to a good job well done. Now, although there is still a place for print, we are more and more about digital comms. The rise of the internet has revolutionised how we communicate – it’s made everything so much faster and just about everything can be done from the comfort of one’s own desk and chair or, if you’re out and about, via a smart phone.

Designers now also wear the marketer’s hat with digital marketing enabling them to access & target audiences quicker, stronger, smarter. As such, the design agency have evolved into the integrated- or full service agency – supplying content marketing, SEO, AdWords, social media, AR, backlinking, influencer marketing, webinars. And that’s just a handful of the hundreds of digital marketing services never heard of back in 1997.

These days, emails fly back and forth and queries and questions can be instantly answered – a text message may get an even faster response. Meetings can be held remotely on Zoom, Teams or Meet – no more wasted hours of travelling here, there and everywhere. Design and artwork files can be shared securely with clients in an instant, no matter where in the world they are based. And, as for proofing and updates, well these are handled in real-time through web-enabled resources.

The rate at which we are now able to work is phenomenal. It can be both fantastic and slightly terrifying – 25 years ago we couldn’t have contemplated delivering projects as quickly as we do today but, with technology on our side, we seem to make the impossible possible on a regular basis.

>> 25 Years of Ideas. Read our Story