I graduated college and started my graphic design career in the same year—1990. That was the same year Law & Order and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air debuted on the silver screen. And the year when Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and Madonna’s “Vogue” were #1 radio hits, and when Goodfellas won the Academy Award for best picture.
Thirty years ago things looked very different. How far has graphic design come in the last three decades? What software, hardware and new technology appeared that we now consider standard (or even old-fashioned)? Has the industry changed as much as our musical tastes?
Three decades of design
In 1990 Adobe released Photoshop 1.0 which didn’t even run on Microsoft Windows. In fact, you couldn’t even work in layers. For those not in the know, I’m referring to the different layers that make up the composition of a design. Some text might be one layer, and an image or photograph might make another layer underneath.
In this same time period, Adobe Illustrator was missing gradients, an eye-dropper tool, Wacom tablet support and the live-trace functions—among the many features that have since become standard. Twenty-three new versions and a quick 30 years later, Adobe Illustrator is the most popular vector graphic editor on the market.
To run this shiny new software, the top earning graphic designers of the time used the Apple Macintosh Classic. This top of the range machine boasted up to 40MB hard drive and 2MB of ram and started at the equivalent of $1,000.
And in 1990 the most infamous font of all time, Comic Sans made its wondrous debut. Possibly the most hated font ever, it was originally created to be part of software called Microsoft Bob as the font for the speech bubbles of a talking dog. The font didn’t make it to the software but was included as one of the system fonts anyway, where it has been used, incorrectly, for nearly three decades.
Notable logo designs from this time period include the instantly recognizable FedEx logo, with the hidden arrow made of negative space. The logo remains the same to this day—as does Master Card, Univision and Viacom.
The internet turns 30
Today, March 5, 2019 the internet as we know it celebrates its 30th anniversary. Thirty years ago the world wide web almost felt like science fiction. If you wanted to surf the net, you couldn’t do it with Safari, Chrome, Firefox or even Internet Explorer. None of these browsers had even been developed. Heck, if you wanted to go online you’d have to use the Netscape Navigator to browse the roughly 10,000 websites that existed.
But then, in 1994 the first ever pizza was ordered online. That’s right, even 25 years ago you could order a pizza, online, through Pizza Hut’s website! Game changer! That was also the year the first ever web banner was introduced, for AT&T. The banner had a click-through rate of 44%, which in today’s terms is unworldly.
It’s 2019 and we’ve come a long way baby. Although there are more than a few trade secrets to be missed from the old days, one of the best things about the modern age is that you can truly forge your own path as a creative. Technology has helped so many of today’s “professionals” flourish that didn’t follow the traditional route to success. Whatever the case might be, not everyone follows the same path. That’s the beauty of this work. Professional in the traditional sense or not, those of us with experience have a lot to offer and share.
It goes without saying that technology and creativity never take on a steady form, so it’s inevitable for graphic design to change as we move forward. Graphic design will always be a necessary tool for artistic, economic and marketing expression and will continue to evolve as a result of advances in technology and online opportunities. “If there was a problem Yo, I’ll solve it.”
– Shane Wagoner, Senior Designer