Barrier to Entry

Grab this end. Ancient graphic design tool. An X-Acto kniife.
Ancient graphic design tool. An X-Acto knife. Grab THIS end.

I had alluded to this subject in my earlier post about Adobe Creative Suite.  I did get a bit rantish about it. So I decided that I might clarify where I was coming from this time around. Now for a little background, I entered the field in 1980, yes that would be B.C. — Before Computers.  Moving right along, If someone had told me in 1989 that in a few years I would be replacing 90% of my professional tools every three to five years, I would have looked at them like they were out of their minds. Seriously, I made it a point to buy good quality pro gear and took good care of it. I had a steel t-square that I would be able to leave to my grandchildren, nearly indestructible. I had a lovely oak drafting table. A sweet little Badger airbrush and compressor. Red Sable brushes. A set of very slick and pampered technical pens. And seriously, a drafting instrument set I actually inherited from my grandfather.

Then “Desktop Publishing” happened.

The advent of the Apple Macintosh Computer, PostScript, PageMaker software, and the LaserWriter II printer changed everything. Forever. That was a weird time, when many companies tried to jettison their Agencies, Design Studios and Art Directors for low paid operators with Mac SEs. But after a few years, they decided that they needed people who actually knew some Design Principles operating the computers. So a lot of us went back to school, helloooo Continuing Ed., to learn more about this “Computer Stuff. ” A lot of good and talented people gave up and left the field, and some of us made the transition and picked up the mice, wondering, “what the f**k is this?”

That’s the short version, this is a blog after all. So fast forward to the contemporary age, virtually ALL design, graphics and publishing, is now carried out digitally.  I have not used that T-square for anything except mat cutting in something like seven years, and I no longer even own a drafting table.  (Kinda miss it.. ) But unless you are using a computer, not only aren’t you competitive, you’re not even working. And furthermore, if you use traditional media, you’ll have to bring your work to someone with a computer to have it digitized.  The last holdouts being illustration on traditional media, and this artwork is now certainly scanned and digitized before going on press anywhere.

By 1996, advances in the technology, notably Photoshop 2.5 with CMYK capabilities, and ZIP drives storing 50 Megabytes in an easily mailable format, allowed me to create an 100% digital poster project with a digital illustration and electronic  layout, the only traditional component being the original pencil sketch. Not only that, it was done with an impossible turnaround flatly impossible with traditional media. The digital world had arrived and I was convinced.

Not to mention the online world, what they once called “New Media”. The Internet wasn’t even a gleam on the general public’s horizon in 1990, but in 1993, the Mosaic web browser was released, followed by Netscape Navigator in 1996, then summarily hammered by Internet Exploder Explorer by 1998. By that time, the World Wide Web dominated our consciousness, and this realm  of course, is 100% electric, pure digital data. Just like every word you are reading.

So you purchase a computer.

You’ll need a decent one, Mac or Window’s PC with lots of RAM and storage. Not the $295 entry level special at Staples. You’ll need a press quality scanner, and a not a bottom-end printer. You’ll  probably need an external hard drive or two.  If you like your wrists, and don’t care to draw with a bar of soap, add a graphics tablet. Maybe add a digital camera. And you’ll need stacks of DVDs to back up and archive the piles of data you’ll be generating. So you’re in to the tune of about $5000 or more.

We’re not done yet.

Next you have to have professional-class design and graphics software.  That usually means, surprise–the Adobe Creative Suite. The heavies. Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat. Possibly Quark Xpress, if you be kickin’ it “old-school”. If you do web design work, you also might be using Dreamweaver, and you are going to be asked to do Flash.  You will also need Microsoft Office, to interact with teh biznezz pepulz. You may prefer to work with the open source Open Office, or iWork.. but you need to DEAL with MS Office. Period. The end. You’ll need FONTS, lots of ‘em unless you really like Papyrus and Comic Sans. And you’ll need some System Maintenance stuff. And if you’re on the PC side, you need a RAFT of security stuff to keep the ick and nasty off your hard drive. So let’s say getting up towards another $5000. Oh, don’t forget the cost of the high speed internet connection.

After you buy that mid-range to high-end computer and load of pro-class software.  In about six months, you’ll have to upgrade something. Over time you’ll have to upgrade just about all of it. Then the next upgrade won’t run on your now-three to five year old once-spiffy, but now ancient, machine, and then it’s time for the next computer. And so the cycle starts again—new computer, upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, new computer, upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, new computer…  And just a for instance, the very word processor I am using to type this, Appleworks, is an obsolete, dead product, no longer offered by Apple.  It will not even run on my next computer. But when the time comes, Adobe Creative Suite 4, a must-have, with all my core apps, will.

I set up my original studio in the 80’s for about $2000, and from time to time picked up additional pro gear as needed. Most of my expenses were for media.  Paper, ink, board, paint, subway fare, that sort of thing. But now, it’s around $5000-$10,000 just to get set up. And that’s  still sitting the thing on the box it shipped in, and putting your own ass on a milk crate. IKEA is your friend. The fun part? You can get used to the idea that you’ll drop that 5 to 10K every three to five years, through your career, if you’re a working Designer and want to have your own gear. So instead of making a capital investment once, you will be buying virtually all your gear over and over, again and again. Welcome to the Information Age.

I have an old T-square hanging in my hall closet. It’s getting dusty.  And while I don’t need them as much in the digital age, I still want me some nice flat files. And you know what? Those damn things will still cost you through your butt!

That much hasn’t changed.

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