Camp Adobe Memories 1989

Last week Khoi Vinh invited me to be the keynote speaker at the Adobe Make It On Mobile event at the Cooper Hewitt in New York. “We’d love for you to talk about your involvement with the first DTP boot camp and the transformation from analog to desktop creation, how that’s influenced the creative process today, and the like. The goal is to provide a solid historical context for this new iteration of the event you were a part of, as well as to frame this new way of working as a progression into the future.” This is my keynote talk.

IN THE EARLY SUMMER OF 1989, THE NEW YORK TIMES, WHERE I WAS A SENIOR ART DIRECTOR, TOOK DELIVERY OF TWO SCITEX SCANNERS. THEY WERE HUGE MACHINES THAT PROMISED TO REVOLUTIONIZE OUR IMAGE WORKFLOW. WHEN THE FIRST WAS UNPACKED, WE REALIZED IT WAS TOO LARGE FOR THE ROOM ALLOTTED, SO A LARGE OPENING WAS CUT SO IT COULD FIT INTO THE CORRIDOR. A MONTH LATER I WAS INVITED TO VISIT ADOBE HQ AS PART OF A BETA TESTING GROUP OF ART DIRECTORS, DESIGNERS AND ILLUSTRATORS TO TEST A NEW, SEMI-SECRET PRODUCT IDENTIFIED BY THIS BIT-MAPPED ICON.

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WE WERE TOLD TO BRING 35mm SLIDES AND FLAT ART THAT WE WOULD LIKE TO MANIPULATE IN SOME WAY. THERE WAS MUCH ANTICIPATION THAT WE WERE IN ON SOMETHING BIG, LIKE COLD FUSION OR SPONTANEOUS REGENERATION.

 

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AND DESPITE A PAINFUL PINCHED NERVE, MY FIRST COMPUTER-GENERATED INJURY, I WAS READY FOR THE CHALLENGES, THE FELLOWSHIP AND THE GENEROUS HONORARIUM. (INCIDENTALLY, THIS IS THE LATE GREAT A.D. AND ILLUSTRATOR DUGALD STERMER—MY CAMP BUDDY.)

 

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I HAD NO IDEA HOW HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT THESE FEW WEEKS WOULD BECOME. OR HOW IT WOULD INDEED ALTER JUST ABOUT EVERY ASPECT OF PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE. OR HOW ART AND DESIGN WOULD FOREVER CHANGE IN UNIMAGINABLE WAYS.

 

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AT THE TIME, WE JUST THOUGHT IT WAS SOMETHING OF A NOVELTY. A HANDY WAY TO COLORIZE EXISTING WORK, OR MAKE ART FROM SCRATCH THAT WAS MORE OR LESS PRIMITIVE.

 

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MY OWN CONTRIBUTION WAS LESS THAN EXEMPLARY. I SAW THE PROGRAM AS A CARNIVAL ATTRACTION ON MY DESKTOP. I GOT INTO THE CLONING AND DUPLICATION TOOLS; MASTERED THE SILHOUETTE CAPABILITIES. AND OPTICALLY SCREWED AROUND WITH OTHERWISE DECENT TYPEFACES. I WAS ADDICTED TO SHADOWS. AND ALSO PLACED MY SON’S EYES ON EVERY EMPTY SPACE.

 

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THE YOUNGER ILLUSTRATORS WERE MORE SERIOUS ABOUT WHAT WAS POSSIBLE. STEVEN GUARNACCIA AND PHILIPPE WEISBECKER TOOK THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPAND ON THEIR VISUAL STYLES, THOUGH I DON’T THINK EITHER USED THE TOOL FOR DRAWING AGAIN. MICHAEL DAVID BROWN THREW ALL HIS PRECISION MAKING TO THE WIND AND JUST HAD FUN DOING WHAT HE WOULDN’T ORDINARILY DO.

 

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NANCY STAHL WAS ONE OF THE MORE ADAPTIVE EXPERIMENTERS, WHILE VIVIENNE FLESCHER FOUND WAYS TO DUPLICATE HER EXQUISITE WATERCOLOR. PAUL DAVIS, WHO HAD GROWN TIRED OF HIS HIGHLY RENDERED POSTER STYLE, WAS RELEASED FROM ITS STRICTURES. AND J. OTTO SIEBOLD BASICALLY LAUNCHED AN APPROACH THAT HE USES TO THIS DAY FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS.

 

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BARBARA NESSIM HAD EARLIER EXPERIMENTED WITH DIGITAL MEDIA, SO SHE WAS RIGHT AT HOME, THOUGH AMAZED BY HOW MUCH EASIER THIS TOOL MADE HER OUTPUT. CHARLES SPENCER ANDERSON, WHOSE CSA ARCHIVE IS BUILT AROUND PHOTOSHOP, SHOWED A COMIC SIDE. AND LANCE HIDY’S SPIRITUAL SURREAL SIDE WAS GIVEN OUTLET.

 

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IT WAS INTERESTING TO SEE HOW POLISHED SOME OF THE WORK WAS. HANK OSUNA BROUGHT HIS OWN TYPEFACES AND SUCCESSFUL REPLICATED SOMETHING HE WOULD HAVE DONE MANUALLY. AND KAREN BARBOUR, KNOWN FOR IMPRESSIONISTIC WATERCOLOR, KEPT HER STYLE WHILE SHIFTING TO FLAT COLOR.

INCIDENTALLY, WE WERE TOLD THAT PHOTOSHOP HAD NOT YET BEEN THE DECIDED UPON NAME. WE INSISTED IT WAS PERFECT.

 

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AS A PROFESSION AND AS A CULTURE, WE ALL BECAME ACCUSTOMED TO PHOTOSHOP. SO, THERE WAS PLENTY OF ROOM FOR SCHLOCK.

 

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ALWAYS ONE WHO SEES THE GLASS HALF EMPTY, I WROTE THAT THE MAINSTREAMING OF THE PROGRAM ALSO TRIGGERED UNWANTED CONSEQUENCES. OF COURSE, THAT IS THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS: NOVEL, INNOVATION, MEDIOCRITIZATION.

 

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YOU MAY BE WONDERING WHAT HAPPENED AFTER I RETURNED HOME FROM CAMP. EXCITEDLY, I TOLD EVERYBODY THAT I HAD SEEN THE FUTURE (WHICH THEY ALREADY KNEW FROM MORE SAVVY REPORTERS THAN ME). THE SCITEX WAS IN USE BUT AS AN ELEPHANTINE SCANNER, PRIOR TO GETTING DESKTOP SCANNERS FOR THE ART DEPARTMENT. EVENTUALLY, IT BECAME A COFFEE TABLE.

 

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AND THE SECOND SCITEX WAS NEVER TAKEN OUT OF THE BOX. RATHER, USELESS FOR OUR NEEDS, OVERTAKEN BY PHOTOSHOP, THE CRATE SAT THERE, WITHOUT EVEN THE CARE WE GAVE TO THE OLD AND OBSOLETE LINOTYPE MACHINES. EVENTUALLY BOTH MACHINES DISAPPEARED. AND INCIDENTALLY, SO DID THE WONDERFUL OLD PHOTOSHOP ICON. BOTH WERE CASUALTIES OF THE DIGITAL EVOLUTION.

 


PRINT magazine Spring 2016 issuePick up a copy of Print’s Spring 2016 issue before the summer issue drops.

The Spring 2016 issue takes a dive into the largest design capital of the world: New York City. Get an exclusive look into the lives of design celebrities–from James Victore to Timothy Goodman, Jessica Walsh to Stefan Sagmeister. And then ask yourself: what makes a designer a celebrity? And is there a difference between “celebrity” and “fame?”

All of this PLUS the winners of the Typography & Lettering Awards, the history of Helvetica and a sneak peek at Seymour Chwast’s next exhibit.

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