The Good Olde Daze

This past Friday, along with Louise Fili, Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, I spoke at Typographics at Cooper Union on a panel titled “The Good Old Days, The Bad Old Days,” moderated by Roger Black. It was “a conversation about the days before everyone could set their own type on a Mac. They all have different perspectives, and the experience and anecdotes to back them up. Was it wonderful to get foundry repos from the typesetter, and mix it with headlines from Photo-Lettering Inc? Or is it better now?” We each had our own betes noir.

My focus was on ruling tape and all the damage that one could do with this less-than-perfect way to make thin and heavy rules and borders on layouts. Here are the culprits:

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When used somewhat responsibly, they were a comparatively easy way to make a thin or bold rule. When used with a shaky hand, the tape would never be straight, and if using parallel rules, the space would never be right, even when following grid lines:

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Compounding the problem, in my case I had no training in how to make the type break the rules. I just cut out type and pasted the galley over the rules. These days it would be called Vernacular or New Wave.

There was also a tendency to use too many rules in the wrong places. The bold ones just looked so graphic and laying down tape was so, well, easy.


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Thing is, these rules were not bad per se, they were the analog equivalent of computer filters, rules and gizmos without understanding either the theory or practice of editorial design. I plead guilty to that. Blame the shooter, not the gun—although the tapes were complicit.


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2 thoughts on “The Good Olde Daze

  1. WriterGuy

    Some of your examples show the REAL problem with border tape, even when applied carefully. The thin rules (hairline, 1pt, 2pt) had the rule embedded in (semi) clear plastic about .125 thick. For whatever reason, the clear plastic had the side-effect of turning visible the process-blue lines of a paste-up grid. No matter how talented the stripper, they couldn’t clean up all of the resulting mess (I’m guessing that’s what went wrong with the 2-pt rule above the classified that starts “HETEROSEXUAL EXECUTIVE”).

    Of course, the perfection of today’s ruled lines and boxes are vastly preferred, but I kind of miss the old days (1970s-’80s) when the skill of a paste-up artist could be measured in how well we could miter the corners of a hairline box.

  2. DarlaGirl

    Having spent much time “on the boards” as a young artist, I’ve laid out many a rule in my day. To be a successful as a mechanical artist you needed to be detail oriented and have a steady hand (and a few production tricks up your sleeve.) It really took a certain type of personality to do this type of work well. It looks like these examples are from newspapers–with a short shelf life and very quick turnaround required, they were simply slapped together, so to speak, because that is all that was required for this level of production. High end firms such as ad agencies would not produce these types of pieces. Now that I do my work digitally, I can attest to much the same situation with computer production; it can either be taken to almost an art form level or it can be a mess–only the tools have changed.