Having just celebrated the 17th anniversary of the launch of my creative services / graphic design business Gabriel Design I found myself reminiscing on the past 17 years. Sometimes it seems like an absolute age ago when I took the plunge, on other days I’m surprised to find so much time has passed. I was a little past my 30th birthday when Gabriel Design was born, and had 12 years industry experience already. What I also had was no money, no investment, no backers and just one client, and perhaps an inflated ego.
There have been a lot of people who have influenced me and my career over the past 29 years and suspect two of the most important will always be my first boss Mary Williams and my first studio manager Rod Page. Having just left sixth form with just two A levels (graphical communication and art) Mary took a gamble on employing me and handed me over to Rod to train up. 29 years later I’m still here and still working.
Of course 29 years ago was back in the dark ages before computers were regularly used for design and print, and before any kind of commercial internet. So Rod trained me up in traditional techniques, stood (or perched on a tall stool) at a massive drawing board. We used art board, blue pencils, Rotring pens, wax as adhesive and petrol to clean artwork. Typesetting was bought in from specialist houses and we had to ‘cast off’ type to have it set to the correct size, leading and width. Headlines were often made up using Letraset with manual kerning and spacing. Items were scaled in the dark room and prints taken at the right size. I learnt all about crop marks, fold marks, perforation marks and bleed. For two and three colour jobs (and occasionally four) we would manually create layers on clear film, lining up artwork layer by layer so that the printers could shoot the plates straight from each layer. It was a genuine artisan skill.
An other area where I learnt a great deal from Rod was in areas slightly outside the studio. In a time where it wasn’t possible to select text and try a few different fonts, sizes and column widths it was important to understand type. You needed to be able to picture how the copy would look on a page before it was set. You needed to imagine how much leading was needed before starting the artwork. On tight deadlines it was important to get it right first time.
The other outside the studio area was printing. It was important to know how the printing process worked to ensure that the artwork was prepared correctly. Pagination for example; for a 12 page brochure page 12 was to the left of, and attached to page one. If the brochure was being printed ‘work and turn’ then page two was to the left of and attached to page 11 with this artwork inverted and directly above the other pages. Understanding how much bleed was required, or if the stock used would cause ink spread was important as we had to dovetail in to the printers’ art smoothly and seemlessly, and all by hand.
Working alongside the owner of MW Publicity gave me other valuable and important insights. Not only how to build relationships with suppliers, allowing for the smooth planning of large and complex projects and understanding of requirements. But also to the understanding of clients. Mary believed in a partnership with her clients. Their requirements were her requirements, their goals hers, their restrictions also. If you work alongside a client closely, and learn what they are trying to achieve you will get to see inside their heads. In most cases they will be expert in their own field but not in graphic design, advertising or marketing. If you are working closely with them, and aiming in the same direction it is possible to suggest more appropriate solutions. This can save money, time, mistakes and, hopefully reach the end goal more successfully. What we did was to, sometimes gently and sometimes only among ourselves, was to question each new project. Was it the best solution to achieve the goal? The client has requested a brochure, maybe a folder and fact sheets are more suitable? Perhaps a day’s photography in a studio may end up more economical than ad hoc short visits for each product? Is it value for money to rush through a couple of additional business cards. And so on…
I learnt a great deal more from Mary. About running a business. About pricing. About advertising and marketing. However my reminisces are falling in to these two key areas. Planning and understanding design and artwork, plus working alongside and understanding clients.
Reflecting on the first 17 years at Gabriel Design I can see how well these two cornerstones have helped build what we have achieved to date. By building relationships with clients, learning about their businesses and the goals we are able to tailor the best creative solutions. This can help clients achieve in ways they may not have considered. Then, by using a more thoughtful and considered approach to design, mixing the traditional with the digital, we are able to create balanced designs which can be used across all media. In this way we avoid clients getting caught up in trendy design for its own sake, being tied to an agency style, and to having generic design for specific fields. Knowing how the bigger picture works means we can focus in on any element that is required and know that it will work as part of the larger whole.
It’s funny. I am lucky in that I enjoy what I do for a living. I enjoy the design, the artwork, creativity. So, sometimes when I talk about work I can be a bit flippant. ‘I draw pictures for a living’ I say. In all honestly there is more to it than that, a lot more, which sometimes I only spot when looking back on an occasion. Like a 17th birthday.