Just the Job

Guest article by Paul King

"Right then, we're going to teach you to do a pin-up!" This was not, however, a lesson on how to get your end away with a model – oh no. This was my introduction in how to lay out pages for the publishing company I was to work for way back in January 1988. You have to bear in mind that 1988 was a year when we were right on the cusp of the desktop publishing revolution. We got our first Apple macs in late 1988, so I had almost a year of working in a dying, bizarre niche world of publishing before the big change came into play.

At that time, most publishing houses would receive their text matter in the form of galleys. These were full pages with columns of text for designers (or in my case, editorial assistant) to be cut up and arranged in a pleasing composition along with any photographs or advertisements. It was more common to use a wax heating machine to fix the text strips to the page unless you worked for a really flash outfit that might use spraymount (for us, Spraymount was always considered too expensive). So alas no, we had our own unique system.

I was presented with a box of pins to literally pin the strips of text to a page (the theory being that it was easier to alter if necessary). Once this was done, along with such instructions to the typesetter as , "Minus lead this column please to make it match up with its partner," it would go back to him (or her) to be set as indicated. At that time none of us got a look-in when it came to the covers. most of them had been done months prior to the book being worked on. We used an agency to do them and we all felt a bit cheated about it. Within 6 months that all changed. This was because myself and a couple of other, newer staff members had used earlier desk top publishing systems at college and so we started campaigning at our company to get Apple Macs. The funny thing is that when we did eventually get the computers they were on our desks for over 3 months before we were allowed to use them. If we attempted to, we were told to, "get on with our proper work."

As we all know now, this proved to be the end of jobs such as 'compositor' and 'typesetter' and expanded the role of graphic designer because of it. Most of the books I designed were funded by advertisements and were designed for Local Authorities. This meant that 50% of the advertising would also be created by me as would all of the editorial content. The photographs would be supplied as hard copy, in the early days at least. These would have to be marked up to show size needed and any cropping preferences and sent away to be scanned. These days everything arrives on a disk, so much easier.

It was my job to select the right pic to accompany the text, crop it Photoshop, improve it where needed (no yellow teeth in my books and skies were always blue!) When copy for an advert was needed, I would jump at the chance to write it and ultimately, the job became all-encompassing and I really enjoyed it. It was only the management that really made the job unpleasant.

I must have designed hundreds of books in my time (twenty years) at the company and even though they are no more, it was a fascinating place for me to learn my craft and to evolve as both a designer and as a person.

Now I am ready to be snapped up again at 51, so if you are looking for a well qualified designer/illustrator with flare (flares actually, they never died out in Gloucester!) – then I am your man!

Art by Paul King


the Amateur Book Blogger said...

Paul - this is a fascinating snapshot. Pins!

Jane Turley said...

It really is incredible just how much change there has been in the workplace over the last twenty years. Like you, I worked in an archaic industry where we recorded every little detail by hand.. and then about 1989 the first computer arrived which was used for stock control and started a revolution not just in stock contol but in thinking too.. many of the older staff who had been there 20/30 years could not cope with the changes, discontent was rife as attitudes and values changed. These days no one is guaranteed a job for life; we just have to learn to fight our corner in this ever changing world.
Nice article Paul about an area I knew very little about.

Mike French said...

Yep, a fun and informative article Paul - thanks for contributing to the magazine and giving us a glimpse into yesteryear.

Unknown said...

The part I've experienced best is where you had the Macs on your desk but weren't supposed to touch them, even though they probably would not have landed there if you hadn't already made a strong case to your superiors.
I don't know for certain but it seems as if an entire earlier generation was taught to fear technology: it could all explode any minute now.