OK Computer (Q&A)

AUTHOR:  
Published:  March 13, 2013
Heath Killen
OK Computer (Q&A)

Our latest issue (#291) features an article on a workshop recently organised by Warren Taylor at Monash University. The workshop was developed in response to the ’90s theme of the issue, and involved Taylor inviting a handful of students to recreate some classic ’90s albums covers using a recently purchased 1997 Macintosh G3 computer.

You’ll have to pick up a copy of the issue to discover more about the workshop and it’s outcomes – but today we’re sharing the Q&As that Taylor conducted with participants, many of whom were in kindergarten when the computer was released.

It really is astonishing to consider how much has changed in this industry over such a short period of time, and these students were able to get a glimpse into graphic design’s recent past: the pre-broadband, primitive-digital era where stock photo libraries came in books, files were saved to floppy discs, and Desktop magazine was still about the fine art of desktop publishing.

Amelia Chieng

How old were you in 1997?
5

What was your first experience on a computer – in particular using desktop publishing software?
My first experience designing anything would have been in a forum some friends started early on in high school; the main banner, avatars, signatures… very corny stuff.

You would have expected the machine to be slower than a current model desktop computer, but what elements of working on this machine surprised you (if any)?
It was pretty fast considering the age and the fact that it was running photoshop and quark. Photoshop still had most of the same functions whereas Quark has developed immensely.

What was the motive behind your CD selection?
We liked the quirky name of the album, ‘Wowee Zowee!’

What processes (if any) did you go through that you would normally bypass in making work?
Actually looking through a resource book for images rather than thinking about what you want and plugging the keyword in google or a stock website. Also, finding the limitations of Quark throughout the working process makes me appreciate what we’re capable of doing with programs these days.

And finally, your thoughts on design from this period (ie. Tomato, Brody, Grieman) compared to design in 2012/13.
The designs of those CD jackets seemed focused on hand-generated imagery/illustration, as well as the use of handwriting instead of generic fonts, they were more experimental… except for wu-tang, the photo booklet was a standout for me as far as self-naming choices went. But it does depend on the genre of music I guess. There is still a market for illustration in album cover design, but whereas the covers of back then were more focused on portraying the aesthetic of content, you mostly see highly stylised and retouched studio photographs now, it’s all about how you look and what theme you’re selling this time.

Ziyi Huang

How old were you in 1997?
I was 5, turning 6.

What was your first experience on a computer – in particular using desktop publishing software?
My first experience was on an old commodore Amiga that my dad picked up in a garage sale, complete with a dot matrix printer! It wasn’t until we bought a PC running Windows XP that I first learnt the ins and outs of creating stuff on a computer… With Publisher! Eventually I got my hands on Photoshop.

You would have expected the machine to be slower than a current model desktop computer, but what elements of working on this machine surprised you (if any)?
I expected it to be slower than what we have today, but it surprised me that the Finder in Mac OS was crap and is still crap.

What was the motive behind your CD selection?
We just chose what we felt like we had a lot of creative freedom in designing, plus Wowee Zowee was a name we couldn’t pass on.

What processes (if any) did you go through that you would normally bypass in making work?
With the computer being slower than we were used to, we had to use the computer as a tool to just get tasks done rather than using it to do all the research and mocking up.

And finally, your thoughts on design from this period (ie. Tomato, Brody, Grieman) compared to design in 2012/13.
I feel that the design of the period was very experimental considering the dawn of the computer age and designers were really pushing the limits of what they could achieve on the computer. I think today where computers are the go to for design there’s been a resurgence in traditional methods of image making, where now we value the hand skills that are involved with design, something we don’t see that much anymore where digital media is everywhere.

Cassie Brock

How old were you in 1997?
I was 7.

What was your first experience on a computer – in particular using desktop publishing software?
My parents bought our first computer around the same time I was born, so I can’t actually remember the first time I used one. The first ‘creative’ program I used was probably KidPix sometime in primary school. But I’m not sure if that really counts. I found out about Photoshop mid high school and thought it was amazing.

You would have expected the machine to be slower than a current model desktop computer, but what elements of working on this machine surprised you (if any)?
The speed really did surprise me. I was expecting slow, but not 15 minutes to place one image slow. Also, it took us a long time to figure out the smallest things, like changing the font size or even opening photoshop.

What was the motive behind your CD selection?
We thought that Smog’s folk style would work well with the hand drawn aesthetic we wanted to go for.

What processes (if any) did you go through that you would normally bypass in making work?
We spent a lot more time planning what we were going to do before we went anywhere near the computer. I’d almost forgotten how great it was to think through what you were designing before you started. Normally I’d be on the computer straight away.

And finally, your thoughts on design from this period (ie. Tomato, Brody, Grieman) compared to design in 2012/13.
I think design in the ’90s was a lot more experimental when it came to technology as designers were just starting to find their feet in digital processes. These days design is a lot more refined and controlled. There’s something good to be said about both design eras.

Takiri Nia

How old were you in 1997?
8

What was your first experience on a computer – in particular using desktop publishing software?
My first experience on a computer was playing the discontinued Microsoft game dangerous creatures which I’m pretty sure used to come included when you bought a pc.

You would have expected the machine to be slower than a current model desktop computer, but what elements of working on this machine surprised you (if any)?
I was suprised how quickly I was able to work in terms of getting the project done. Using the machine was (definitely) slow but if you count the time I would usually spend on a computer checking my rss feed, emails, facebook etc etc (etc) in between actually working, finishing this brief so quickly was a kind of horrifying indicator of how much non-work I currently do when I’m working.

What was the motive behind your CD selection?
The Pavement one was taken

What processes (if any) did you go through that you would normally bypass in making work?
Well one process we didnt go through was looking on the internet for a few hours checking design blogs, ‘inspiration sites’. We sort of talked about the brief and decided on a direction and then looked through the stock photo books with a pretty clear idea of what we wanted imagewise.
The planning process, which I think we definitely go through with any brief anyway, was just a little more concentrated, just because we didnt have the luxury of working things out while actually doing it, we couldnt move things around easily and make changes onscreen as much as we are used to which meant we had to be a lot more considered and pay a lot more attention in the initial stages, were as I think at least when I’m designing I can work these things out toward the end of a design.

And finally, your thoughts on design from this period (ie. Tomato, Brody, Grieman) compared to design in 2012/13.
There are a lot of great designers and designs which came out of this period but its hard to have an opinion on the whole era or movement in the 90s, specifically though, the work tomato was doing in the 90s I come back to a lot. I was influenced a lot by the art and music that came out of the 90s, things like the alleged gallery and the graphic designer mike mills were the things that got me paying attention to art and ultimately design in the first place. And whoever was doing the Comme des Garçons advertisements in the 90s. Have you seen those old print ads? They are awesome.

Florence Li Ting Fong

How old were you in 1997?
5

What was your first experience on a computer – in particular using desktop publishing software?
That would probably be in Year 6 when we had to design a fictional newspaper in Microsoft Publisher.

You would have expected the machine to be slower than a current model
desktop computer, but what elements of working on this machine
surprised you (if any)?
It was the simple things like not having shortcuts to the type tool or the selection tool that surprised me the most. It’s one of those things that you don’t really appreciate until they’re gone. It was frustrating not being able to use them and I think it really shows how technology and designers have evolved, where everything is so fast-paced.

What processes (if any) did you go through that you would normally bypass in making work?
We came into the workshop not really knowing the capabilities of the computer, and I guess we foolishly expected we could move things around and play with layouts as easily as we can on our own computers. But, that wasn’t the case. I think the layouts and imagery had to be more considered before transferring it onto the computer. It just ended up being such a slow process to rely so heavily on the computer to experiment with elements.

And finally, your thoughts on design from this period (ie. Tomato, Brody, Grieman) compared to design in 2012/13.
I think some of it is brilliant, but some of it also makes me cringe a little. It was obviously experimental and pushed the limits of what Photoshop was capable of, and the tools accessible. I definitely gained a new appreciation for the work that they did on these machines after being put through a similar process.

Caitlin Parkinson

How old were you in 1997?
6

What was your first experience on a computer – in particular using desktop publishing software?
First experience on a computer was using MS Paint and Word, first experience with desktop publishing was Microsoft Publisher – didn’t use Indesign until 2010, at Monash.

You would have expected the machine to be slower than a current model desktop computer, but what elements of working on this machine surprised you (if any)?
I was surprised at it’s capabilities, I expected it to be much less flexible with what it could achieve.

What processes (if any) did you go through that you would normally bypass in making work?
We spent much more time planning before we even began, and less experimentation later, because it was so time consuming to try something and then change our minds. I haven’t really worked with stock images before so searching through those and working out what we needed was a new process too.

And finally, your thoughts on design from this period (ie. Tomato, Brody, Grieman) compared to design in 2012/13.
I think design in the 90s was about trying new things in a technological sense, because designers didn’t know what computers were capable of and found new ways to design information digitally. Now that computers are an established design tool which most of the general public have access to, creating interesting and original design seems to requires more refinement. The 90s aesthetic seems primitive, and sometimes chaotic from a current perspective, because technology has progressed so far since then, I like that sort of design in a nostalgic way because it was around in my childhood, but I feel like today’s design is more sophisticated and elegant.

Enjoyed reading this feature? You can find more like it inside desktop magazine. Take a look at this month’s subscription special.

 

2 Responses

  1. Wow, that’s a really cool project. Some of the responses from the students were great and it does make you appreciate just how far things have come in computer-land!

  2. What a awesome project. It is really amazing to see how far computers have come. I sometimes long for the day when they were so much more simple and you didnt have as many security risks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *