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In the modern agency are ideas and craft still king?

September 3 2018

I’ve been in this game for a long time – a really long time – nearly 25 years now.
And boy, has it changed.
When I started out in this crazy industry there were:
No computers – actually we had one – an ancient Apple MacIntosh SE30
No email.
No internet.
No PDFs.
No ‘10 second to print’ printers.

What we did have were ideas and craft.
We also had marker pens, layout pads, paint (not the Microsoft kind) a light box, photo copier, the Royal Mail, a man with a van (to deliver work to the client when we did all-nighters) and the ‘repro house’.
Then, as now, all ideas started with a sketch - no art direction, just a great idea, badly drawn, but a good idea badly drawn is still better than a bad idea ‘shutterstocked’ to within an inch of its life.

The creative process
Chosen ideas were visualized with Pantone marker pens – very expensive felt tips – images traced from Getty and Telegraph photo library books – the equivalent of today’s online photo libraries – font choices made from Letraset catalogues and enlarged on a photo copier – printed out and traced – everything was hand drawn and mounted on boards with beautiful cover papers, before being presented to the client.

A project, be it an ad, brochure or piece of packaging, could take days to produce. If we hadn’t nailed the brief, the client might completely reject the designs and then it was literally back to the drawing board - late nights were frequent.

The designer often went through the whole process again to develop their designs into second, third or more stages before final approval was given by the client. It was pretty laborious.

Bringing ideas to life
Once the designs were approved, the work needed artworking – the process of getting it ready to go to the printers. Any text was needed would be written. If illustrations and photographs were required, these were either commissioned or we used images from a photo library catalogue. Once you had chosen the images you wanted from this catalogue, you would receive physical photos or transparencies through the post to choose from.

Text was set into paragraphs that fitted the design – this was put on a floppy disk and taken to the repro house where they produced photo quality print outs of the copy – they also scanned the images required.

The ‘artwork’ was then put together. You started with a board and
all the elements were stuck to it. If it was a brochure page, the paragraphs of text were pasted in place, positional drawings of
any photographs and text bits were stuck on as well as overlays that told the printer what colours printed where and what images were to be used and where.

We crafted stuff and it took a long time, a very long time.

Into the digital age
So, in the modern, million-mile-an-hour world we live in now, does this change the way that ideas are valued or the craft that goes into them?

In a word, no.
Things have really changed, but in reality they haven’t .

Blank layout pads still scream at you waiting for that eureka moment to be put onto them, and the first thing I still do is pick up a pen.

Technology may have moved on but what drives us here at BBD hasn’t. We still strive for the great ideas and we still believe, in this throwaway, 24/7, always-on, relentless world, there is space for craft - making something that bit better by really giving a shit - it’s what drives us - it always has. It is more relentless now with almost instant feedback from clients and any image you want at the click of a mouse, but we have adapted to work quickly and collaboratively with our clients. It’s the best way to avoid those awkward moments when we go ‘ta-dah!’ only to be met with the phrase every creative dreads, ‘Well… that’s not quite what we were looking for.’ We like to work with clients and involve them at every possible stage of the process – and yes, we still start with a scamp.

Now, where’s my Sharpie?