Studying from 1966–1968
Studying design in the 1960s I found myself wedged between the ‘commercial artists’ of previous years and the problem solving ‘graphic designers’ seen in Europe. While I found that difficult, in reality, I was taught a great range of skills that enabled me to build a design studio that could solve difficult design problems with artistic flair.
I studied art at Meadowbank, North Sydney, and Ultimo Technical Colleges from 1966 until the end of 1968. The first 2 years were essentially classical art training with a little commercial art thrown in for good measure. The third year we attended East Sydney Art School — the national art school — which was dedicated to graphic design. Three years training Including winning a Commonwealth Scholarship for life drawing, started my design journey. But in those days, that was not the end of it. We were supposed to attend night classes, one day a week to polish the rough edges off our basic skills. Most of us did not complete the fourth year as we gained full-time employment, we outgrew what they were teaching at TAFE.
My design journey began with my first job in a small publishing house in Rose Bay, Sydney, December 1968 at Agostini Publications. The owner was former West Indian sprinter — who competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics — Mike Agostini. My job description was junior designer, but in reality, I was the odd-job person. Which was great! I learned all aspects of publishing from text preparation through to the printed booklet. On one occasion I even helped sell the cricket magazines we published — at the Sydney Cricket Ground on a Saturday — after one very long day the Friday before, where I spent all day and all night preparing and helping to printing it. Heady stuff for a 19 year old.
While man walked on the moon, my second job was for a studio, Commercial Art Services in Sussex street, Sydney, for about 9 months before travelling by motorcycle to Perth and back.
During my time at CAS, I designed a new logo for the company, created many technical publications working with our team of typists who produced their work on IMB Selectric ‘golf ball’ machines. They typed words at a maximum size of 12pt! Tiny by today’s standards. But when you needed the headings to be bigger, you had to go to the darkroom and enlarge them on the process camera, or Letraset them (a rub-down hand lettering process) if the appropriate typeface was available. And by-the-way, the machines did NOT have a memory, so if text had to be changed, the girls — as they all were — had to re-type the whole changed area.
All the graphic work we created in those days was BY HAND.
Pre computer days by 20 years. There were some primitive phototypesetting machines but easy access was difficult and expensive especially or urgent deadlines.
If you could draw, you had more chance of employment in graphic design back then. Lucky for me I could. Availability of photography was limited, costly and took too long for fast turnaround. Drawing “headings” by hand was still happening in some studios and advertising agencies. We were taught to “hand letter” at TAFE. Even taught to use a calligraphic pen. All these skills were in my design arsenal ready to attack the graphic world. Well so I thought at that young age.
The reality was that great jobs were just as hard to come by as in every era. In fact getting any job was a bonus. Australia was going through a recession and design and advertising re-thinking about the way things were done. Letraset (rub-down lettering) was making in-roads in Australian graphics after being invented a few years earlier in England. These days a European invention becomes a worldwide hit immediately. Back then it took a long time for things to “trickle downunder”.
So, friends ready, motor bikes ready, well not my Beesa (BSA) as it broke down, so I had to double up with mate Paul Steltzer on his Norton Commando S — we were off to Perth!
While travelling I found it impossible to gain graphic design work so my meagre savings soon ran out! I needed a job fast. Here I was in Perth in December 1969 and we saw an advertisement for work in the Royal Perth Hospital as a patient orderly (wardsmen I think they are called now). Got the job and on the first morning I had to help take a deceased person’s body to the morgue! Wow, what we do to earn a crust. But my time there taught me much about human nature and that hospitals are not just about sickness — it is more about human positive and negative reactions to sickness. Amazing vitality really.
After 4 months in Perth, we decided to travel to Melbourne. Again, no graphic design jobs, but quickly, I was driving a forklift at the Ever-hot factory. How I got that still confuses me as I had never driven one before? If I had stayed longer maybe I would have found out. But as luck would have it, four weeks into the drudgery, I received a telegram from my parents informing me of a graphic design job offer in Canberra! Out of the blue it seemed at first, but the seeds I had sown in the mind of the boss of the Australian News & Information Service a year and a half before had come to fruition.
History shows that I fast-footed my way back to Sydney, put a portfolio together, and started my new adventure in July. The 27th in fact, right in the middle of a very, very cold Canberra winter, but at least I was back in design.
I spent 7 productive years in the organisation working on many design projects promoting Australia to the world. That was the ANIBs role and the professional group of journalists, editors, photographers, film producers and designers eventually became Promotion Australia, part of the department of Foreign Affairs.
Part of my time with ANIB was spent seconded to the Department of the Interior, that in those days looked after the territories as well as the states. I produced work for them that laid the foundations for the structure that eventually became the ACT Government.
During the late 1970s I began my own studio. Firstly, Gray Graphics, then The Artworks, later called Spincreative with a name change along with partners. The start of over 50 years of graphic design business. The start of many new and wondrous technical advances for the industry I love.
In 1979 I was proudly asked to be part of the consultative committee to build a graphic design course for TAFE in the ACT. Up until 1986 students from Canberra had to train in Sydney or Melbourne.
During the 1980s The Artworks split its portfolio into two major areas of production:
- graphic design work for Grey Advertising, the multi-national agency; and
- graphic design and advertising work for many private businesses and government departments.
The 1980s welcomed a phenomenon in publishing circles with the fast expansion of computers in many aspects of our daily working life. It started with phototypesetters. The first typesetting machine my business purchased — a Varityper 1200 — had no screen, so the typesetter could not see what they were writing UNTIL they output to bromide (photographic) paper. All with coding to make the words turn into typesetting. A bit like a coder working in html these days but WITHOUT previewing what they created. Unfortunately that machine could only set up-to 24pt size. So to enlarge, back to the good old darkroom! My second machine was much smarter! After the operator input the words with code — they saw the words in ascii — but had to press a button to see what the code had done to the text.
So when I began experimenting with the ‘new’ technology of computer graphics with an Apple Macintosh SE and rough 300dpi Laserwriter. I was enthralled seeing it produce almost unlimited type sizes, and right in front of our eyes. No coding, no waiting just tell it what font you wanted and type. Bingo!
In 1987, I transform the large studio of twelve people comprising designers, illustrators ‘paste-up’ artists and one typesetter supplying ‘galleys’ to the team, to the first fully electronic studio in Canberra — with all twelve people sitting in front of their own Macintosh computer. We were THE FIRST studio in Canberra and certainly one of the very few in Australia to invest in the technology so completely. We were also the FIRST studio in Australia — to obtain a 600dpi laser printer, the Varityper VT600 for the princely sum of $32,000. Staff thought I was mad! Most jumped ship over the next 12 months to be replaced with like minded people who understood the direction publishing was going.
The Artworks was on its way designing, marketing and producing advertising services — electronically.
We broadened our electronic skills at the start of the 1990s, firstly improving our skill set in the main software we used everyday for layout work — PageMaker — then Adobe Illustrator, used for drawing and logo creation. We later changed to Freehand vector software because it was much easier to use and had multiple pages long before Illustrator did. [went back to Illustrator years later only because it was part of the Adobe Creative Suite].
Later, we had to change our layout application to QuarkXpress because PageMaker would not work with the new digital imposition software that came onto the market for printers. Strangely, both PageMaker and the imposition software were made by the same manufacturer, Aldus. So why didn’t it work? The printers’ prepress departments refused to work with PageMaker because it didn’t always impose correctly. So that was the end of PageMaker as a professional publishing tool.
QuarkXpress was the industry standard for many years and was very powerful. Personally, I found the need to specify text “holders” before entering text awkward. I was used to the free flowing PageMaker that let me create a piece of text wherever I liked. Quark remained the standard for most of the decade even though an up-grade cost $2500 per copy. My studio had a ten pack! So it cost me $25,000 every time they upgraded. Thankfully back then upgrades did NOT occur as often as they do in the 2020s.
We changed the The Artworks name to Spincreative in 1995 to better reflect the level of interactive products the studio was producing as well as printed publications along with a partnership. The partnership did not last 12 months but I had to stay with the name change even though some clients did not like the new name.
While the studio had a large client list, I have personally produced graphic work for: The Australian Electoral Commission, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Health, Department of Immigration & Indigenous Affairs, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Department of Finance, The European Union, Australian Tax Office, National Trust of Australia, Diabetes Australia, Ausaid, CRD Casey No1, TAFE Directors Australia and many more.
The 2000s began with Spincreative graphic design located in Yarralumla shops above the supermarket.
A great place for business and especially good when you played golf at Royal Canberra Golf Course located in the same suburb within 400 metres.
During this period, due to another divorce, I reduced my staff and eventually became a sole trader, mainly creating advertising material for a couple of housing developers creating housing developments and whole suburbs.
While the 2000s started with the millennium bug scare, in reality it was the start of the ‘proper’ internet era.
We had been creating html websites from about 1991, but they were merely on screen brochures. Small images could only be used as the connection speeds were very slow.
Thankfully, speeds continued to increase allowing us to design more exciting websites with larger photographs and create sites that were ‘active’. That meant we could add forms and allow people to download pdfs as the new way of communicating and distributing information.
An early example of a website was for the 2005 new suburb in Gungahlin ‘Harrison Park’. This was my first advertising campaign for a developer group — CRD — that included a website in our advertising plan.
A campaign normally included TV, radio, printed matter, newspaper advertising, and sometimes direct mail. banners and special events.
As the suburb Harrison was on the old Cobb & Co stage route of the 1880s, we hired a stage coach from that era and used it in the campaign. I even has a ride in it! Wow, how uncomfortable. Apparently the cost of a ticket from Canberra to Sydney in 1880 was the same as a Qantas ticket to London in 2005.
The success of Harrison Park ensured I also created and managed campaigns for the suburbs of ‘Casey’ and ‘Casey Heights’ in Gungahlin.
Another huge client through the 2000s was TAFE Directors Australia — the peak body for TAFES in Australia — a really special client for me as I was a TAFE trained person and was part of the consultative committee in 1979 that designed the course for the graphic design course in the yet to be created CIT. I also taught part time in CIT during the 2000s along with some lecturing at Canberra University.