Graphic Design Before Computers

Whatever your relationship with them, computers have changed pretty much every industry since they were introduced to the workplace. They have even changed our daily activities, making them easier (in most cases) and often automated.

In the graphic design industry, they have taken away some of the heartache that gave designers their characteristic cynicism. That’s not to say we don’t still have the odd twinge of angst when something beautiful gets tarred with the mediocre brush, but it’s much less often than before, and rarely life-threatening.

The computer and desktop publishing has made design so much more immediate. Something that would have taken days a decade ago, now takes hours. It’s given us more time to provide more crafted, loved pieces of work. Careful attention to detail is key to design, and it’s these small tweaks that make a real difference, like making type digestible instead of being difficult and unappealing to read. It’s a designer’s job to make information easily readable and it is not as easy as you think.

Believe it or not, every single thing a designer does onscreen with the click of a button and a drag of the mouse, would mean a series of labor-intensive, rudimentary actions in the pre-digital world — cue hours of measuring, drawing, cutting and pasting before you could even begin putting a print layout together, which would then require the use of a host of cumbersome machines to get the finished article. Desktop publishing and the evolution of computers has changed all of this. But forgetting more traditional methods completely, would be a mistake. They form the foundations of typographic design.

Just because computers and modern desktop publishing software allows us to produce designs more efficiently and gives us the option to try out different designs on screen, it doesn’t mean we, here at It Starts, don’t respect and use older methods where applicable. We like to go back to the foundations of design, to the core of typography, and use our original training we were taught all those years ago. It’s how we show our craft and deliver a top quality product.

Before we start working on screen, or even think about a computer, we start to sketch, cut and stick. That’s how we see: a) if this layout concept works; and b) if it allows us to really engage and feel the design. You can very quickly adjust layouts on a wall, annotate designs. This raw method really does free your creative mind in a way that going ‘straight to screen’ just doesn’t. We believe this is fundamental, which is why we do it on every job.

Our simple four step process includes starting with drawing and sketching. It is as follows:

‘Identify’ the issue.

‘Think’ how we can solve it.

‘Create’ that unique solution.

‘Launch’ it into the real world.


We take the time to make sure the design looks good on paper first, before we translate it to screen for desktop publishing. That means our clients don’t pay more than they have to, and we avoid the heartache that comes from re-doing work one pixel at a time. Call it a win-win.

Graphic Means’ is a documentary film currently in post-production that looks to unveil the fascinating world of graphic design before desktop publishing, and will undoubtedly inspire in you feelings of unconditional love for your MacBook. Take a look at the trailer above, and admire the human ingenuity that was necessary for transforming an idea into a printed page.

If you have any questions about our process, feel free to email us at If you haven’t got any questions, then we must have nailed it, so you should call us to start something special.