Over the past few years it has been harder and harder to setup a page describing the design I do. I have been a professional graphic designer for over 25 years at this point. Around 1987 a high school friend and I started a one-off, hand painted T-Shirt business and sold the shirts at a store in the Red Bank Mall. We were totally clueless about screen printing back then, which would have helped in several ways. Though we probably only made a couple dozen shirts it was a lot of fun and while we were doing it we saw on a couple occasions people wearing our designs out and about. That was a weird feeling.
My parents had bought a Mac SE in 1986 and I had messed around on it with some design stuff over my junior and senior years of high school, but again, I really had no idea what I was doing. The highlight over those years would have been designing a zine for a class assignment. I used to make comics with a friend in elementary/middle school, but making the zine I was able to type set copy and use photocopying to setup layouts.
I went to Missouri State University (then known as Southwest Missouri State University) for my freshman year of college. I really wanted to be a DJ at the university’s radio station, but after being blown off a couple times, I decided to try the university paper called The Standard. Not only did I get a job there as a features writer, but I was paid to do it! Though a small amount of money, it was an incentive. One night a week there would be a crunch time to get the paper together to go to the printer. This was an amazing educational experience because the paper was setup pre-desktop publishing with phototypesetting process. The copy was typed into a computer, but like HTML coding, codes were applied to the copy for font size, bold, and italicizing. The stories were printed out on a photo-quality paper in black and white in long columns. We would have preset boards with column rules in light blue would use a hot glue roller to apply the columns. Images and other graphics would also be included. This experience really helped me to bridge the technology gap with desktop publishing, or then referred to as computer added graphic design.
The fall of 1989 I transferred to Rutgers University in New Brunswick for my sophomore year. Again, I tried to work at the school’s radio station – WRSU 88.7 FM – and this time I became a DJ after the rigorous application process that involved creating a demo tape on a crazy cousin to the 8-track tape that was used back in the day for storying commercials, PSAs, bumpers, and news pieces on. First, though, we created the demo on a real-to-real machine and had to cut tape with a razor and tape. Total caveman radio! Anywho, the station had a Mac SE 30 – very similar computer to what my parents had, but with a hard drive! Here’s a fun video from 1991 with my good friend, Brian Goad, in the beginning and you can see the computer in the background to the left. The computer had a copy of Illustrator and PageMaker on it. It was probably around version 1.0 each. It was fun to hang around the station in the evenings, so I would set at the computer and go through every function the programs had. Again, in those days there were very few options. After a few months I knew both programs like the back of my hand and was able to start creating things that I could imagine. The computer had a 9″ monochrome monitor so proportions had to be imagined, and to do complicated and/or two-color layouts I would have to print on acetate and paper. It was so much fun designing this way because it was hands-on construction of the work.
In 1990, the band i was in had recorded a demo tape as was the usual way of getting gigs and “shopping” it around to labels. Independent record labels had been popping up around like mushrooms. It occurred to me to be much easier to start your own record label then trying to get a deal, and then dealing with the deal. We recorded a six-song EP and I started Well Primed Records. By having a label it allowed me to create flyers for gigs and designs for the various releases including 7″s, LPs, CDs, and cassettes. By the time I graduated college in 1992 I had a developed portfolio. Since the job market was not good for any angle with the record business I got my first job as a graphic designer for the Rutgers Intramural Department.
Over the past 20 years I have done a vast array of design projects for a wide array of clients. There are so many designs that I have given up on cataloging them. Also, 99% of the work I have done has been for others or for a specific function that I needed something for. Now that I have been moving into academia I have been fortunate enough to make money through teaching and my research. As I move forward with the PhD process my hope is that I will not have to rely on graphic design as an occupation, but can move into as an expressive art form. I am very excited to make this transition and explore creating the things I want when I want them. I have felt over the years that since I had been doing so much design as a career that I was uninspired to maintain creativity in my private life. Over the next few months I hope to make this transformation. Let’s see how things go!