Lay it on me

In the 1990s, the Mac made experimenting with layouts a breeze. Today, it’s still where great ideas can take shape

Design: Philippe Apeloig. Client: Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond; Year: 2000
Design: Philippe Apeloig. Client: Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond; Year: 2000

When I worked as a junior art director in advertising agencies, sometime in the last century, I had a pretty frustrating time.

Apart from getting fired on an annoyingly regular basis, it was extremely difficult to physically create the kind of layouts I wanted to do.

This was in the pre-Mac era when photo-lettering was sent out to a typesetting company, then, when it eventually came back, it was photographed using a PMT camera and the layout was put together by sticking the various elements on a board. As I’m sure you can imagine, the cost and time involved made it very difficult for a junior art director to work on experimental layouts.

It also partly explains why most press ads from that era all look the same. Centred headline, squared-off picture and three columns of body copy. Relatively straightforward to do under pressure, but kind of boring.

Then, in the early 90s, Macs started to appear. Hallelujah.

The only problem was that the agency where I worked wouldn’t buy me one. So I spent a ton of cash that I couldn’t really afford and bought my own. I then taught myself QuarkXpress, Illustrator and Photoshop.

Suddenly I could spend all night and weekend trying different layouts. No longer having to rely on other people in the agency or the constraints of time and money.

My art direction and design improved and I started to win a lot of awards.

It always puzzled me why more art directors didn’t do the same. And it’s still true today. Very few art directors in ad agencies show any aptitude or desire to create interesting layouts.

So if you’re a student or junior art director reading this, my advice is put the hours in on the Mac. It will make you much better at the craft side of your job and will give you a competitive advantage in terms on getting a promotion or your next job.

In fact, it’s especially important to have these skills in the current climate of dwindling client budgets, rampant client cost controllers and the decimation of creative departments/salaries.

There are times when you just have to say “sod ’em” and do it yourself.

Which brings me to this month’s featured work.

A fantastic poster by Philippe Apeloig for a group exhibition of internationally renowned designers. No pressure then.

This really is a gloriously simple yet intellectually elegant solution. It’s an exhibition of posters so why not make the typography out of folded sheets of paper. Spelling the title of the show: The Poster. With the names of the contributing designers ingeniously incorporated to help define the characters.

Apart from the brilliant idea of course, this could be put together by you on a Mac. Almost for free. Something to bear in mind next time someone is telling you there’s no budget for a decent photographer or illustrator. Or me

Paul Belford is the founder of Paul Belford Ltd,, @belford_paul

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