The Oldest Living Rubylith User

Several weeks ago, I was asked to do a short segment for the 25th Anniversary of Photoshop. It sounded fun until I was told I would need to demonstrate some of the tools used before Photoshop. First, this was an honor and scary at the same time. It was wonderful to be asked, but was I the last living designer who remembers what a rubylith was? And then the thought of showing how we used these tools after 25 years was challenging. But, what the heck? If I got any of it wrong, I was the last one alive to know.

During the shoot, I realized that the rapidographs weren't working and I didn't have a true square edge to the drafting table. I hoped that nobody would notice this. But I was surprised how quickly I recalled the process. I didn't have time to mix the rubber cement to the right consistency, or cut the ruby exactly (you'll know what that means if you are old). I liked how meditative the process was. It was slow and careful, a true craft. My hands even got dirty with ink and rubber cement boogers.

When I was finished with my demonstration, I kind of missed the old days of typesetting, the waxing machine, and the quiet concentration of making a mechanical. I recall going to AIGA events in New York in my early 20s. I would see Massimo Vignelli who was always kind and oddly remembered my name. He was flawless in his Massimo simple black and white clothes. Or Ken Carbone, who was also dressed in the most relentlessly crisp white shirts. I had my khakis, pink oxfords, and repp ties with bits of rubber cement, glue, and pieces of tape. I could never understand how everyone else stayed so clean. That was the true secret of life before Photoshop.

Inside Job

Writing books is hard. First you are required to write; that’s hard. Then you need to find images. That's hard. And you must have the rights to use the images; harder. Somehow my friend, Steven Heller, manages to do this continuously. If I heard that the United States government was going after Steven for having a monopoly, I wouldn’t be surprised. If you need a well-written book about design, go no further.

Steven’s recent book, Graphic, Inside the Sketchbooks of the World's Great Graphic Designers, co-written with Lita Talarico is a gem. Sharing your sketchbooks is not easy. They reveal a sliver of your internal processes. In some instances, such as Ed Fella, it is clear that Ed’s head is a complex swirl of forms and ideas. Ken Carbone’s remarkably beautiful and numerous sketchbooks betray a mind that is disciplined, careful, and sees a world that is lush and beautiful. Michael Bierut’s sketchbooks seem to point to an obsession with the letter “M”. They also have that wonderful mixture of words and images that is integral to Michael’s work. Marian Bantjes sketchbooks, are, surprise, unlike anything actual human beings can create. Since she lives in the backwoods of British Columbia, and alien abduction movies seem to be set there, well, you do the math.

My sketchbooks do a wonderful job of revealing just how shallow I am. Pretty colors and funny charts. I was there when they were created, and typically, I was sketching while someone was explaining something. This led to my standard response of looking up from my book, as if I were taking notes, and saying, “I’m so sorry, could you repeat that?”