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Graphic Means Preview

A late review of a preview
Graphic Means Preview

Last month I was among the few fortunate ones watching the first public preproduction screening of Graphic Means, the documentary exploring graphic design production of the 1950s through the 1990s by director/producer Briar Levit.

It all happened at Fruit Exhibition, in Bologna, Italy.

Very rarely we are witness of such world premieres but, thanks to a bunch of young committed and skilled guys something is definitely happening in Italy too. I mean, just look at the lineup of Kerning Conference in Faenza that in June 2017 will reach the fifth edition. So a big thank you goes to Cristian, Enrico and all the other iron men/women around: you are bringing back what was missing lately.

But back to GM…

The première followed other shorts including Farewell – ETAOIN SHRDLU a film created by Carl Schlesinger and David Loeb Weiss, documenting New York Times Linotype retirement while they were moving to Phototypesetting, in 1978. Fact is that lots of the footage included in GM are taken from that movie, nothing wrong in it, quite the opposite, just mentioning this because it was impossible not to notice, giving the fact that they were shown one after the other.

GM does not cover much of recent time and there is a big jump from 1984 times (with amusing footage about the reaction to early Macs screen and printers), through early shy wysiwyg enthusiasm, to modern days. But, hey, what I saw is a preview, the movie is not done yet so we we’ll have to wait until April to see the finished montage.

The movie digs deep into 60-70 era, giving lots of running time footage to the Paste Up (and Do It Yourself) times, exploring not really the method itself, but mainly social issues and changes, both in the production market and in the new media being delivered. After all Medium Is The Message, right? Well, maybe not that easy, but sure a lot comes from the media delivering the message.

GM lights up the fact that Tools Deliver Media, and following the whole movie probably the main message that I bring home is that a simple, but not an obvious one, point is made: any innovation in the graphic technology has come with a triple tag equation, more speed, democratisation, lower quality.

More speed.

This is the most visible property of new technology, bound with smaller costs is the driver for innovation. GM tells a lot about it and the need for fitting labor unions requests with a technology ready, tested, but faster, and therefore cheaper (in terms of human resources).

Democratisation.

Less visible, but always there; since the time of Gutenberg being able to deliver faster and multiple copies of contents led to an increased diffusion. Not that democratisation was an issue for Gutenberg, who mainly was aiming at more income for himself, nor that who bought printed books in 1500 was less than very rich, but sure books were, already at that era, more diffused than handwritten ones; then after Aldo Manuzio and Francesco Griffo diffusion started to grow really big. Let’s jump a few centuries and here we are at Paste Up and Letraset times, were you could buy a DIY video and learn how to compose a page at home. This totally changed the way printed matters were composed and diffused, often in a very non-professional way that anyway gave spark to new thoughts about design. Fast forward a little more and here comes 1984, the Mac, desktop publishing, ad David Carson. Again more and more people were able to produce graphics and diffuse contents.

Lower quality.

And here we are to the tricky one;  Gutenberg bibles were less pretty than manuscripts, papers were more free and detailed when composed with mobile type than linotype, a page composed by an amateur with Letraset was embarrassing compared to a page printed with metal type, not to mention the pre-postscript bitmapped type that revolutionised again everything and brought us were we are now, tapping on a glass surface instead of a sturdy mechanical keyboard…

But that’s ok! It is temporary, we (I) came from reading pixelated type on a screen to not being able to distinguish pixels anymore on a Retina display, finally enjoying the beautiful curves that the ones like Bruno Maag, Tobias Frere-Jones, Vincent Connare (do you get the sarcasm here?)… are carefully crafting. Adobe is finally doing something to enhance typography with opentype and hopefully people will start to look back at ligatures without being suspicious.

Technology needs time to be perfected, the one we use today is far from where it started and maybe not that far from perfection, so be prepared, it will be replaced soon for an uglier one. I’ve got a feeling, tapping this glass, that is already happening.

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