Thinking Design
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Thinking Design

Celebrating Adobe Illustrator at 30

If there is one application that has a role in everything that I create it would be Adobe Illustrator. The program just celebrated its 30th birthday. If one of the inventors of Postscript (John Warnock) wouldn’t have been married to a graphic designer, the app would have been very different probably. Without Postscript and the Macintosh, there wouldn’t have been desktop publishing.

A bit of history…

Before getting to the point when I started using Illustrator, I must first tell you how life as a Graphic designer looked like back then (I’m talking the end of the eighties!). My first interaction with the Macintosh was in my second last year in school (‘89). It was the cute box with the handle.

The first Macintosh I ever used

Most classmates weren’t too fond of it, but I was excited to get my hands on it. The apps we had running were MacWrite, MacDraw and MacPaint. In my last year, I could follow a very brief course for Aldus PageMaker and Freehand. That was the very first time that I used a pen tool and a more ‘advanced’ lay-out program. Well, advanced back then :)

Freelance right out of school

As you might know, I never worked for a boss as I immediately started freelancing. Adobe Illustrator and me met in my family’s business ‘Pieters’ in Bruges. They had Illustrator 88 and I could practice there. My very first Mac was a Quadra 700 and the first Illustrator I bought was Illustrator 3.0, which was just out. I also bought an Apple LaserWriter II f. When I think back how long everything took, it’s quite remarkable how much things have changed.

The tools I used back in the day

My two main tools were Quark Express and Illustrator. But you have to imagine that many things weren’t possible yet, so most of my time was still spent in analog way. The tools of the trade back then were dry-transfer lettering made by Letraset, X-ACTO Knives, photos cut outs from magazines, rulers, French curves and other templates to draw circles, ovals and Pantone color paper. Pretty hard to imagine now right? :) Don’t get me started on those Rotring Rapidograph pens that would stain at the very last minute, and bang you had to redo the whole thing. I used Illustrator just for logo and stationary design work. The app wasn’t powerful enough for creating a brochure. It used to take me about a week to create a mockup brochure. Below you’ll get a glimpse of how it was done in one of my oldest brochure designs.

One of my the first brochures I ever created (zoom in to see details)

Work in wireframe mode

When I worked in Illustrator it was always in wireframe mode and then you needed to hit Command + Y to preview the result. Even with my ‘powerful’ Quadra 700 and its 4MB of ram, previewing could take a bit of time to render it on screen. I was lucky enough to already have a color screen. The computer, laser printer, screen, Quark and Illustrator costed me the total sum of about €12.500 just to get started. Luckily I live in a country where you start out without student debt, or this wouldn’t have been possible. I was already very scared if I would make it with just that one loan.

If memory serves me right it took until version 5 before it was possible to work in preview mode like we know it now. Layers must have been around the same time. Gradients must have been later as I remember that I used the blend tool for that by creating two lines and have them blend in between. Then you had use a masking technique to apply it as a fill on a shape. You basically needed to do complicated things with many steps to get the result you wanted. Most of those are now reduced to only a few or even just 1 step. Adobe Illustrator has been an important part of history and I still love using it everyday. Anyway if you made it this far reading I congratulate you :)

See the story unfold

A movie says so much more, so be sure to watch the Adobe Illustrator story unfold, from its beginning as Adobe’s first software product, to its role in the digital publishing revolution, to becoming an essential tool for designers worldwide. Interviews include cofounder John Warnock, his wife Marva, artists and designers Ron Chan, Bert Monroy, Dylan Roscover and Jessica Hische. Enjoy!



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Veerle Pieters

Veerle Pieters


Belgian graphic/web designer, author of Veerle’s blog and chief of the playground at Duoh! Loves soulful deep house music & riding her bicycle. Vive le vélo!