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Everything I Know I Learned from my Art Director

In 1985/1986, I worked for a year as an intern in an advertising agency. (How did that happen? Long story.) This was in the days before desktop publishing; then, typesetting involved placing little glass plates in a machine, and rasterizing photographs meant someone had to spend some time in a dark room.

In exchange of working hard for very little pay for a year, I took home a few simple truths. You get them here for free. Don't let anybody tell you the World-Wide Web isn't useful.

Graphics department

Layout is done with light tables (tables lit from below), cutters (sharp knifes) and fixed liners mounted on a drawing table. Scissors are useless. Liners are useful for drawing and cutting straight lines, but only after you've found out where.

When using a drawing table, tape the paper to the table.

When you write text by hand during layout, and you don't know what to write, Germans write "OXMOX." (I think layouters in other contries write other things.)

To write a legible (non-oxmox) headline by hand, typeset it first, and then draw along the typeset letters using a light table. (The layout looks better if everything is drawn, but you want the drawing to be as neat as possible.) Even better, let an intern do it.

To avoid smearing a half-finished drawing, rest your sweaty hand on a separate piece of paper.

Don't ever use anything but rubber cement as glue, unless you want to mount pictures on card-board; in that case use toxic spray-on glue.

The inverse homeopathy of rubber cement: very small pieces of rubber cement are best removed with one large piece. (That's why graphic artists hold on to their rubber cement globs; it's not just nostalgia.)

Customer relations

Inventing slogans and names is mostly a process of social negotiation. First, the agency demonstrates its status by producing lots and lots of lines (the more, the bettter). Then, the customer shows his (or her) status by producing a single line that is met with unquestioning enthusiasm by the agency and consequently used.

Public Relations department

Journalists are the funniest people in the world. Spend as much time with them as possible, but don't try to drink more than they do.

Text department

If you can't get started writing in a certain style, just pretend you could. Fake it. Everybody who writes like that fakes it.