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Still Evolving

From the time of Gutenberg, prepress functions have been traditionally performed by specialists using equipment designed specifically for that purpose. Similarly, the design of printed communications has generally been the domain of those with specialized training in the relevant methods and tools. The perception outside the design profession is that this has now changed forever.

Over the past century, there have been several revolutionary changes in prepress technology. The first came at the end of the 19th century with the advent of hot-metal typesetting. The second came in the middle of this century with the introduction of phototypesetters and the first color separation scanners. The third came in the 1970s in the form of proprietary integrated prepress computer systems. The fourth is the shift to widely available hardware and software. Prepress is now a computer application, rooted firmly in the mainstream computer industry.

Whenever an industry undergoes a cycle of change, its structure is redefined. New methods emerge; others fade away. New skills are required; others are no longer relevant. The process of producing printed communications has now become open. There are ever fewer barriers to entry and a huge installed base of microcomputer-based publishing systems. Research indicates that this base will grow dramatically over the next several years.

While a wide variety of new tools are available, designers have been slow to adopt them. Meanwhile, computer users are being told by suppliers that they too can create “professional-looking” documents without having to hire a designer. Books and magazines on print design and “desktop publishing” have proliferated. In addition, new interactive media are emerging, along with the need to attend to the human/computer interface. The role of design professionals in this new environment is still evolving.

From a report prepared for the board of the American Center for Design, 1989

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