Looking back – 25 years in the business of design
Three months ago
by Melissa Webber, Founder and Managing Director
The design industry has changed so much in the last 25 years.
As I commemorate 25 years since I founded Holy Cow!, I have recently written about why I started my own business, how much has changed for women in business and how much has stayed the same.
As I continue to reflect on this milestone as a new year begins, I now look back on 25 years of running a business in the design industry.
Ever since I was a child, I wanted to start my own business. Ever since I found out what graphic design was, I wanted to start a graphic design business.
First up was Bovine Design, which I started while I freelanced and studied graphic design. (You can see a theme developing…)
After I completed my course and travelled and worked overseas (and sold Daisy Moo), I moved to Sydney and started Holy Cow! In 1995.
In the 90’s, graphic design was a very hands-on profession. If you couldn’t draw, it would have been almost impossible to get into a design course. Graphic design involved lots of drawing, hand lettering and measuring. Cutting and pasting was primarily done by hand, not just with Command+C and Command+V (ie. Control+C and Control+V for all you PC people)!
Starting a business back then seemed easy enough – you just had to register your business name and an ACN, print up some business cards, hook up a telephone, fax, computer and printer, find yourself some office space and put an ad in the Yellow Pages. Now you can do it with just an ABN and a computer!
For a graphic design business, a solid knowledge of the printing process was also mandatory, as was an addiction to the heady fragrance of freshly printed brochures or the sensuous texture of recycled paper stock. Being able to identify Pantone colours with our eyes closed and naming a font at twenty paces were also complete requisites in the early days too.
Believe it or not, playing “What’s that Font?” was actually achievable – not only because our graphic design training was based largely on the foundations of typography but also because in the 90’s, there were only several hundred fonts in existence. There are now estimated to be over half a million available and counting...which does make me wonder why we still see Comic Sans at all!
The 90’s was also an exciting time for graphic designers as Apple Macintosh was pioneering amazing new computers, especially for us – desktop publishing was essentially invented on Macs. It was then and there that our lifetime devotion to the Apple brand began.
As a design agency, our main costs were hardware and software – QuarkXPress anyone?!? PC people (ie.the rest of the world) laughed at us for spending so much money on Macs as they were way more expensive than the alternatives. We didn’t care as they were worth every penny – and now the rest of the world seems to have caught on!
In the late 90s as we started to design websites and embrace digital colour palettes, graphic design took a turn for the blindingly RGB. The concept of ‘usability’ became a catch-cry that slowly but surely overpowered terms such as show-through, perforation and leading edge.
My fantasy mentor, Richard Branson, taught me early on that your team is the most important part of your business – if they are happy, your clients will be happy too. I have tried to uphold that premise and place my team at the centre of everything.
Therefore, as our office environment and team bonding have always been an important part of who we are, I am proud to say we had a pool table, a drinks fridge and free lunches well before Google was even invented!
Fast forward to 2021
Graphic design has transitioned from being purely informational to requiring aesthetic functionality. It now needs to ‘work’ on multiple platforms across multiple applications for multiple audiences.
‘Design' is now also such an ambiguous term. It used to be something that was only done by designers but now with an array of apps and digital tools, everyone from a primary school child to the CEO can put together a presentation, a brochure and even a website.
The democratisation of technology has changed the way in which design is practiced, produced, ‘made', accessed, and traded, and how design is taught and learned. Everyone can be a designer.
While obviously this is great in so many ways, what we often lack now is the thinking and the meaning behind these executions – the strategy and the purpose is often left out of the overall process, with the execution being the ultimate goal.
It has now become so quick, easy and cheap to produce everything, the ‘WHY?’ is often missing, and quality and sustainability are often sacrificed with it.
I am hopeful that the return to purposeful pursuits of days gone by that we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue well beyond lock-down. It seems that others also share this hope.
We are seeing a retro design trend for many large brands, nostalgic for times past. Burger King is currently rolling out a new identity, inspired by the logo it used from 1969 to 1999.
KFC in Australia is now embracing the original name and logotype it used for its core product prior to the 1990s, resplendent in all it’s finger-lickin’ glory – Kentucky Fried Chicken.
There is also a return to the two-dimensional, handcrafted logo designs in the automotive industry. Several of the world’s leading brands have simplified their metallic, three-dimensional badges designed in the 80s and 90s to simple icons that display perfectly on screens and mobile apps.
As we all embrace new ways of working and new ways of doing business in the wake of the pandemic, I am so grateful for the flexibility that we have as a design business.
While working from home has been an option for our team for many years, I could never have imagined that our whole team would work at home for so long and I am so grateful to the technological advances that have made it possible – Google Meet, Zoom, Slack and er...Uber Eats.
I’m not sure how much fax paper we would have needed to pull that off in 1995!
As we begin a new year and make a fresh start, I know myself and my team will be thinking about the lasting value of what we are designing and why we are designing it and hoping that it always has a meaningful impact.
Thank you to everyone who has been part of my bovine business over the last 25 years. I have been so blessed to work with so many incredible people along the way – all my amazing team members, our fantastic clients, our collaborators and our suppliers, and our friends and families.
Still udderly grateful,