Is it particularly sad of me to sometimes pine for obsolete software? I’ve been doing some tidying up in my designated home studio space and store-all of stuff, sorting through dog eared C4 envelopes and battered archive boxes, in the process rediscovering the ‘fruits’ of 20 odd years of design work. Like most of our ilk, I’m somewhat of a pack-rat, I’ve hoarded just about every piece of design I’ve contributed anything to, now matter how embarrassing (and believe me, there’s been plenty of ‘the embarrassing’). with me it’s been a case of, if I put the effort into producing it, then there should be some evidence that it was produced. This attention to keeping every piece of work will no doubt prove to be an invaluable resource when the time come for my inevitable retrospective exhibition and/or biography to be produced, but I digress.
Besides the often cringe-worthy assessment of the ghosts of design work past, I can’t help but reflect upon the tools that went into producing said pieces. I come of age as a designer in the first dawnings of the huge switch over from rubber cement and bromides to the early Apple Mac and associated design programs. My first introduction to the new medium came through a program called Ready Set Go! I I can’t remember if the exclamation mark was included). Basic, to say the least, even at the time I remember reading with envy about a program called Quark Xpress-the mystical ‘do all’ program for professional designers, not second year design students. Ready Set Go! and myself. We were both out of our depths at the time it seemed, but on reflection it seems as though it’s very limitations often led me to some interesting runarounds in search of that sort after perfect result. I’m sure it also stopped me from going overboard with the ‘freedoms’ that today’s programs allow the professional and would-be designer. Ready Set Go! wasn’t going to let you fake anything.
It would be difficult for young designers to appreciate the revelation that came from using something like Ready Set Go! and then discovering Aldus Freehand. With Freehand, suddenly all things seemed possible and (more easily) achievable. Until you’ve spent hours using french curves and a technical or ruling pen(!) to draw up a logo and then another few hours bromiding it to the right size and pasting it down with rubber cement o board with a tracing cover-leaf with printers instructions scrawled on it, can you appreciate the ‘magic’ of this drawing program. To me, never has a design program been so perfectly named – now you had a tool that gave you a ‘free-hand’ to design and draw shapes to your hearts content, easily and intuitively. In my mind it was (and still does) seem so much more an expressive tool than the often bogged down in the technical Adobe Illustrator. There has not been an update to Freehand since 2005 when Adobe acquired Macromedia, but a quick search around the internets will uncover a plethora of well known designers who still strongly stick by it’s use.
Only a couple of years ago a local printer told me of a designer who was still using a very early version of Freehand, a version that did not allow multiple pages in a single document. A 100+ page annual report would be duly delivered as 100+ separate Freehand files, each a page of the report, as you can imagine, not an ideal delivery solution.
Even though it has been years since I’ve last used it, it’s ghost lingers on in my daily disdain of Illustrator, a program I will go to some lengths to avoid using if possible – a program that seems to sneer at me and say, ‘so you want to be all intuitive and creative do you? Not on my watch! Let me show you how many drop menus you need to go through to get to that, and don’t even think about trying to paste something inside an object!’
I’m sure I still have a copy of Freehand on some dusty CD somewhere, sharing kilobytes with my copy of Wolfenstein and Disk Doubler. If I came across it I don’t think I’d have the heart to throw it out. Like my early amateur design work, it doesn’t serve much purpose other than to remind myself of where I have been to get myself here, but isn’t that the point of any treasured memento? Don’t get me started, unless you want to hear about my first Apple LC with 4meg of RAM and a 40mb hard drive that I would never fill up!
Illustrator still feels like an alien craft. Beautifully engineered, but not for humans. Freehand’s quirks were in all the right places. I have fond memories of drawing complex vector constructions without swearing like a sailor.
A trip to the Bar Smith Library on day in 1990 caused me to fall in love with a Mac SE30 and Aldus Freehand v1.0. I would have to say it changed the course of my life. Amazing what could be done with 1 floppy for the system and 1 floppy for the application.
Q: What’s the best thing about Freehand?
A: The fact that it’s no longer available.