Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Marking time.

Almost 40 years ago, in my first advertising job, the production manager, Rocco Imbriale had a way of managing the things that was way better than anything I’ve run across since.

I worked for the Montgomery Ward catalog—a Sears-sized catalog from the days long-before Amazon had devoured everything. Our small creative department—there were maybe ten writers, ten art-directors and ten mechanical artists, responsible for creating literally one-thousand catalog pages a year.

Rocco was in charge of making sure all the pages moved through production on time, a task not without its complexity and complication. One late page could mess up an entire printing form. What’s more, pages of a spread had to graphically align, so you couldn’t readily swap one page for another.

On a wall in the “light room” (a well-lit room where we could look at print proofs) there was a giant oak pegboard, maybe 20-feet wide by ten-feet high. Width-wise the board was divided into about half-inch sections, each division demarcated another step that went into making a page, all dated accordingly. On the length axis were all the pages we had assigned to us.

As a job moved from one step to the next, Rocco would take a little peg and move it along one square or two. This allowed people to see at a glance which pages were progressing, which were languishing and where we could have trouble.

I know that for about the last couple of decades or so companies have introduced a host of software programs that promise to help people keep track of what’s going on when. When I ask for a schedule I usually get something printed out on 11x17-inch paper in 14 different colors with 6-point type. I can’t make head or tails of anything on those print outs.

In short, they’re nowhere nearly as good as the system Rocco used way back in 1980.

This is not to say that all the old ways were better, faster, smarter or more efficient. The film below shows how "The New York Times" was produced in the days before computers. It's nearly 30-minutes long, but worth it, if only to hear real New York accents and see the toil of men with printer's ink on their hands.

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