Batteries Not Included

Design Pro 3000

Any fellow eighties kids remember this?

I had lots of cheap electronic toys when I was young, and many hours of my prepubescent life must have been spent prising open little plastic hatches to insert yet more Evereadys into my toy of the moment. They were always made of that brightly coloured brittle plastic and were packed with knobs, switches and sliders that provided hours of entertainment on a rainy day.

I got the above toy when I was about about eight or nine, the Christmas after it had featured as a phone in competition prize on Going Live. Following months of excitedly scanning the well thumbed toy section of the Argos catalogue, finally unwrapping my very own Design Pro Portable 3000 was a joyous moment. It of course goes without saying that it probably played a big part in the direction I took as an adult. I often wonder if I would ever have taken to graphic design had I not been introduced to the profession at such a young age by this wonderful toy.

As you can see from the photo, there were loads of settings to play with and the results would be different every time. For those unfamiliar with it, the process was quite simple. Depending on the design you wanted to create you simply set the sliders to alter the style of the project. You then twist the thumb wheel to set the budget for the job – ie how much you were supposedly being paid – and finally you hit the big flat button on the left with your thumb. It did used to say “DESIGN!” right in the middle of that button but it has obviously worn away with use.

The sliders let you choose between Minimal and Busy; San Serif and Serif; Clean and Grunge; Blue Chip and Independent. They were laid out in such a way that if you wanted something sensible and professional, you could just slide them all to the top, and if you wanted something punky and anti establishment you could slide them all to the bottom. It was infinitely adjustable in between, so the possible connotations are endless.

Once the big DESIGN! button was pressed, it would beep a few times from a tinny speaker/buzzer under those angled slots at the top, and shortly afterwards a design would emerge, albeit slowly, out of the top. The paper was that continuous feed, tear off stuff you used to have in early dot matrix printers but it was about A5 – probably a bit smaller – manufactured I assume specifically for this use as I never saw it anywhere else.

The thing that amazes me, looking back, is that it really had everything covered. The printer section no longer works but with fresh batteries everything switches on and though the speaker has gone a bit rattly, the beeps still happen as they used to. If I can find out where to get the little ink ribbons from, if they’re even still available, I’m sure I could get it to come back to life again. I had a quick scan around the web to see if I could find any more information but little is being said about it. It must have been quite a niche toy really, even if it did feature on the telly.

The absolute best thing about it is that it took all the tedious creativity out of design. You didn’t need to put any thought into anything; you simply adjusted the controls¬†to the required settings and bang, you had a design. It actually did what many clients seem to assume Photoshop does for us today.

2 thoughts on “Batteries Not Included

  1. Hey Stu – don’t give the game away – that’s how I still operate my business! ;)

  2. I have never ever come across this at all. This is my ‘NPH’. I was around in the 80s I promise.

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