Back in the ad business in the late ’80s, typesetters were daily visitors to our offices. Typesetters took our copy documents and, with a designer’s direction, turned them into the finished type we used for ads and brochures and other printed materials. Working with typeset copy was a big part of a designer’s job, and it was a process that required more thought on the front end. We couldn’t just change fonts at the touch of a button. So even small changes required trips back and forth to the type house.

In those days, lots of people had jobs in the typesetting. There were two or three big type houses in Indianapolis, and a bunch of smaller ones.

Today, all those jobs are gone.

Gone. Computers killed them. Art directors don’t send out for type anymore. They do everything themselves, right on their desktops. We don’t depend on hand-deliveries from typesetters and color separators. We alter photographs in Photoshop. We don’t use an airbrush or a waxer. We do everything electronically. We rarely see our designs on paper until they’re printed.

If they’re printed. You know who does the “typesetting” for this blog? I do.

The typesetting business is gone. We make jokes about companies being in “the buggy whip business.” But there are still buggies, and I assume there’s still a small market for whips. The typesetting business, on the other hand, has vanished.

We see the same thing happening right now in the graphic design and advertising businesses. It’s a tough time for a lot of old Mad Men. Traditional ad agencies and design shops have suffered, shrunk, gone out of business. Incredibly talented graphic designers–pros who’ve devoted their lives to their craft–are having trouble finding jobs. The world has changed.

Actually, the world just keeps changing. The trick is to avoid looking up and seeing that it already has changed. The trick is to keep up with the changes as they occur.

And that’s not always something the ad business has done well. Ad agencies have been particularly slow to understand and embrace the realities of the Internet Age. Lots of agencies that got fat buying media aren’t sure what to do when the media are free. Lots of agency brass who couldn’t imagine making a television commercial for less than $100,000 (and nearly every national-brand commercial you see cost a lot more than that) are seeing nimble little shops run away with their big clients’ reduced budgets. Lots of the best graphic designers in the business are considering midlife career changes.

And what happens next? Where are you with mobile? Soon, more people will access the Internet with mobile devices than with netbooks and desktop computers. How does this factor into what you’re doing on the Internet today? What are you doing with apps? What are you doing with content?

We know what our plan is. What’s yours? Don’t look up one day and find yourself in the typesetting business. If you think the world has changed, you’re already too late.