Creativity and Xerox

Issue 54 | March 2020

The story of Xerox over the last 70 years is in many ways the story of creativity.

It's a story of discovery, invention and innovation, of an idea that took time to settle before it acquired definition.

When, at last, it did find the people to believe in it, it changed the world.

It was, and continues to be, a story about people and ideas rather than technology, less about what was invented and more about communication and human connection.

It begins with the inspiring figure of Chester Carlson.

A zagger

Born in 1906, Carlson was brought up in unimaginable poverty.

He worked two or three hours every morning before going to school and then he worked two or three hours after.

He worked for a printer.

At college he had three jobs and still made less money than his tuition fees.

Because he couldn't afford to buy his books, he copied them by hand.

Eventually he wound up working in the patent department of the Bell Telephone Company.

Chester was a man who had ideas.

Now, it was Einstein who said that a problem defined is a problem 98% solved.

The problem, as Chester had experienced it, was that there was no cheap, simple way of reproducing and sharing texts.

Finding a solution took him ten years.

And it took another ten to get investment.

Behind every 'Eureka!' moment there is much concentration, application and frustration.

So it was with Carlson.

One failed experiment started a fire in his kitchen.

His marriage suffered.

But eventually, in October 1938, success.

He and his assistant photocopied a piece of paper on which was written 10-22-38 Astoria.

As moments of triumph go, this was distinctly low key.

In fact, the assistant was so unimpressed he walked away from the project.

And from the 10% stake in the business that Carlson gave him.

Carlson was a zagger where every other inventor was zigging.

Though many others were trying to solve the same problem, almost all were experimenting with wet inks.

Carlson, by contrast, was working with dry powders, and blowing them onto paper through an electrical charge.

It is almost certain that had he not invented this technique, the photocopier as we know it would not have been invented at all.

Indeed, further inventions which grew from his idea may not have happened to get us to where we are today.

This is not the story of one genius, however. It took collaboration and teamwork for the idea to develop.

The world's first information company

In 1948, after Kodak and IBM has turned up their noses at it, the Haloid Company invested both faith and money in it.

A professor of Greek came up with the name, stitching together Xero, meaning dry, with graph, meaning write.

The first machine was a monster.

But it saved Ford so much money in print costs, it even got a mention in their board minutes of 1950.

Smaller, less complicated machines followed.

The 914, launched in 1959, was the model that made the company.

User-friendly and cheap to operate because it didn't require special paper, it liberated ideas. It spread knowledge.

For many schools around the world, it became the single most important expense.

In Russia, the authorities were so frightened of its potential, access was strictly controlled.

In prisons, rather than list all the items new inmates brought in, they just got them to empty their pockets on the photocopier plate.

While thousands of people photocopied other parts of their bodies, Andy Warhol photocopied his face.

In 2012, it was valued at $70,000.

Chester Carlson became hugely rich.

As fast as he earned it, he gave it away.

Xerox too made a fortune. By the mid-sixties, revenues were around $500 million.

One innovative idea was to rent copiers to businesses who couldn't afford to buy them outright.

Equally innovative ad campaigns drove the business forward.

One early TV commercial showed a small girl making a copy in real-time.

Another showed a chimpanzee making copies at the touch of a button.

A press ad asked, 'Which is the $2,800 Picasso and which is the 5c copy?'

What Xerox did was to turn their profits back into creativity.

Into ideas.

Google say their mission is to "organise the world's information and make it universally accessible".

Pretty much what Xerox was doing when the company opened Xerox PARC in 1970.

It was a petri dish of inventions and innovations.

Inventions being new ideas and innovations being ways of making money from them.

The very first iterations of both the personal computer and the mouse happened here.

While Steve Jobs 'stole' both ideas, Xerox brought more inventions such as the laser printer to allow people to click on their computers and get a print instantly.

In a piece for The New Yorker, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that this one idea "paid for every other single project at Xerox PARC."

PARC, by the way, is an acronym for Palo Alto Research Center and it is no accident that Apple, Google and Facebook all emerged as major companies from this one small part of California.

Photoshop is said to have its origins in the Xerox 350 Colour Slide System. And GUI, or graphical user interface, icons, buttons – all invented by Xerox.

Embracing the new

What the critics fail to understand is that creativity is literally boundless. If you build borders around it, if you wall it in, it asphyxiates.

As an organisation, Xerox has always been porous.

It continues to explore relationships with outside companies to make communication cheaper, faster, better.

Working in tandem with Adobe, XMPie has revolutionised direct marketing by integrating print and digital media.

In another part of the company, a recent patent is for a blockchain-based system for the secure recording of any and all changes made to electronic documents.

It will prevent anyone from tampering with medical records, financial records and criminal records.

And so on and so on and so on.

From the very start, Xerox has never rested on its laurels but has embraced the new.

From copiers to printers, from printers to computers, from hardware to software, from paper to inks.

And now from four-colour to six-colour printing.

The new Xerox Iridesse™ Production Press goes way beyond conventional CMYK, printing also with white, clear, silver, gold and mixed metallics.

It is the first dry toner press of its sort in the world.

82 years on, a direct descendant of Chester Carlson's first copy.

But infinitely more impactful than he could ever have imagined.

The question now for Xerox is, what next?

Find out more at

Xerox and Directory

Directory is proud to announce an exciting new partnership with Xerox in 2020.

The magazine you are reading has in part been printed using the Xerox Iridesse™ Production Press. This takes print technology beyond traditional four-colour CMYK standards and into massively more impactful six-pack production. Now you can print with silver (see the ad on the inside front cover), gold and other metallics, white (see the back cover) and clear.

Working with Iridesse™ for the first time, designer of Directory Darren Eagles, wrote:

"I have worked with the four-colour process for all my design career during which period nothing new really happened. But Iridesse™ is new, "special". I must admit to having doubts about the metallic colours but I was very pleasantly surprised. They look amazing."

We hope you agree.

However, Xerox sponsorship is not just about helping us make the most of our product through the use of theirs, it is also an endorsement of shared values.

It is a three-way connection, linking us, them and you.

As a creatively-inspired company, Xerox has always supported and encouraged creative people to try new things, to be different, to go beyond the usual.

To communicate with purpose and with style.

These are all qualities that Directory, dedicated to innovations in communications, celebrates and showcases.

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