Steve Jobs Role In Typography By Computer

Oct 17, 2011

A few weeks ago, my eye doctor said to me, “I only know of two people who know anything about fonts, you and Steve Jobs.” Seemed Dr. Patel was re-doing his web site and had questions about the qualities of Trebuchet MS. But the line about Jobs raised an eyebrow, naturally, and it was as I suspected – Dr. Patel had read Jobs’ commencement address to the Stanford graduating class of 2005, the relevant portion of which follows:

“Reed College [where Steve Jobs enrolled for awhile] at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.

Setting The Record Straight

A lot of people know that Benjamin Franklin did research on electricity. The silhouette of Franklin in a lightning storm with his kite flying and key dangling is emblazoned on the average American’s brain: the rugged individualist in pursuit of a dream, no matter the danger. But what almost nobody knows is that Franklin’s work on electricity was as a part of a team of co-equals. And that his signature was only one of several others’ that appeared upon publication of that work. But Franklin had the fame and got the credit. Sound familiar? History is a single-sentence thing.

A lone eagle, as an icon, works great. A flock of geese, not so much.

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Here’s a couple of articles to help put it all in perspective:

The Impact of Steve Jobs on Typography

Steve Jobs and Type: Connecting the Dots

And here, on Typophile.com, a bit of additional insight, debate, and perhaps a few ruffled feathers: Steve Jobs 1955-2011

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