Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Steve Jobs on connecting the dots

Here, on the morning of the Macworld keynote address, some earlier words from Steve Jobs, from a Stanford commencement address, June 12, 2005:

Reed College 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. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Found via The Paper Chase (Thanks, Lisa!)

comments: 3

Tom the Piper's Son said...

On a "macrocosmic" I find Jobs' article very positive.
On a (slightly more than) microcosmic level i am reminded of the fact that I spent 16 years of my life as a "sign painter/lettering artist" who saw my trade gradually move towards extinction (i left the "trade") because people could slap out digitally created vinyl signs, company logos, in a fraction of the time it took to handpaint them. One would hope that as the technology changed the sense of artistry and individuality that once was there (yes, admittedly only among a talented and driven minority of the hand letterers) would remain but all around me i see a sameness and coldness of style that is the result of "convenience". Most people these days no longer have the attntion span to really appreciate the subtle intricacies of such lost arts, much less put the effort into learning them. Even calligraphy is not merely the duplication, digitally of a fixed style, there is a human element that is not imitatable by the mere selection of software.

Michael Leddy said...

Tom, have you seen Helvetica? There's a great moment with Tobias Frere-Jones holding and talking about an old NYC street sign. You'd also like this Flickr set: Typographic walking tour.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Thanks Michael, great stuff!
A movie called Helvetica? Maybe the beginnings of the Typestyle genre!