Steve Jobs Tips his Hat to Calligraphy


It seems that we can attribute the choice of interesting fonts we have on our personal computers to Steve Jobs and a single calligraphy course he took. He talked about it in the commencement address he made at Stanford University on 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.”

To read the full address, here’s the link, complete with embedded video:


2 thoughts on “Steve Jobs Tips his Hat to Calligraphy

  1. Great post Ramona, thanks so much for this! It should be known that I am not an Apple Fanboy. But having said this:-I do value competition in the market place, and the competition that Apple delivered absolutely amazed me-I do value Apple products from a design perspective, and appreciate that engineers have an important role, but that role is clearly NOT design-I was amazed at what Steve Jobs did for Apple, the very company that he was fired from-And most importantly, I am grateful to Steve Jobs and his teams for getting the average person inspired by technology, and value technology. I Remember opening up my first computer in the 1980s (a Commodore VIC20) with a whopping 5k of ram, and wondering will the general public ever appreciate these amazing devices? It took much longer than I ever thought for this to happen, but the devices are far better designed and do much more than I ever dreamed. And we have Steve Jobs and his teams to thank for this.I think that the work that Apple and related companies did to move typography forward was outstanding. We need far more people who actually understand typography, but clearly the tools are there.I think that this movement towards better typography may have actually killed or setback calligraphy. Calligraphy to me is a very personal form of art — a very creative form of expression. When you minimize this to a font, and a lack of people who understand true typography, much of the art is unfortunately lost.Beauty in calligraphy is far more than the characters simply put together. Calligraphy is about rhythm, speed, texture, ink, weight, balance, form and it takes a lifetime to master these. Beautiful calligraphy is also non-repetitive, and does contain human mistakes. These minute errors or mistakes often make the lettering feel human, and this is something that a computer cant do, at least not yet.I remember my high school art teacher told me that fine art would never be done on a computer — a safe statement to make back in the 1980s when the 286AT computer was king and computer graphics were terrible. However, I disagreed with her then. Fast forward 20+ years and my calligraphy work is still hand done, yet finished mostly on the computer. While I can do more and more on the computer today, the fundamental task of replicating pen and ink on paper is at least a decade away. Read this post for some major advancements in this area(painting mainly): point is that while Steve Jobs has helped to advance typography, computers have not matured enough to do fine art or calligraphy. I am optimistic that this will happen, but fear that it will take my lifetime for this to come true.Maybe some software of the future will be able to automatically vary the placement of font letters in a human way to give the lettering a more natural, and less sterile appearance. Maybe fonts of the future will contain a variation of lettering patterns that look human.While there is far more advancement needed in this area, I tip my hat to Steve Jobs.CheersSteveP.S. As far as that comment about windows copying the mac, i choose not to comment, but rather point out a company named Zerox. 🙂

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