Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The benefit of dropping out

On February 8 The Wall Street Journal had a quote from Steve Jobs about his decision to drop out of college. (Entire quote is open only to subscribers.) Speaking at the commencement at Stanford in 2005, he described how after dropping out, he stayed at Reed and sat in classes that he thought were interesting. One class that fascinated him was a class on calligraphy, and his interest in calligraphy came from the beautiful lettering he saw around the campus. In the course he learned about typography. The result of that course was that when the Macintosh was being developed, he insisted that it include beautiful typography, with a selection of fixed-space and proportional fonts. Windows, which he said was just a copy of the Macintosh interface, followed the lead. He implied that without that course, computers might still be using typewriter fonts for display. I suspect that they would not, but the move to decent typography on the computer would have come much later. Certainly, without the Macintosh, the user interface that we have would be far more primative.

I never realized how much I owed to Steve Job's decision to drop out of school and pursue and education rather than a degree. My interest in typography developed from using a desktop publishing program called Ventura Publisher on the PC and then a year or two year later, Pagemake on the Macintosh. On the Macintosh I discovered a primitive but effective program that allowed one to construct bitmapped fonts. I did a couple, and then found Fontographer. I bought it, and it was one of the very few programs that I purchased back then. The first font I produced with Fontographer was Zirkle.