‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

The Apple founder, who died on 5th October, attributed much of his success to a historically-based course he took in calligraphy.

Paul Lay | Published in 06 Oct 2011

It is, to paraphrase (or not) Zhou Enlai, too early to talk about the long term importance of Steve Jobs and Apple, but it is fair to say that he made a success of his all too short life.

In 2005 Jobs, who died on 5th October aged 56, addressed Stanford University and recalled an episode from his time at Reed College in Oregon. Politicians who think that we should force young people into proscriptive, utilitarian courses in order to compete in the future should take heed. Jobs owes a great deal of his success to a short, historically-based course he took in calligraphy. King’s College, London, which recently closed its palaeography course, should hang its head in shame.

Here’s an extract from Jobs’ speech; you can watch it in its entirety in the video above.

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.