Thank you, Steve

Posted on 6 October 2011 in:

I suspect that there will be a lot of reminiscing about Apple this morning. Yet, despite all of the items on my to do list, I’d rather ponder the moving example of Steve Jobs’s life and career. If it were not for Jobs – and the company he founded and led so well – I would unlikely be doing any of what I do today.

Although all of the computers in my elementary school were Apple products – color Apple IIs, I think – the PCs that my parents used while I was growing up were not. While I probably began to play rudimentary PC games around 1984, and I spent most of the 1980s with game–console–envy, it wasn’t before 1994 that I thought very much about the Macintosh. Since that time, I haven’t ever wanted to use anything else.

I was quite active in the Boy Scouts. In January 1994, I joined the team of local Scout newsletter from Baltimore, MD. This was produced on Sunday afternoons at a local pre-press studio. To this day, if I had to make a sketch of what heaven should look like, it would be the inside of this company. It was full of Macs – the best models of the day, of course. There was also oodles of other equipment, but only one Windows PC, which was relegated to a corner. I decided to study graphic design because of my experience with this newsletter. In fact, for many years, I thought that graphic design was DTP, and that wrapping text blocks around images and editing images in PhotoShop was the pinnacle of what graphic designers could do.

Of course, I learned in school that graphic design is a means of transporting narrative; that it is a system of visual communication with roots going back hundreds or thousands of years. I fell in love with typography and type design, and learned about the differences between both fonts and typefaces, and between the designers behind them.

At RISD, I only worked with Macs. Just before college, my parents bought a crazy Performa desktop machine for me; during my third year of school, I bought my first PowerBook. Another PowerBook followed this, then an iBook, and finally the MacBook Pro I type with now. I never worked with a company that was PC-only. I bought iPods in 2003 and 2006, am currently on my second iPhone and first iPad. I downloaded songs from the iTunes Music Store on the day that it launched. Their Podcast delivery system changed the fabric of my life; wherever I find myself, I’m never without music or other audio content anymore.

Jürgen Siebert has already written very effectively (in German) about the more concrete role that Apple and the Macintosh played in the development of DTP, publishing, and today’s system of font distribution. But Jürgen left one detail out of his article: Altsys Fontographer. This application was one of the first digital font editors available for any personal computer – although there were alternatives, including Ikarus M. Many of today’s type designers got their start with Altsys’s product, which was later sold to Macromedia and eventually to FontLab. I’m no different in this regard. I licensed my first copy of Fonotographer from Macromedia in 1999, while still a RISD student. All of my initial, terrible stabs at type design were done on a Mac in Fontographer. Only later, when I started working on commercial products in 2005, would I upgrade to FontLab. Today’s new UFO-based type design applications are all Mac-only. When I run PC software – like Microsoft’s VOLT – I do so on a Mac, in a Windows partition.

The products and the ecosystem that Jobs helped create struck me in 1994 as purely magical. Today, even if I understand them better, they still fill me with awe. Without Jobs’s vision, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am so thankful, then, for Steve Jobs (1955–2011).