Steve Jobs, Typographer

Steve Jobs portrait in type by Dylan Roscover

When Steve Jobs passed away on October 5, 2011 the world not only lost a computer and electronic gadget genius, they lost an entrepreneur that did more for type than anyone else in the late 20th Century. When the first Macintosh computer was released in 1984 Jobs did something unprecedented in machinery—he provided users with a wide assortment of fonts to choose from. The first Mac included familiar designs such as Helvetica and Times New Roman, along with a number of new designs overseen by Jobs himself such as Chicago, Geneva (a distinctly Swiss typeface), and Toronto, fonts that he named after his favorite cities.

In Just My Type, Simon Garfield writes that Jobs took a calligraphy class shortly after dropping out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, due to his fascination with hand-drawn letters. On this experience Jobs said, “I learned about serif and sans 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.” At least two of the fonts that Jobs introduced on that first computer—Los Angeles and Venice—appeared to be hand-drawn.

Jobs brought type to the masses and initiated a shift in our experiences with typefaces, entering the word “font” into our everyday vocabulary. Chicago, a primitive, pixelated font, would be used by Apple on all of its menus through the release of the first-generation iPod. Other Jobs creations included the blackletter London and San Francisco, a ransom note-esque font that was composed of letters seemingly ripped from newspaper headlines.

Microsoft would attempt to follow suit, but unfortunately unleashed upon the world the font that is Comic Sans (Yes, we can blame Bill Gates for that). Today, thanks to Jobs, a majority of computer users worldwide associate fonts with the classic system that he developed to deliver them to the masses, the pull-down menu, which, for good or bad, ushered in an era of desktop publishing that provided easy-to-use design options for all skill-levels.

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