is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
I watched with dismay yesterday when the comment thread for my post, “Better Display, Same Typography,” a rant about Apple’s lackluster efforts in typography on all of its platforms, went a bit astray. Lots of commenters understood what I was trying to say, but many others didn’t.
Many thought I was criticizing the forthcoming iBooks for iPhone, which is understandable because the photo included in the post was of exactly that — iBooks for iPhone displaying a less-than-sterling example of typographic chops. But I wasn’t singling out iBooks, or the iOS even, so it’s my fault for not being sufficiently explicit.
What I meant was that, on all of its platforms, Apple has far from exceeded expectations it has itself set for typography. Just take one look at the Fonts panel that appears in any Cocoa app (e.g., TextEdit) to see what I mean. It hasn’t changed in nearly a decade, and it’s still far more difficult to use than it should be. (I also urge everyone to read Stephen Coles’ blog post, which I linked to, for more details on Apple’s infractions on the iPad.)
Maybe most disappointing of all, though, were the comments that asserted that no one cares about this stuff except for typographic prima donnas like myself, that it matters not one whit to the world at large. I readily admit that most people will never care whether Apple changes its ways here or not — it goes without saying that Apple more than satisfies the general public’s appetite for stellar design already — but that doesn’t mean that they should be let off the hook.
Fine typography is important; it’s a tradition that goes back for centuries, that has helped us elevate our communication and that informs our sense of self and civilization. Now, it’s true that in the midst of the digital revolution we’re living through, we may have to leave many such traditions behind, but fine typography doesn’t have to be one of them. There’s no technological or business reason why we can’t make the tools for rich typography more readily available.
In fact, we have much of what we need in place already, largely thanks to Apple: an ocean of beautifully rendered and thoughtfully constructed fonts, a desktop operating system with an audience that’s highly receptive to the craft, a mobile platform that unites visual design with hardware design, and increasingly capable displays for rendering great type. All we lack is the dedicated passion of people who are in a position to bring it all together, to carry it that last mile — or to fulfill the promise that such laudable work has established. That’s why I believe Apple should do a better job.+