Smaller Things

Last year I was talking to an engineer on our team who was leaving for Google and I asked him over coffee: why? Not out of disrespect, or a Big Judgemental Why, I just wanted to know what he expected from the new gig.

After a beat, and a few nervous sips of coffee, he replied that it was because of impact. He wanted to work on something that touches millions of lives every day. And when he finished I let out a sigh so long it was as if I was a six thousand year old man. The sigh was so prolonged in fact that the buildings shook and the leaves from the hedges burst into the air around us. Dogs barked in the distance, sirens wailed, and the cement beneath my feet cracked from the sheer force of apathy.

I know that’s why so many flock to the Bay Area; they want to change the world, they want fast cars and even faster fortunes. They want to work on something that helps everyone in the world. Which is, if you tilt your head to the side when you look at it, pretty admirable. But everyone I’ve spoken to that says this, that truly believes they can turn the world on a dime with a few lines of code, is doing it for the fame and prestige and not the work. They’re doing it for entirely the wrong reasons and the actual thing they’re building doesn’t matter so long as it has reach.

It was at that moment that I knew I want the kind of work that’s…not that. To be honest I don’t give a damn about impact or how many people use the thing I’m working on.

Because I know that small things are important, too.

I think this is one of many reasons why I adore letters and typography. No typeface or .otf has ever changed the world and there is no type designer sat at their desk hoping right now that the letter they’re struggling with will make them a millionaire some day. There are type families that have made their creators extraordinarily wealthy but I’ve never spoken to a type designer about reach before.

And I think that’s because type designers have to console themselves with the fact that the work they’re doing is small but important. Each beautiful a or ü is but a small improvement today, a minuscule improvement even – but an important one that will make a difference in the end. Even if no-one really notices. And I think there’s something bold and maybe even a little courageous about that, about doing such a beautiful thing on such a small scale.

Because small things are important, too.