Over the past few days I’ve been saddened by the passing of Steve Jobs. Along with many others, I’m inspired by the creativity and persistence; vision and excellence; risk, failure, and resounding success that he exemplified. As he grappled with illness and the imminent possibility of death over the past few years, he seemed to gain a clarity and perspective that enabled him to encourage others to realize their gifts and offer their best. If you haven’t seen it already, or even if you have, his speech to the Stanford graduates in 2005 is worthwhile.
A college class in calligraphy was among his formative experiences. The beauty and variety of the ancient writing styles, called “hands,” drew him into the art of lettering, which shapes the fonts employed by technology today. He entered the realm of design through the study of beautiful writing and artistically rendered text. Looking back at what was worthwhile from the past informed him as he designed so much of our future—and our world looks better for it.
I can appreciate that aspect of his education because calligraphy has taught me a lot, too. It was in the study of lettering that I learned to appreciate the power of good design. I began to see the world in a different way, noticing the importance of visual elements that I had never before attended to. As I studied the work of others, I realized that every aspect of the world created by human beings is the result of some kind of choice—sometimes a conscious one and sometimes not, sometimes a reflection of limited understanding or limited resources, but always a choice.
I also came to understand that good design results from the pursuit of excellence; it comes about through intentional choices. I learned what I could about good design from seeing it, studying it, and trying to understanding the choices that achieve to it.
In a similar way, we design our lives through the choices we make. If we are wise, we learn from others who know how to live well. Within our limitations, and working with what requires accommodation, we choose what we do and how we do it. We can bring creativity and persistence; vision and excellence to the way we live. We have genuine freedom in the way we take risks, survive failure, and continue to pursue success.
Steve Jobs reminded us of that. It’s no wonder we miss him.