Re: Spartan typography

Subject: Re: Spartan typography
From: Michael Lewis <lewism -at- BRANDLE -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 1997 17:23:07 +1100

Bruce Byfield wrote:

> Excuse me if I take your comment and run with it:
> This statement is exactly what Eric Gill objected to: the seperation
> between utilitarianism and aesthetics in modern thought.
> Gill's contention is that something that is perfectly designed for its
> purpose has a simplicity and strength of design as well. I'd liken this
> idea to the concept of an "elgant proof" in mathematics.
> ...
> Gill went on to say that such a combination of practicality and beauty
> is only possible when the makers of the artifact have an interest in
> what they are doing, and a determination to do it well.
> If that's so, then I suggest that ugly, utilitarian technical writing
> exists because someone, somewhere doesn't care about they're doing.
> Sometimes, that someone is the client or the company, and writers can
> only do so much about that.
> However, even then, writers and designers who care about their work can
> mitigate the effect of this lack of concern.
> Yeah, this is idealistic, and I don't know what reason I have for
> idealism these days. But if I can't care about my work, I don't want to
> do it, thanks very much.

I don't think we're as far apart as you're suggesting, Bruce. I'm not
saying aesthetic values aren't important. I'm not saying "as long as it
works, who gives a stuff what it looks like". What I am saying is that
(a) it should be possible to redefine info structures so that clarity
can be achieved without ugliness; (b) if in any given case that's not
possible (or the client / employer won't wear the cost), clarity has to
come before beauty. The question of cost is probably where idealism and
practicality part company: like you, I don't want to produce anything
that doesn't look good (inviting, pleasing, soothing, whatever), but I'm
running a business, not a charity. As with so many aspects of
professional activity, there are trade-offs we have to make. Just as I
would rather issue a manual that's 95% complete than keep it back for
three months while I pursue the other 5%, so I would rather sacrifice
some aesthetic value rather than compromise completion, cost, or
Michael Lewis
Brandle Pty Limited, Sydney, Australia
PO Box 1249, Strawberry Hills, NSW 2012
Suite 8, The Watertower, 1 Marian St, Redfern 2016
Tel +61-2-9310-2224 ... Fax +61-2-9310-5056, or

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