Your SuperPower as a Designer

Let’s face it: typeface designers wouldn’t survive for long in a post-zombie apocalypse world. But, what about until then?

Our ability to detect a missing kerning pair on a page would be of no use to the preservation of the human species. We draw circles that aren’t perfect (so they look right) and make them bigger than the squares right next to them (so they look aligned). What superpower is this? And this is not a contemporary issue, resulting from the hyper-specialization of professions. When the Romans carved their letters on top of buildings, they took care to make the letters on the top rows slightly larger than those on the bottom. Looking from the ground up, the top lines are a little further away from our eyes, and for them to appear the same size, they need to be a little bigger. And they did it all by carving into stones, without Ctrl + Z. It must be important.

Our designer Ana Laydner told us, frustrated, that she couldn’t tell her seamstress that the pants pocket wasn’t straight as it should have been. “I couldn’t complain because it was so little. Other people don’t understand this, but that pocket is a little off, I’m sure it is!”, she says, resigned, receiving empathy from all of us.

Still in the area of sewing, do you know how to differentiate an expensive suit from a cheap one? Is the corner of the sleeve a little rounded? Does the texture of the buttons vary slightly or is it identical? How is the buttonhole finish? Yes, how is the finishing of where buttons pass through? Until the end of the 18th century, clothes were full of flashy adornments and men even wore wigs to show off their social status. With the French Revolution, it began to look bad to be associated with the court and royalty, so Beau Brummel popularized a simplified style that gave rise to the suit. The rich could recognize themselves by the subtle details of their clothes, without attracting the attention of others.

A study¹ has shown that the price of Mercedez-Benz cars increases inversely with the brand’s size displayed on the hood. Precisely, its customers pay $5,000 more for every centimeter less of the brand appearing. There is a similar effect with luxury handbags.

I want to believe there is more value in the details than the thinly veiled competition that some are more fortunate than others. When we are pondering over a letterform for hours, there’s a level of refinement that’s only possible with hyper focus and time. There is no shortcut. We invest our lifetime there.

A Pentagram designer once wrote to me, “I can see the years of experience in the design of these typefaces.” He noticed what might be considered details. When we see a famous work of art (it could be a marble statue or a TV series), what we experience is the sum of a series of decisions made, and the more each one was thought through, the more we appreciate it. We fascinate by browsing through every detail; we watch it a second or third time, always discovering something new. A richer experience for those who are willing to find it, because they also have the power to create it.

Fabio Haag

¹ Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence, 2010. Young Jee Han, Joseph C. Nunes and Xavier Drèze, 2010.