Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing. No argument or consideration can absolve typography from this duty. A printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without purpose.
- Emil Ruder - Typography: A Manual of Design (1981)
To convey information in writing, that is the one plain duty, and the one most easily forgotten. It’s the art that overwhelms us and distracts us from our responsibilities. It’s the art that tempts our pride with possibilities of greatness, or happiness, or uniqueness. In the end, our simplest duties are forgotten and we are left feeling lost. The line, the shape, the curve, balance and contrast, division and surface: the possibilities are endless and distant. Each of us feels the limitations of our tools. We complain that they hold us back, that we aren’t free to express ourselves, but we know that we are only part of a vast machine. We are a small part, putting our stamp where we can, marking our names here or there. The tools are our guides, to keep us close to the task at hand. The message would be lost in possibilities even faster were we free of those few remaining constraints.
Design is like the stars. The beauty is undeniable, but the distance is vast. A glint of light, barely understood, further than we can imagine from our beings, but with a poetry that pulls at us from all sides. The gravity can be felt in our dreams.
> Oh why is heaven built so far, > > Oh why is earth set so remote? > > I cannot reach the nearest star > > That hangs afloat. > > > > I would not care to reach the moon, > > One round monotonous of change; > > Yet even she repeats her tune > > Beyond my range. > > > > I never watch the scatter'd fire > > Of stars, or sun's far-trailing train, > > But all my heart is one desire, > > And all in vain: > > > > For I am bound with fleshly bands, > > Joy, beauty, lie beyond my scope; > > I strain my heart, I stretch my hands, > > And catch at hope. > > - Christina Rossetti - De Profundis (1890) >
As our ships strive endlessly forward into darkness, we spare a passing thought that our engines may sparkle like stars for those we left behind.