Being Obsessive about Detail is Normal

Being obsessive about detail is being normal

Obses­sive atten­tion to detail is a pleonasm or a tau­tol­ogy. The very nature of detail means that one can­not deal with it with­out being atten­tive to it. I get asked about this a lot because to some (most?) peo­ple typog­ra­phy seems all about detail. When Matthew Knott-Craig from Design Ind­aba sent me his ques­tions, I had to point that out to him.

The metic­u­lous­ness of typo­graphic work seems to require an obses­sive atten­tion to detail. Would you describe your work in typog­ra­phy as an obses­sion and, if so, why does this par­tic­u­lar dis­ci­pline require this level of engage­ment?

Wrong ques­tion. Every craft requires atten­tion to detail. Whether you’re build­ing a bicy­cle, an engine, a table, a song, a type­face or a page: the details are not the details, they make the design. Con­cepts don’t have to be pixel-perfect, and even the fussi­est project starts with a rough sketch. But build­ing some­thing that will be used by other peo­ple, be they dri­vers, rid­ers, read­ers, lis­ten­ers – users every­where, it needs to be built as well as can be. Unless you are obsessed by what you’re doing, you will not be doing it well enough. Typog­ra­phy appears to require a lot of detail, but so does music, cook­ing, car­pen­try, not to men­tion brain surgery. Some­times only the experts know the dif­fer­ence, but if you want to be an expert at what you’re mak­ing, you will only be happy with the result when you’ve given it every­thing you have.

I strongly believe that the atten­tion some­one gives to what he or she makes is reflected in the end result, whether it is obvi­ous or not. Inher­ent qual­ity is part of absolute qual­ity and with­out it things will appear shoddy. The users may not know why, but they always sense it.

I admit to being obses­sive about my work, but I refuse that to be clas­si­fied as weird and unusual and obses­sive­ness being lim­ited to cer­tain disciplines.