Steve Jobs, the Macintosh and the Moscow Metro

In 1972 Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed college in Portland, Oregon, but hung around campus for more than a year afterward; during that time, he audited Father Palladino’s calligraphy class. After helping to found Apple in 1976, he often credited the company’s elegant onscreen fonts — and his larger interest in the design of computers as physical objects — to what he had been taught there.

“I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great,” Jobs said in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford. “It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.” He then went on to say: “Ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”

Why am I telling you this story in a blog about Russia? Well, to me there is a “link” between the Macintosh and the Moscow Metro.

Every station of the Moscow Metro, even the most drab and impersonal ones, has its name written in a unique and different font.

Take for instance the Kolomenskaya station, pictured above. Opened in 1969, as a part of the southern line extension of the Moscow Metro system, it was the station after Avtozavodskaya (lit. auto factory), named for the nearby Zavod Imeni Likhacheva, where ZIS and ZIL limousines were built, which was already operational since 1943. The fact that it was built to serve the namesake working-class neighborhood is reflected a simple functional style. The station by itself is “nothing to write home about”. Octagonal pillars of the hall are lined with grey marble and the floor is riveted with red granite in the centre and grey granite at the sides. The track walls are faced with yellow ceramic tiles (in a rather sad state today, to be honest) with a stripe of grey marble at the base. But even Kolomenskaya boast its own, unique and (I think) absolutely beautiful font to display its name on the track walls.

Steve Jobs’ teacher at Reeds college, Robert Palladino (a Trappist monk, first, and then a Catholic priest later in life) certainly never set foot in Russia and arguably (because of his profession) he would have not been welcomed in the Soviet Union. But I like to think that, had he ever had a chance to visit the Moscow metro, he would have smiled in appreciation at the attention to typefaces that every station display, often reflecting the overall theme of the station. As, I am quite sure, his pupil Steve Jobs would have, as well!

 


 

Would you like to take part in a photowalk or a photo tour of Moscow or any other Russian destination with an English (and Italian, Spanish and French) speaking photographer (me) showing you the sights, the best time and viewpoint(s) to capture them in your images and helping you improve your photo technique with practical tips? If so, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable, tailor-made experience for you!

 

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