A Steve Jobs from the Renaissance: Aldus Manutius

A Steve Jobs from the Renaissance: Aldus Manutius

By Giuliano Gaia

In his celebrated Stanford speech, Steve Jobs proudly stated that the Mac was “the first computer with beautiful typography“.  Steve Jobs loved typography, it was “beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture”. 

This is not the only link between Steve Jobs and one of the founding fathers of typography, Aldus Manutius, the most famous printer/publisher of the Renaissance. Provided you’ve got to be careful with comparisons spanning over centuries, there are some striking similarities between the two geniuses which offer us  valuable insight on how very successful people work and think.

Aldus Manutius

Attention to User Needs

What set Manutius apart from his Renaissance contemporaries was his attention about the usability of his products. His goal was to create more usable and more readable books. He was the first to invent a smaller kind of book, easier to bring around, anticipating modern paperbacks. Just as Steve Jobs did with its iPad, which brought the computer from the desktop to the sofa, he freed the book from the scholars’ libraries bringing them to the passionates’ homes. 

Care about Design

Manutius fully understood the importance of clean, perfect design. When you compare his books with contemporary ones, you can notice a much better balance between images, text and white space. “Decluttering” was his goal as much as it was Steve Jobs’.

Obsession with Quality

Even if he undoubtedly printed the most beautiful books of the whole Renaissance, Manutius complained that he never achieved the quality he was aiming at. He dismissed his contemporaries admiration as “not deserved” – what he really wanted was to print “the perfect book”, and was obsessed with even the smallest typo or imperfection, which he said “made him so sad”. He wanted his logo, the distinctive anchor with dolphin, to be synonym of perfect quality just as much as Steve Jobs wanted his Apple world to be perfect in every detail.  
Manutius and Apple logos

Hiring the best

When it came to people, Steve Jobs always tried to get the best he could, and knew how much he owed to collaborators like Jonathan Ive, his chief Designer. Similarly, Manutius for his books worked with one of the best typography designers of his time, Francesco Grifo, who invented the Italic font, which allowed greater legibility with reduced paper requirements.

Embracing Technological Revolutions

Manutius was working with the cutting-edge media technology of his age, movable type printing. He recognized all the revolutionary capabilities of technology and wanted to use it to achieve his goal of creating better, cheaper and more beautiful books than anyone else.

Exploiting the Context

Neither Manutius nor Jobs were alone in the desert. They were fully engrained in their age, and happened to be, or to go to, the right place at the right time. Steve Jobs was inspired by the Hippy Movement and of the first wave of techno-enthusiast computing pioneers. Manutius fully absorbed the vibrant and stimulating  atmosphere of Renaissance Venice, being friend with great intellectuals like Pico de La Mirandola and many others, becoming, as Steve Jobs did, both a son and a protagonist of his time.

Having a great Passion and a great Vision

Manutius loved books, and thought his passion was relevant for humankind. Just as Steve Jobs did not only want to make money but to change the world, so Manutius wanted to bring more books to the people, because, he stated, “if more people were reading books instead of using weapons, there would be less wars in the world“. Manutius hated to be distracted from his goal by people not as driven as he was – that’s why he asked people not to come to his shop unless they really wanted to help him. He felt he had not much time; he was able to publish his first book in 1494, when he was over 40, and due to his unstable health died in 1515, aged around 65. Like Steve Jobs, he managed to leave his trace on the world in only a few years, something we still thank him for.