I was recently quite moved (literally to tears) by Linotype: The Film, not only because of my personal passion for all things typographic, but because the film did a phenomenal job illustrating how this incredible machine changed the world.
Prior to the invention of the Linotype by Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German immigrant in the 1880s, the content for books and newspapers was set one letter at a time, by hand. This is a tedious and time-consuming task — book and newspaper production was slow and laborious, and as a result, information and knowledge moved slowly.
Along came the Linotype — newspapers and publishers around the world began integrating it eagerly into their operations. By 1911 there were 25,000 machines in use, 100,000 by 1954. It was essentially the internet of the first three-quarters of the 20th century, delivering content at speeds never thought possible.
There’s that word: Content.
Fast forward about 40 years to an article written by Bill Gates in 1996, “Content is King”. Seventeen years ago, Gates predicted the need for Social Media.
This was, in internet time, eons before the FriendTwitterSterMyFaceSpaceBookSphere explosion. At that point, not even Gates could predict what his old buddy Jobs would reveal in 2001 that set the stage for the all-powerful magic of the iPhone.
Here’s an excerpt from the original article:
If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.
Jump forward another decade, to Jeffrey Zeldman’s opening Keynote at An Event Apart 2012 in Chicago (summarized here by Luke Wroblewski), during which he declared that content is a design problem. This really resonated with me, as I reflected on the countless times when my wireframe deadline was two weeks before any content would be delivered.
We’ve been building the internet for over 20 years now, and the explosion of devices with which to access information has fragmented designers, developers and content creators into a multitude of disciplines, design practices and schools of thought. Zeldman enthusiastically worked the crowd with his mantra: Mobile First, User First, Content First.
Ultimately, these three tenets point to one of the most important needs for content — a strategy. That strategy will govern how you organize your information, who owns that information, where it belongs and how best to deliver it to your user.
I like to daydream about a noisy pressroom, linotypists, typesetters, copywriters and art directors gathered around a large composing table, discussing the “content strategy” for tomorrow’s newspaper publication. What will their readers want? On what page will they be most likely to read that ad? What typeface will best express this headline?
Today we are social media experts, interactive designers, community managers, writers and developers gathered around our glowing screens, g-chatting about the various needs of our users and the many platforms and channels from which they will consume our messages.
We’re contemporary linotypists scattered across the globe, but working together building the never-ending pages of the internet.
What would Ottmar Mergenthaler say?!