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.