When I was in grade school, handwriting was my worst subject. I had terrible handwriting. It looked like a woodchuck had barfed a bunch of twigs onto a piece of paper. So, each quarter, when I was sent home with my report card, it was full of A’s and B’s . . . and one C-, in penmanship.

Never having been one to blindly accept convention, I asked why it even mattered if I had decent handwriting. It’s probably no surprise that I thought handwriting was “stupid,” even “a waste of time.” I was too young to respect the merits of something at which I had no hope of succeeding (though seriously, grading on penmanship is stupid and a waste of time).

No matter how many times I asked, I was always told the same thing: “When you grow up and get a job, you’ll need to be able to communicate clearly. You need good handwriting to communicate clearly.”

Thank goodness computers took over. My handwriting is still terrible. Oh, I can draw letters, but I certainly can’t write them.

Today I understand that at the root of my educators’ intentions was something valuable: Clear communication is critical to success. Luckily for me, I rarely have to rely upon my handwriting to communicate clearly. I can simply type an e-mail, make a slide presentation, or write a book, and it will be rendered in crisp, beautiful typography. Many of these letterforms were perfected over 500 years ago, and they still carry words with strength and clarity today.

Additionally, I have spent years studying the ...

Get Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.