The physical substance

by Kelvin Smith

The physical substance of the object is pulp and polish, colour and clarity, surface and seeing, reflection and ragged edges. Paper beaten down, pressed, dried and rolled: moulds, finishes and folds make leaves and sheets and rampant bulk. Fat and thin paper, with tidy trim or ragged rips, even uncut sections needing paper knives.

Design would make much screen-time palatable using technology that spends time and money replicating paper tints and reflectivity; but it’s vegetative rather than vegetable, greasy touchscreen rather than clean fingers that fondle the paper. Printing points to humanity, but modern printing, can be too perfect for its own good: the perfection digital yearns for.

“But the very smooth paper and the mechanically very perfect presses required for printing which shall show no ‘impression’ can only be produced in a world which cares for such things, and such a world is of its nature inhuman. The industrial world of to-day is such, and has the printing it desires and deserves.”

[Gill, E. An Essay on Typography. London: Penguin. 2011 (orig 1931) p67]