Referencing “the kindness of strangers,” Jessica Helfand recalls the power and influence of simple, unexpected, generous communications.
What really caught me is the power–that is, the influential generosity–in this image. I can almost feel the crispness of the page, and can certainly see the texture and quality of the paper. I can imagine the day it arrived in the mail, distinguishable among the ordinariness of the other pieces in the pile. I can feel the anticipation, the expectation, before even opening it simple from the nature of the envelope and the line advising who it was from–that very simple formula guiding brand communication so elegantly executed–“tell them who you are and what you do.”
I can image the feel of the letter opener and the sound of the envelop tearing, the texture of the stationery, the sound of its unfolding. Look at the composition of the page, the absence of logo, the abundance of white space. Look at the length of the line and the number of words between margins. Look at the color and gestural character of the signature. Note even the marks of the typewriter and that bit of ribbon fuzz to the edges of the font. Note that convention of capitalized author initials and lower cap typists initials, and its implications of the time taken in draft and final edit, of collaborative composition, of process and engagement.
I can imagine holding that letter and reading and rereading it. I can imagine its place on the desk and the number of times it was picked up and read again. And here it is, more than a quarter of a century later, physically re-presented as an observation of the power of professional consideration, a reflection on manners, a parable about generosity, a remembrance that makes a history.
I believe that the power of this note to Jessica, and its relevance to others beyond her, is not only in the message itself, but is embodied in the sensual generosity of the page and the implications of its production.
Vignelli‘s letter is about a dozen lines, maybe 75 words. It’s not much more than a “,” but the character of its generosity, embodied in its physicality, still resonates almost 30 years later.