It's inherently pleasing to think we can organise chaos. Our appetite for lists and trivia is rooted in the Enlightenment and the notion of taking a complicated and strange world and putting it into grids.
I have no particular interest in top 10s, even though my books have lists in them. I had a column in which I tried to collect 11ths the 11th-tallest building, or longest bridge. But it is difficult to find the 11th anything, because lists stop at 10, which is a remarkably dull number.
I write sentences to fit spaces. Having tight confines in which to think makes me think more creatively, and means I can get what I say as tight and as sharp as possible.
I am a control freak. If being a control freak means you care about detail, and that you are willing to work to make it look effortless, then what's wrong with that? Can you imagine a surgeon who wasn't a control freak? I think we need control freaks around.
Edward Tufte is an inspiration. He's an American expert on the graphical representation of data, an "information architect" whose basic principle says the less ink you need to display the information, the better.
Design is vital. If everything in one of my books was printed in Helvetica 12pt, the eye would get tired. I design every dot, comma, line and stroke so that any spread opened at random will please the eye as much as it will interest the reader.
Typefaces can make or break words. If I showed you "NatWest", say, in 15 fonts, you'd feel differently about them all. A font should be clean, clear and effortless.
The Comic Sans font should be banned. It is only good for labelling children's shoes.
Knowing where to stop is key. In a draft for my first book I included a double-page spread filled with Latin abbreviations. I found it profoundly boring. If I'm bored, everyone else is going to be bored.
'Schott's Almanac 2008' is out now (Bloomsbury, 16.99)Reuse content