Susan Kare -- designer of vintage Mac symbols and Facebook "gifts" -- shares stories of Steve Jobs and famous logos SLIDE SHOW
Steve Jobs’ legendary product launches had an unmistakably theatrical air. For Apple fans, part of the thrill of seeing a new Mac instrument unveiled was the chance to admire its sleek design (take, for example, the moment in 2008 when Jobs liberated a razor-thin MacBook Air from its innocent-looking manila envelope).
While early Macs were boxier and more primitive than their hyper-evolved modern counterparts, good design — on-screen and off — has always been central to the Apple mystique. That’s where Susan Kare, the artist who invented many of Mac’s most enduring symbols, comes in. Kare is the architect of early Apple iconography — the designer who brought us, among so many other recognizable signs, the wristwatch waiting icon and the command key symbol (based on a symbol used on Swedish maps).
A new, self-published book (available online) shows off some of Kare’s most recognizable work (including more recent projects, like Facebook’s popular digital “gifts”) — and resurrects other designs that have been phased out of Apple computers’ virtual image lexicon. Over email, Kare answered some of our questions; the following slide show offers highlights from her portfolio (with captions adapted from her book).
How did you first get involved with Apple?
My friend from high school, Andy Hertzfeld, encouraged me to interview at Apple for a part-time job to design fonts (mainly) and other images for the Macintosh. I didn’t have any experience with computers, and couldn’t find research material about digital fonts per se, but figured I could work from traditional fonts displayed in books.
How unusual was it, at the time, for a computer company to hire a professional artist? Do you think this is something computer companies do a lot more often now?
I can’t really generalize, but I was the only graphic artist in the Mac software group (the title on my business card was “Macintosh Artist”). Of course, it seems more common for development teams to include artists now since so many user interfaces are graphical (and I’m always impressed with the art made by the Google Doodle team).
In the beginning, how long did the design process for a single icon take?
This varies, because for some of the icons (e.g., a pencil for “write”) there is one obvious solution where alternatives were probably mocked up within a day. Others (e.g., “fill”) took longer because multiple candidates were created and circulated, and leading contenders were shown in the software in progress.
What do you think the most effective and lasting computer icons accomplish? Has this changed over time, as design technology has improved?
A great icon clearly conveys a concept at a glance, is not ambiguous, and is memorable. I think that the basic design challenge remains unchanged, though certainly technology advances provide more potential avenues of expression (more color, more resolution, sound, animation, etc.).
Your early, heavily pixelated Mac icons are markedly different from some of your more recent, smoother designs (e.g., the Facebook gifts). Is this because of the way technology has progressed over the years, or simply because you’re trying for a different look?
In any job we do, we first consider the design or marketing goals along with any technical limitations or requirements.
For the Macintosh, most symbols were monochrome, needed to fit within a 16 x 16 or 32 x 32 square pixel grid, and were shorthand for computer functions.
For each Facebook gift, there was a 64 x 64 pixel canvas with virtually unlimited color. The challenge was to create images desirable enough or affecting enough or amusing enough to encourage potential gift givers to spend a dollar to enhance a message. The gifts functioned as small greeting cards, rather than digital road signs. Some gifts were more iconic and some more illustrative, but detail in this case did not impede understanding.
How closely did you get to work with Steve Jobs? What did you understand his aesthetic philosophy to be?
I was fortunate to work with Steve at Apple and at NeXT on a variety of projects. He checked in almost daily on the Macintosh graphics-in-progress. Later, at NeXT, we worked together on the identity and branding, and on a variety of publications and slide shows. He would constantly iterate on the content of his presentations, slide by slide. At that pre-PowerPoint era, there was a lot of handwork in making slides, and builds could require many exposures. He might revise a single slide 14 or 15 times. I learned a lot about the cumulative value of attention to detail from Steve, and about pushing the limits of a medium. I still think of his philosophy of not showing too much information all at once, and the value of simplicity in visual messaging.
More Related Stories
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
- Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" to use porn star body doubles
- New Beyoncé single leaked
- The sweet, sure to be short-lived "The Goodwin Games"
- Damon Lindelof admits barely-clothed scene in "Star Trek" was "gratuitous"
- Justin Timberlake: I'm a mediocre folk singer!
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11