The Design Work Of Susan Kare

If you are looking for a good design read, here’s a high recommendation: Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fires & Riots: California and Graphic Design, 1936-1986, a fantastic survey of visual talent from the West coast. There are a lot of notables you may find familiar like Colby Posters and Sister Corita Kent but there are tons of people you may be unfamiliar with. One that I had to go “Wha-wha-what?” over was designer Susan Kare who designed all the original Apple icons.

If you were an adolescent with access to a Mac before 2004, you are extremely familiar with Kare’s work. She made smiling computers and handsy document holders. She added faces to moments of need from your computer and bombs of warning to assuage any mounting anger you may have with the machine. She created the visual language from which your Mac tried to communicate with you.

Her designs are so ubiquitous and undoubtedly have a strong hand in what we still see on our computers today. The funny thing is that we often forget that these things are designed to begin with. In reading about Kare in Earthquakes, the news felt like I had been told I had an extra parent I never thought I had. “So this is who made all my computer friends,” I thought. It’s also made me all warm and fuzzy considering she got a major shout out in the girl power chapter of that book.

Susan Kare Design Apple Facebook California 1234KYLE5678 MacPaint Interface

More than just the icons for Mac, Kare helped create the kid friendly MacPaint Interface—which I am obsessed with—in 1983 in addition to the original Control Panel (also in 1983). As the book points out, Kare “refined the designs of others and worked with metaphors to develop new symbols.” Thus, a tortoise and hare to help describe how slow or fast you want your keyboard to respond. She is responsible to much of the Mac’s visual ease of use.

Kare’s work is more than a ghost in the machine, things lost to old computers: her work is still alive and well online. Most notably, she’s behind a few of my favorite (sadly now vintage) Facebook gift icons. She also made icons for PayPal and her own minimalist emojis. Oh! She also designed the original Microsoft Solitaire. Her work is really everywhere.

It goes without saying that Kare is a superstar. She is a design icon herself, just like the icons she made. You should definitely take some time to wander around her site and, if you are so tickled, please buy a print of her creations.

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