Monday, 7 April 2014

Friday's Monday Post - Lost History of Computer Icons

I was busy Friday with returning to work after getting my gallbladder out...eeeek! But I did manage to find some interesting forgotten history. Much thanks to Priceonomics for giving me something cool to read.

Computers are now like other appliances: we use them in our daily lives, almost everyone in North America has one or access to one, and we take it for granted that it will be easy to use. Part of why it's so easy is the interface, including the icons we've come to know and mostly love. (I still can't stand that Microsoft magnifying glass that would talk to you)

Who designs these icons? Why do we never mention them in reference to the history of computing?

Susan Kare is one of the few who have received some recognition in geek circles, but not enough in the wider world for my taste.

As a fine artist with a PhD, Kare was hoping to get commissions for high end art works, when an old friend called up and asked if she'd work on some graphics for a new computer company he was working for. That was Apple in 1980. She admits that she had no computer graphic experience but learned on the job while at Apple, and then following Steven Jobs to his next venture at NExt.  She designed the first proportionally spaced digital font family, and icons. The garbage can, the paint brush, the little scissors, the OS icons...that was all Kare. All in little pixelated dots. It was an art form now, with character and whimsy. So much of what we see today on a Mac is because of her initial icon work.
One of Kare's early sketches
Kare continues to work in the field. She has designed the icons for Logitech, Paypal, IBM and Facebook - including the gifts we use to send to each other like mad. About her current work, she said -

“My philosophy has not really changed -- I really try to develop symbols that are meaningful and memorable. I started designing monochrome icons using a 32 x 32 pixel icon editor that Andy Hertzfeld created. Subsequently I've been able to take advantage of more robust tools and higher screen resolution, and also design vector images in Illustrator. But design problems are solved by thinking about context and metaphor -- not by tools.”

I strongly urge you to go check out Kare's website and look at all the amazing graphics she has created and continues to produce. You will recognize many from your daily internet life!

Articles on Kare:

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