Susan Kare – Pioneer of Computer Icons

susan-kareSusan Kare is one of the notable contemporary American graphic designers. During 1980s, she developed many of the interface elements for the Apple Macintosh. She was a member of the original Apple Macintosh design team. The company primarily hired her into Macintosh software group and she was assigned the job to design user interface graphics and fonts. Soon after, she was promoted to the post of a Creative Director. For the Macintosh operating system, Kare designed many typefaces, original marketing material and icons. The modified and revised versions of her original groundbreaking designs are still present in many computer graphics tools. For instance, her ingeniously designed icons such as the Lasso, the Grabber and the Paint Bucket are still used with some modification. (


Susan Kare – Icons

Kare’s most notable works from her time with Apple are the Chicago typeface. It was the most prominent typeface for the user interface, applied not only in Classic Mac OS but also the first four generations of Apple iPod interface. Another one of her recognizable creations were the original monospace Monaco typeface and Geneva typeface. Besides, her long list of original creations include the symbol on the Command key on Apple keyboards, the welcome screen icon the Happy Mac that greeted the users when the machine is turned on and Clarus the Dogcow.

Susan_Kare - Mac_Icons

Susan Kare – Mac Icons

After completing her tenure at Apple Computers, Kare accepted the job offer as a designer for NeXT. There she served the clients such as Microsoft and IBM. Working with Microsoft she managed the card deck for Windows 3.0’s solitaire game project. She also designed multiple icons for the Windows 3.0. Quite a number of icons she designed for Microsoft remained unchanged until Windows XP, such as Notepad and various Control Panels icons. She contributed iconography to the Nautilus file manager for Eazel and IBM sought her icon designing expertise for their interface. Moreover, stationery and notebooks featuring her designs are used at The Museum of Modern Art store in NYC. The popular social networking site, Facebook requested her to design the ‘Gift’ icon for their site in 2007. Some of the icons displayed in ‘Gift’ section are also featured in Mac OS X.

Susan_Kare - Facebook

Susan Kare – Facebook icons

According to Susan Kare, good icons should be more efficient like road signs rather than mere illustrations. They should be easily comprehended and keep the users from getting confused by extraneous details. She is of the view that out of million colors all the colors don’t need to be incorporated in the icons and that once a well-crafted and meaningful icon is designed it doesn’t need to be resigned frequently.

Susan Kare - Moma icons

Susan Kare – Moma icons

According to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Susan Kare is “a pioneering and influential computer iconographer. Since 1983, Kare has designed thousands of icons for the world’s leading companies. Utilizing a minimalist grid of pixels and constructed with mosaic-like precision, her icons communicate their function immediately and memorably, with wit and style.” (

Susan Kare - Moma icons

Susan Kare – Moma icons

She began her career at Apple, Inc. as the screen graphics and digital font designer for the original Macintosh computer, initially advertised as “the computer for the rest of us.” Her studio’s work continues to optimize for clarity and simplicity–whether for icons, corporate identities, web design, or murals–and to present concepts in clear, concise, and memorable ways.

Susan Kare - Fossil watch screens

Susan Kare – Fossil watch screens

Kare believes that good icons should be more like traffic signs than illustrations; easily comprehensible and not laden with extraneous detail. She has observed that just because millions of colors are available, maximizing their use in an icon does not necessarily improve it. When symbols (icons or logos) are meaningful and well-crafted, they need not be frequently redesigned.

Susan received MA and Ph.D. degrees in fine art from New York University. In addition to her interest in art and design, she is an avid surfer, runner, and Australian shepherd fan.

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