Interview with Susan Kare, the woman behind Apple’s first icons and pixel art pioneer
Priceonomics has an inspiring interview with Susan Kare, creator of the first Apple icons and pioneer of pixel art.
Thirty years ago, as tech titans battled for real estate in the personal computer market, an inconspicuous young artist gave the Macintosh a smile.
Susan Kare “was the type of kid who always loved art.” As a child, she lost herself in drawings, paintings, and crafts; as a young woman, she dove into art history and dreamed of being a world-renowned fine artist.
But when a chance encounter in 1982 reconnected her with an old friend and Apple employee, Kare found herself working in a different medium, with a much smaller canvas — about 1,024 pixels. Equipped with few computer skills and lacking any prior experience with digital design, Kare proceeded to revolutionize pixel art.
For many, Susan Kare’s icons were a first taste of human-computer interaction: they were approachable, friendly, and simple, much like the designer herself. Today, we recognize the little images — system-failure bomb, paintbrush, mini-stopwatch, dogcow — as old, pixelated friends.
But Kare, who has subsequently done design work for Microsoft, Facebook, and Paypal, has also become her own icon, immortalized in the annals of pixel art. We had a chance to interview her; this is her story.
Check out this vintage Macintosh commercial from 1983 featuring Susan!
“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.”
“The end goal is to develop an image that is easy to understand and remember, and that works well in its screen environment. It’s always optimal to be able to see the whole visual UI and mock up how icons will fit into that, and iterate.”
There’s a ton more to the interview, including pictures of Susan’s notebooks that show her original ideas for classic icons! Check it out here.
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