New book celebrates maker of Mac's iconic icons

"Susan Kare Icons" takes a look back at the nearly 30-year career of the designer who brought us the "Happy Mac" and helped us learn to love the personal computer.

The Happy Mac is alive and well in icon designer Susan Kare's new book.

A recent neuroimaging experiment apparently showed that the sounds an iPhone makes can trigger feelings of love in the gadget's user.

Well, such emotional connections are nothing new for Apple. Anyone who owned a Macintosh back in the day can probably remember the feeling of, if not love, then at least affection engendered when the machine booted up, the startup chime sounded, and the Happy Mac icon smiled forth. The device was functioning as it should, another session of satisfying and "user friendly" computing was about to begin, and all was right with the world.

Startup chime aside, it's hard to imagine the original Macintosh without the pixilated, black-and-white icons created by designer Susan Kare: the aforementioned Happy Mac, the trash can, the pudgy hand. True, the icons would've been nothing more than eye candies if the underlying OS had not been so intuitive and smooth. But more than anyone else, Kare may well have been responsible for the emotional connection people felt--and still feel--for the Mac.

A Kare portrait of Steve Jobs, circa the early '80s. Here we see it in the icon editor Kare used, with the icon itself to the right. Folklore.org

Kare more or less fell into her role at Apple. She was dreaming of a life as a full-time artist, having gotten a Ph.D. in fine art from New York University (writing a dissertation on caricature in 19th and 20th century sculpture--which makes some sense, given the expressiveness of designs like the Happy Mac). Then an old high school friend, Mac OS co-developer Andy Hertzfeld, called about doing graphics for the still-embryonic machine. He told her she could create designs on graph paper and he could transfer them to the digital realm--a project she found intriguing (and likened to nondigital art forms like mosaics and needlepoint).

Now, nearly 30 years later, Kare's original icons, fonts, and other designs for the Mac still stand as hallmarks of the PC era, and of emotional design. In addition to Apple, she's worked for Microsoft, Facebook, PayPal, and scads of other clients. She's designed products for the Museum of Modern Art's MoMA Store, been dubbed the "Betsy Ross of the personal computer" by The New York Times, and even done the graphics for an iPhone app.

Kare recently released a book, "Susan Kare Icons," that singles out 80 designs from her past three decades of work. We've selected several designs from the original Mac operating system for our gallery. Take a look--and see if any of them give you that lovin' feelin'.

 

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