AMITIAE - Friday 6 January 2012

Susan Kare Icons: Selected Work from 1983 - 2011

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

Susan Kare

Kare, Susan. Susan Kare Icons: Selected Work from 1983 - 2011. Watermark Press/Kare Prints, San Francisco, CA. $39.95.

Susan Kare My first real use of a computer was in 1985: a PC with twin floppy-disk drives, running MSDOS 2.4. The university fitted out a dozen or more classrooms with computers that were used to teach English 101 classes using WordStar. Some of the commands in that word processor are still used today.

One of the professors in the English Department was a book a year man. To help him with the complete writing and preparation of his next work, he acquired a Macintosh. The first I had ever seen.

While at his house one day, I was able to try this out, but being used to command line DOS, I found the white screen, the mouse and the couple of applications I tried, a little daunting at the time. I wish I had spent a little more time then.

What I did notice was that instead of having to type a command (and remember those I needed), the Macintosh used icons to represent functions and tasks. These were the work of Susan Kare, who had already assisted Apple in the design of the new scalable fonts that could be used on the Mac. As she writes in her online bio page, the "design process involved the search for the strongest metaphors, and the craft of depicting them."

Susan Kare Susan Kare Susan Kare

The strength of her design craft is evident in the way that those icons became so closely identified with the Mac, were used in other platforms and in some cases are still in use today. The list of clients for whom she has worked on interface design is impressive. Good design is never wasted.

Susan Kare has recently released a book of many of the icons that she has created, including those original images that were used to such good effect by Apple when the Macintosh was introduced.

Susan Kare Susan Kare Susan Kare

Fittingly, the front cover features the happy Mac icon, while the rear cover has a smaller Alert icon in orange, with the subtitle. Both front and back inner covers have a repeating pattern of some of the more familiar icons on the early Macs. After the signed page and some publishing information, there is an article introducing Kare's work: "Signposts in New Space," by Steve Silberman. He is well-known in high own right, especially as a contributor to Wired Magazine, so is well-qualified to provide a lead-in to the illustrations. Silberman's input is not just a casual few lines, but is an informative and interesting complement to the work of Kare.

Susan Kare The book is set out simply in its square (7" x 7") format with the icons doing most of the communication, as was the original intent. The right page (Recto) which is seen first as we turn pages in a book, has a large image of each icon as it was originally designed in Kare's notebooks. These are of course far larger than we would ever have seen them normally.

The left page (Verso) has a smaller copy of the icon and a brief text explanation. The earlier icons, for the Mac, were created on graph paper with each square representing a pixel (Silberman).

The later work, such as the microphone for a social networking application or the Facebook kiss icon used as a virtual gift are not limited in the same way by the limitations of pixels.

I ordered the book online from Kare Prints and it was a couple of weeks before the order was despatched, but each copy was signed by Susan Kare. There were some more delays in the delivery to where I am staying in Bangkok, but my copy finally arrived this week well protected in its thick card packet and in a USPS envelope. Shipping and handling added another $19 to the final cost for me.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to

information Tag information Tag

Back to eXtensions
Back to Home Page