Women In Design – Susan Kare

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In this blog series, we shine a light on women trailblazers in the design industry – women who have earned a Wikipedia page (or are likely to very soon). You might not know them by name, but definitely by their work and influence on the design world as a whole.  

Our October Woman of the Month is Susan Kare, a founding mother of modern design and the creative genius behind some of the most recognizable icons, typefaces, and graphic elements in the world. If you have a Mac, you can see Kare’s looped box design on your Command key.  

Known as “the woman who gave the Macintosh a smile”, Kare’s digital career took off when she was asked to mock up a few icons and font elements for Apple. She showed up to her interview with a notebook full of pixelated sketches on graph paper, some of which became the iconic elements that gave Macintosh the wit that has charmed users for generations. 

Despite having no previous experience with computers, her designs for Apple revolutionized the industry. Her pixel art went beyond graphic design – drawing from experience gained in a Fine Arts PHD and by incorporating aspects of mosaics, needlepoints, and pointillism. By focusing primarily on meaning and clarity, she made computer graphics approachable and available to a wide audience for the first time. Before, knowledge of code was necessary for simple commands like cut, copy, and paste. Kare’s images became a guide for users of all experience levels to interact with computers.  

“An icon is successful if you could tell someone what it is once and they don’t forget it…the best icons are more like traffic signs than graphic illustrations.”

Susan Kare

In addition to the icons she designed, Kare created several fonts for Apple that became the standard operating fonts that come with every computer today. She designed these fonts with the screen in mind, aiming to optimize the user’s experience.  

After her time at Apple, Kare continued to work with Steve Jobs at NeXT, Inc., eventually becoming an independent designer. She worked with technology giants Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and Sony Pictures, continuing to bring that combination of simplicity and accessibility to everything she touched. Her art can be found in Microsoft’s Windows 3.0, including the deck of cards of the computer’s solitaire game that was more than just a casual way to pass the time, but was actually designed to help users become comfortable using a mouse.  

Recipient of the AIGA Medal in recognition of her achievements in design and human-computer interaction, today Kare is Creative Director of Special Projects at Pinterest, heading up the design of The Point, Pinterest’s café in their headquarters.  

The seamless interaction we have with computers today is largely due to Kare’s dedication to making computers enjoyable for everyone. The personality in Susan Kare’s work resonates on screen and beyond. Her continuing impact on design is that of wit, whimsy, and maintaining human charm in an increasingly digital landscape.  

Prints of Kare’s work are available on her website, kareprints.com.  

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