miscellaneous commentary

Personal computing for the rest of us

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I finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs in four days. Fascinating read. Jobs was a genius and highly intuitive but he was also an insufferable prick to a lot of people. If I ever had a boss like him, I would have walked out the first time he threw one of his famous temper tantrums. But that’s just me; I don’t put up with egomaniacs.

A nice coda to the bio is this article on Susan Kare, who designed icons for the original Macintosh’s graphical user interface. It’s too bad neither of her “jump” icons made the cut.

Once software was developed that enabled Kare to start brainstorming digitally, she mined ideas from everywhere: Asian art history, the geeky gadgets and toys that festooned her teammates’ cubicles, and the glyphs that Depression-era hobos chalked on walls to point the way to a sympathetic household. The symbol on every Apple command key to this day — a stylized castle seen from above — was commonly used in Swedish campgrounds to denote an interesting sightseeing destination.

Kare’s work gave the Mac a visual lexicon that was universally inviting and intuitive. Instead of thinking of each image as a tiny illustration of a real object, she aimed to design icons that were as instantly comprehensible as traffic signs.

To creative innovators in the ’80s who didn’t see themselves as computer geeks, Kare’s icons said: Stop stressing out about technology. Go ahead, dive in!


Written by camcarlson

December 3, 2011 at 11:26 PM

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