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Each of Designlab’s UX Academy intakes is named after someone that inspires us.

February’s cohort takes the name of contemporary designer Susan Kare, famous for making the original Apple Mac icons, and a succession of other pixel graphics including the card designs for Microsoft Solitaire (Windows 3.0).

7 Things We Love About Susan Kare

  • She created some of the world’s most recognisable icon art. Her designs for the original Apple Mac were friendly, whimsical, quirky, and soulful — making a huge contribution to the emotional connection that many Apple users formed with their Mac, and enhancing the user experience in the process. Kare invented new symbol conventions, such as the fill bucket and lasso tool, which have since become ubiquitous in graphics applications.

Some of the original Mac icons

  • She also designed the iconic Chicago font (featured in the header image above). In spite of it being her first ever typeface design, the font powered Mac OS for years. It was one of the first proportional (i.e. not fixed width) system fonts used on any platform. Like her icons, the font was functional and highly legible — but also friendly and distinctive. Many miss Chicago and Kare’s other “city” fonts (Geneva, San Francisco, and New York), although Chicago’s influence on the letterforms of San Francisco (Apple’s new system font) is unmistakeable.
  • She designed the Mac icons in a $2.50 squared notebook. Icon design programs were not yet a thing in the 1980s, so Kare began on paper. Which is lucky for us, because it means we have the privilege of seeing her original sketches:

Excerpt from Kare’s sketchbook

  • She sells signed limited edition prints of her work. As well as prints of her icons old and new, Kare also sells a book documenting her career. The Museum of Modern Art has also commissioned merchandise from her — and Kare’s design work has been inducted into the MoMA collection.
  • She was sculpting a razorback hog out of steel when she took the call from Apple offering her a job.

  • She didn’t go to art school. She did, however, graduate with a PhD in Fine Arts. In an interview with designboom, she explains: “In addition to returning to [a] museum job for several summers, I took many pro-bono jobs to get graphics experience, including: posters and brochure design in college, holiday cards, invitations, etc. to build a portfolio since I didn’t go to art school.”
  • She offers the following advice: “Don’t try to be original — just try to be good.”

Excerpt from Kare’s sketchbook

Susan Kare took a 16x16 pixel grid and transformed it into art worthy of MoMA. For us, she stands out not just as an excellent graphic designer, but also as someone with an intuitive understanding that the user’s needs must be at the center of the design process.

We hope that students of the Kare cohort are inspired by the humanity of her work, the humility of her career, and the inventiveness of her design solutions within tight (256 pixel) constraints.

To find out more about Susan Kare, take a look at her website.

Main illustration: Andrew Wilshere

More people who inspire us

Interested in changing careers or building your skills to make you more valuable? Check out UX Academy and apply before the next cohort. There are very limited available seats and a waiting list for each cohort. Apply now to UX Academy

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