Women and Technology – Part 3
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Women’s History Month – Women and Technology, Part 3 | by Tracey Francis, Design and Content, Charlton Park Academy and CENMAC
Most of us are probably familiar with the work of Susan Kare, even if we are not familiar with her name. Many things, from the icons on our computers to the apps and virtual gifts we frequently use, have in some ways been influenced by Susan’s creativity to make computers and technology look fun. Hence, she is known as the woman who gave the Apple Mac computer a smile.
… the computer should be friendly and appeal
to non-technical users.
Susan Kare is celebrated as one of the most significant technologists of the modern world because ‘her suite of icons for the original Macintosh in 1984 helped people learn to navigate an unfamiliar technology – the personal computer – with help from intuitive symbols.’ She was a young sculptor when an old friend called and asked if she would be interested in applying for a job creating graphics and typefaces for the new personal computer called Apple, which was due for release in 1984. Prior to working within technology, Susan had very little experience with computers.
Susan said: ‘One of the stated goals for the Macintosh project was that the computer should be friendly and appeal to non-technical users.’ As the project was taking a bit of time to launch, she was asked to create icons so people would be aware something was happening when using a computer. A smile to Susan seemed like a good idea, so she created an icon of the Mac with a smile. Therefore, users had a reassuring smile as they booted up their computers and the smile indicated something was about to begin. Her overall aesthetic was playful and reassuring, even when the user encountered a system failure it was mediated by her icon of choice, ‘a plucky cherry bomb with a lit fuse.’
Susan created fun graphics to reduce the stress and anxiety that many people encountered with technology when they were using computers for the first time.
Using graphics on computers was not new at that time, however Apple wanted to demystify the operating system so the average person could understand intuitively what they needed to do. Early computers appeared to be complicated objects that were developed purely for the mathematically inclined scientists and engineers. Susan created fun graphics to reduce the stress and anxiety that many people encountered with technology when they were using computers for the first time. She drew her inspiration from many sources, such as art history, hieroglyphics, mosaics, and gadgets. Her mother had kept her occupied during childhood with arts and crafts. So, embroidery and needlework were a perfect analogue version of the digital bitmap. Susan transferred cross-stitch style designs from graph paper and recreated icons and type on the pixel screen.
Susan Kare has continued to create warm and accessible imagery for a range of tech companies, including Pinterest.
Susan Kare explains Macintosh UI ergonomics on the Computer Chronicles (1984)
Don’t forget – World Down Syndrome Day, 21 March 2021
World Down Syndrome Day is a global awareness event so please spread the word. Also, visit www.languagecreatesreality.com or read our guest blog post by creator of Languages Creates Reality Rebecca Hulbert: cenmac.com/2020/12/language-creates-reality