I’ve been slowly making my way through Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs for a couple of weeks now and am currently on the section where Jobs brings in Susan Kare to create the font and icons that would make the Mac what it is today — a computer not just for “figure-it-out-yourself” geeks, but for creative people looking to express themselves. As Isaacson notes, the addition of Kare to Jobs’s Mac team not only made computers accessible to all, it made desktop publishing accessible to all. Over time, anyone who had a Mac began to know and care about fonts, icons and page design. Eventually, the Mac, paired with the laser printer, took users away from the mimeograph and into the realm of self publishing. My father, for instance, owned a restaurant for a time and used the family Mac to create a monthly newsletter for his best customers — a differentiator that kept them coming back.
Kare’s icons — and particular the bomb icon above — are what I think of when I think of the Mac. To this day, the bomb conjures up mixed feelings of dread, hope and challenge. The bomb only appeared when the worst of the worst happened. When I backed the Mac into a corner that it just couldn’t get out of, it would throw up the bomb warning and let me know it was time to start over. After a reboot, I would stare are the watch tick, tick, ticking by and hope to see the happy Mac icon. When I did, I knew all was right with the world. If I saw the bomb again, I knew it as time to dig in for a challenge — fix the bugger, or take it to the shop.
Kare’s icons didn’t just make the Mac more useable, they brought real emotion to computing. They created visceral feelings of joy, suspense and even fear. In turn, these feelings helped users form a tight, emotional bond with their computers and their work that made them want to keep working — and keep buying. A lot of non-Mac users like to slag Mac users as “Fanboys” or members of a cult because of their devotion to the Mac. What they don’t get is that the obsessive, smart and devoted work put in by people like Kare is why we love our Macs. We love them because they are designed with love and devotion in mind. We love them because of their happy little danger bombs.
For more on Kare, including excerpts from her sketchbook from the first Mac icon designs, read Steve Silberman’s excellent post at NeuroTribes. Also, be sure to check out Kare’s own site, where she is selling a book of her work as well as signed prints.
Image: Bomb on Red, by Susan Kare.