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The Sketchbook of Susan Kare 173

Posted by timothy
from the ideas-in-action dept.
theodp writes "The Mac wasn't the first computer to present the user with a virtual desktop of files and folders instead of a command line and a blinking cursor, but it was the sketchbook of Susan Kare that gave computing a human face to the masses. After graduating from NYU with a Ph.D. in fine arts, Kare was working on a commission from an Arkansas museum to sculpt a razorback hog out of steel when she got a call from high-school friend Andy Hertzfeld offering her a job to work on the Mac. The rest, as they say, is UI history. Armed with a $2.50 sketchbook, Kare crafted the casual prototypes of a new, radically user-friendly face of computing. BTW, just in time for holiday gift-giving, Kare has self-published her first book, Susan Kare Icons. So, could computing could use a few more artists, and a few less MBAs?"
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The Sketchbook of Susan Kare

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  • by mevets (322601) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:10PM (#38161236)

    Is there any field that couldn't use less MBAs? It is a sort of community service to get the poor critters off the street, but they sure make a mess of things. Maybe we can find them a nice island somewhere.

    • by yuhong (1378501)

      I know. How about retraining them, if possible?

      • by mirix (1649853)

        I know. How about retraining them, if possible?

        You mean like... re-education camps? Hmmm...

    • It's less about having less MBA, and simply having less people telling actual creators and innovators what to do, and what not to do.

      Our society is going nowhere if our developments and actions are being decided by people who don't understand what the things they're making decisions about.

      • by yuhong (1378501)

        Indeed, I think this is the root cause of all the buzzwords.

        • by syousef (465911)

          Indeed, I think this is the root cause of all the buzzwords.

          We need a new term for that. I think we should call it "buzzwordification". It sounds much cooler than "buzzwordiation".

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Half a decade before the Macintosh, a Harvard MBA named Dan Bricklin invented the first spreadsheet application, VisiCalc. It's not about having people with or without degrees, it's about having creative and innovative people, whatever their background.

    • they sure make a mess of things. Maybe we can find them a nice island somewhere.

      Unfortunately an MBA took over this island we call "America". Indeed, he did make a mess of things. I'm not inclined to give an island, or anything that exists in the physical world, to an MBA. How about we pair each MBA up with one of our surplus lawyers (we have tons of 'em where I live and I suspect that is the case in other places, too) and encourage them to sue each other? That should keep them busy for a while...

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Is there any field that couldn't use less MBAs? It is a sort of community service to get the poor critters off the street, but they sure make a mess of things. Maybe we can find them a nice island somewhere.

      This is no joke. There is a team in our company that has five managers and five web developers, all MBAs. That's almost as many as the team that runs and maintains our web applications. We thought this was overkill - such a large team occasionally adding a link or a page to a static site. Recently we found that they are actually outsourcing this work, and all ten of them just "manage" it!

  • Aha (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Compuser (14899)

    So now I know who made the Mac so insufferably ugly. For me it was a retch at first sight. I think I may be the only one in the world but I have consistently hated every single artistic and stylistic choice Apple ever made with their GUI (their hardware designs sometimes look OK, e.g. iPhone 4)

    • What's your idea of good computer design? Let me guess... a teletype emulation?

      • Re:Aha (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Compuser (14899) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:13PM (#38162566)

        I do not know why I got marked as flamebait. I clearly stated it was my personal opinion and I meant every word without intent of inciting a flamewar. Mods are on crack.
        That said, to me the ideal design of GUI so far has been Windows 95, with toolbar autohide. Horrible OS but imho best GUI ever. Clean, simple, rectangular without the horrible rounded corners. Grey background, forgettable fonts, and equally neutral pointer shapes.
        I have always hated icons and preferred text instead but I have yet to see a GUI with labels instead of pictures by default. Other than that - Windows 95 got most things right.

        • OK, I see what you mean. But even there, some icons are irreplaceable:
          1) Close, Minimise and Maximise at the corner of every app window. How much more ugly and less usable they would be if they were words instead of icons?
          2) What about arrows on the scroll bar ends? You can do scroll bars without them now, but back in 1995, many people were new to computers and needed the clue as to what that strip at the right of the window did.
          3) In a file manager list, how are you going to distinguish between a directo

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      Yes, you are the only one in the world who has hated every choice Apple has made with their GUI. :)

      I've disliked a lot of their choices over the decades, and I've got a BFA in design that supposedly means my criticisms have some validity. But Apple has gotten right far more than they've gotten wrong. For example, the rounded rectangle, which was the shape of the screen image in Finder 1.0, and available to programmers as a standard shape in its graphics routines (along with line, circle, and square), and w

  • by fantomas (94850) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:24PM (#38161310)

    So not everybody who did well dropped out: a PhD in art history as well as a maker (her PhD thesis title "A study of the use of caricature in selected sculptures of Honore Daumier and Claes Oldenburg").

    Nice to know it's possible to balance the two, it will make some of my PhD student friends very happy indeed :-)

  • wrong (Score:2, Informative)

    by khipu (2511498)

    Shortly thereafter, Xerox doomed its chances to own the icon-driven future by pouring its resources into the Xerox Star, a product aimed strictly at the corporate market. Each Star purchase required an initial $75,000 installation and a network of external file servers, plus another $16,000 for each additional workstation (twice the price of a new car at the time). A digital revolution for the masses, it wasn’t.

    No, Xerox didn't "doom the future", they just started with an expensive first product and t

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Re "cloning" - Xerox got to buy pre-IPO stock for Apples engineer visits.
    • Re:wrong (Score:4, Informative)

      by BasilBrush (643681) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:50PM (#38162140)

      getting rid of pretty much all the software infrastructure of the Xerox devices, stripping them down to a mere shell

      Yeah, right. "Stripping". By adding things like pull down menus and drag and drop. Things that didn't exist on the Xerox system. Things that didn't exist at all till Apple invented them.

      • Bullshit. Pulldown menus existed in many software products. What Apple 'invented' was a crippled little box with a collection of applets in it and no third party software for a year or so. The Mac 128 was a joke machine.

        • Re:wrong (Score:4, Informative)

          by BasilBrush (643681) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @11:06PM (#38162834)

          Bullshit. Pulldown menus existed in many software products.

          Name a single one that preceded the Lisa. You can't because Apple did indeed invent the pull down menu.

          Wikipedia even mentions it. Though they erroneously call them drop-down menus (which was a Microsoft variant) rather than pull down menus as Apple called them.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_graphical_user_interface [wikipedia.org]

          I recognise your user name as someone who is very often wrong. I suggest you should do a little research before posting in future.

          • Where are mod points, when you need them...

    • by GrahamCox (741991)
      looked nice but was hell to program

      Actually, it wasn't hell to program. By the standards of the day, it was really not bad. Its built-in toolbox managed many chores for you - want a window, one line and you got one. Compared to today it looks quite low level, but at that time it was very high level. The first app I wrote for Mac (other than "hello world") was a full multi-windowed, menu and event driven affair that responded in real time to emergency radio transmissions. There was no way I could have d
      • by GrahamCox (741991)
        I should also mention that programming in pascal, something that also perhaps seems strange from todays point of view, was also a remarkably pleasant experience, coming from a background in bASIC and embedded assemblers of various flavours. Borland Turbo Pascal for the Mac was, in 1985-6, a very nice and fast environment.
    • They could've produced an easy to use personal computer but they didn't. They were too busy chasing their own bread and butter to try to change the world.

      Xerox had a decade to put out a Mac style product for the masses. They never did. They doomed themselves to being a printer and copier company since then.

  • by dak664 (1992350) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:39PM (#38161358) Journal

    The Plato IV protoypes used a plasma panel with touch screen in the late '60s, and had downloadable characters you could point to to activate different functions. Not a far reach to make those program and folder icons.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PLATO_(computer_system) [wikipedia.org]

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:58PM (#38161440) Homepage

    Susan Kare is very well known in the visual design world. She is the world's leading icon designer. Not only did she do the icons for the Mac, she did some of the icons for Windows. And Autodesk products. And PayPal. And Facebook.

    (If the Linux crowd had someone that good, Linux on the desktop would probably be a success by now.)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:11PM (#38161520)

      She did the icons for Nautilus too.

    • by Nerdfest (867930)
      Have you seen the Faenza icon set?
    • I've never understood the appeal of icons. I go out of my way to get rid of them on my desktop. I mean, what's the point? As soon as you open a window, they're hidden behind it. If you keep them in a toolbar or a dock instead and you make 'em they stay on top of application windows, now they interfere with the operation of those apps instead. Moreover, the pictures are too small to contain readable text, and if you want to know what an icon does, you have to hover until the tooltip appears. And that's usua
      • by brantondaveperson (1023687) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:49PM (#38162136) Homepage

        You know your mouse pointer? You know, the one that changes to indicate what actions are available depending on what you're pointing at? They're icons too. Icons also take up significantly less space in a toolbar than text, and are much faster for the human eye to recognise. The world of icons is not restricted to what litters your desktop.

        Also real work does not always == coding. Icons indicating which tool you have selected in photoshop (for instance) are most definitely used for 'real work'.

        • You know your mouse pointer? You know, the one that changes to indicate what actions are available depending on what you're pointing at? They're icons too. Icons also take up significantly less space in a toolbar than text, and are much faster for the human eye to recognise. The world of icons is not restricted to what litters your desktop.

          It's interesting you should mention that. Are icons really faster than text to recognize? I doubt it. Humans are trained to read text from the time we start s

          • by coolmadsi (823103)

            It's interesting you should mention that. Are icons really faster than text to recognize? I doubt it. Humans are trained to read text from the time we start school, and we're really good at it for most of us.

            Most icons are going to take up less space on the screen compared to text, so you can fit more on. I suspect that, even if text is faster to read, the size benefit would probabaly win over it.

            I guess there is also the idea that the same icon can be used across multiple languages, so long as the meaning is the same, without having to translate lots of buttons.

            Although nowadays you do have this weird situation whereby an icon of an abstract concept is still used as an icon, but no longer used in the physic

      • Your complaints only apply to badly designed icons. ...other than your complaint about icons on the desktop. I'd agree that they are a waste of time.

  • So, could computing could use a few more artists, and a few less MBAs?

    This is easy:

    If you want to give people a system that works for every Joe Sixpack and is shiny and easy to use, but costs more: Hire lots of artists and designers, use a proven bulletproof backend, and keep a few brilliant devs on hand. Easy interoperability between your company's devices is king.

    If you want to earn lots of money: Hire as many MBAs as you can get your hands on, put at least one of them in charge of each of your dev teams, and have an already established majority market share. Features befor

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:55PM (#38162504) Homepage

    As someone with a BS in Computer Science and a BFA in Digital Media and Illustration, I'd certainly like to have more of the latter working in computing. Visual trainwrecks like the Windows XP Fisher-Price theme, usability disasters like Microsoft's game of "Where's The Button (and Menu)?" in every software upgrade in the last decade, and the less said about the uncanny valley that gaming has gotten lost in the better... sometimes make me want to quit tech and become an oil painter.

  • by Bluecobra (906623) on Friday November 25, 2011 @03:29AM (#38163776)

    For all you computer history geeks out there, here is a clip from Computer Chronicles of Susan Kare demonstrating the Mac back in 1984:

    http://www.archive.org/details/Computer1984_3?start=772 [archive.org]

  • Who gets credit for "bringing us from the command line to the desktop"? Not the programmers who implemented it - but someone who drew the icons.
  • "The Mac wasn't the first computer to present the user with a virtual desktop of files and folders instead of a command line and a blinking cursor"...
    Indeed. It was Xerox.

  • Susan Kare is a seriously good looking woman.

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