Pang: This is an interview with Susan Kare, September 8, 2000, at her home.
I want to start with the question of how one goes from writing a dissertation on the use of caricature in 19th and 20th century sculpture, to working on computer icons?
Kare: I never would have predicted that I would work for a Fortune 500 manufacturing company. I intended to be either a fine artist or teacher. I moved to San Francisco and worked in the fine arts museums, and was interested in doing something different. I got to Apple through my high school friend Andy Hertzfeld, who I had known since I was 14.
Pang: That was when you two were growing up in Lower Merion?
Kare: Yes, we went to Harriton High School. My dad was a professor at Penn, in sensory physiology. He was the original director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, on 35th and Market, and studied taste and smell. It has a big sculpture of a facial fragment.
But by remaining friendly with Andy after high school, I knew he obviously was really interested in computers. He showed me a very rudimentary Macintosh, and mentioned that he needed some graphics for it-- he knew I was interested in art and graphics-- and that if I got some graph paper I could make small images out of the squares, he could transfer those onto the computer screen. That sounded to me like a great project. I did it in exchange for an Apple II, although I didn't actually use the Apple II for Mac graphics.
I found I liked the work, and liked the people in the Mac group I met through Andy. I was offered the possibility of a fixed-length, part-time job for this project, designing fonts and icons. I remember I didn't really know anything about digital typography, but I got as many books on it as I could, and I took them with me to the interview thinking that would increase my chances [laughs]. So I wasn't really offered the job, I was offered the interview for the job.
I still joke that there's nothing new under the sun, and bitmap graphics are like mosaics and needlepoint and other pseudo-digital art forms, all of which I had practiced before going to Apple. I didn't have any computer experience, but I had experience in graphic design.
Pang: Had you done any work in computer graphics before then?
Pang: You'd been doing freelance work for a couple years before signing on to the Mac project.
Kare: I had done traditional graphics as a freelancer, and I was making sculpture.
Pang: I want to get a sense of where working for a computer company would have fit in the world of design.
Kare: I was living in Palo Alto, welding a life-size razorback hog for a museum in Hot Springs, Arkansas, because I had been really interested in sculpture. This has more to do with me than with the Mac-- but I had thought my ideal life would be to make art full-time. I had the chance to do that with this commission, and I really enjoyed making this sculpture; but it was kind of solitary, so it was interesting for me to segue from that to working at Apple. I liked a lot of the people, and it was a great project, and it was great to be part of the Macintosh effort.