Background and Work Before Apple

Source: Interview with Susan Kare, 8 September 2000.

Background and Work Before Apple

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?

Susan D. Kare, "A study of the use of caricature in selected sculptures of Honore Daumier and Claes Oldenburg," Ph.D. thesis, New York University, 1978.

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.

Morley Richard Kare founded the Monell Center in 1968. The Center's Web site has a picture of the sculpture.

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?

Kare: Zero.

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.


Document created on 20 February 2001;