“In the early 1980s, [Susan] Kare—then a sculptor and tech-world outsider—pivoted to a graphic designer role at Apple.” So reads an early line in Zachary Crockett’s essay for the AIGA Medal that Kare is a recipient of this year, honoring the designer for her pioneering work in interface design. After being hired for the position of “Macintosh Artist” Kare went on to design the earliest Apple icons—the “Happy Mac,” the error bomb, the trash can—as well as the first proportionally spaced digital font family.
But before that? Kare had just relocated to the Bay Area from New York with a PhD in fine art and no experience in design or tech. She quickly put together a design portfolio of personal works to take around to creative agencies and, in one particular instance, mocked up an entire book of greeting cards to take to an interview at Hallmark. Lucky for us, Hallmark didn’t take her. A high school friend at Apple did. Here’s Kare in her own words about some of her earliest, unpixelated designs.
“I relocated to the Bay Area after completing a PhD degree in art at NYU. A fellowship enabled me to do curatorial work at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, but as former Wired journalist Steve Silberman once phrased it, I quickly felt like I was ‘on the wrong side of the creative equation.’
“In the early 1980s, I turned my attention to finding hands-on creative employment, such as working at an advertising agency, or designing greeting cards or toys, although I didn’t have formal training in those areas. I searched classified ads in newspapers and magazines for art jobs. Not having a traditional graphic design portfolio, I made a book of samples to send to Hallmark, which I considered a dream employer.
“I still have several examples of cards that I mocked up using Rapidograph pens, watercolor, Letraset type, and a bit of collage. Of course I hoped a job would result, but (as my grandmother used to say) if it was ‘meant to be,’ it would have happened.
“I never managed to get a Hallmark interview, and also was turned down by a number of Palo Alto and San Francisco agencies. Eventually and thankfully in 1982, my high school friend Andy Hertzfeld (a talented programmer and early Apple employee) helped me find a job that was a good match for my skillset: ‘Macintosh artist.’
“Most of these cards use a bit of humor, and personification, and were intended to demonstrate an ability to work in various styles. Probably the happy Macintosh is a logical extension of my tendency to put smiles and faces on almost everything.” : n )