Susan Kare’s pioneering Macintosh icons are on display in France

The Icons exhibition, hosted at Lyon’s Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication, shows Kare’s pixelated artworks alongside Byzantine and Egyptian iconography and other historic pieces

Happy Macintosh on Orange Gradient

“I believe that good icons are more akin to road signs rather than illustrations, and ideally should present an idea in a clear, concise, and memorable way,” said designer Susan Kare in a 2001 interview with Wendy Marinaccio for online project Making the Macintosh: Technology and Culture in Silicon Valley.

Kare created some of the most iconic – quite literally – visual elements of the Macintosh OS, including the Chicago typeface, and symbols such as the paint bucket, happy Mac and bomb. She’s also the designer behind the Command symbol on every Mac keyboard. “She made the computer human,”  Joseph Belletante, director at the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication, told CR.

Bomb on Red
Command on Blue
Moof of the Dogcow on Lavender
Fill on Red

The Icons exhibition celebrates Kare’s pioneering digital design work, showing prints – made by Kare in her studio – of many of the icons she’s designed over the years.

They’re displayed alongside contrasting historic pieces, for example, the happy Mac next to a Fayum funerary painting, or a floppy disk alongside a Gustave Doré engraving. There’s also a glimpse of Kare’s pixelated Queen of Hearts, made for the Solitaire deck in Microsoft’s Windows 3.0.

Steve Jobs 1983 on Rainbow, created when Jobs was in his 20s
Control Panel on Gray
Queen of Hearts, a card from the Solitaire deck designed for Microsoft Windows 3.0 in 1990
Unhappy Macintosh on Blue. All Apple icons designed by and used with permission from Apple Inc

The exhibition is an intriguing look back at her creative influence, which is undoubtedly still felt by designers working today. It also raises questions about what Kare’s take might be on new digital formats – particularly in light of her current role as design architect at Niantic, the company that developed the augmented reality Pokémon Go app. But perhaps that is for a future show.

Icons is on display at the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication, in Lyon, until September 18;