Every fifteen minutes or so, as I wrote this story, I moved my cursor northward to click on the disk in the Microsoft Word toolbar that indicates “Save.” This is a superstitious move, as my computer automatically saves my work every ten minutes. But I learned to use a computer in the era before AutoSave, in the dark ages when remembering to save to a disk often stood between you and term-paper disaster. The persistence of that disk icon into the age of flash drives and cloud storage is a sign of its power. A disk means “Save.” Susan Kare designed a version of that disk, as part of the suite of icons that made the Macintosh revolutionary—a computer that you could communicate with in pictures.
Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, was the first to physically show Kare’s original icon sketches, in the 2015 exhibit “This is for Everyone.” “If the Mac turned out to be such a revolutionary object––a pet instead of a home appliance, a spark for the imagination instead of a mere work tool––it is thanks to Susan’s fonts and icons, which gave it voice, personality, style, and even a sense of humor. Cherry bomb, anyone?” she joked, referring to the icon which greeted crashes in the original operating system. After working for Apple, Kare designed icons for Microsoft, Facebook, and, now, Pinterest, where she is a creative director. The mainstream presence of Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, emoji, and GIFS is a sign that the visual revolutionaries have won: online, we all communicate visually, piecing together sentences from tiny-icon languages.