Digital emboidery

Looking at Susan Kare’s icons for the 1984 Macintosh evokes a strange feeling of nostalgia. Strange, because I was born a decade after her work came out, it's pretty hard to get nostalgic from a time you didn't experience. It's about a sensation I get from playing the game Firewatch: a curiosity towards a less technologically interwoven period, where most tech was constrained to a single purpose. Susans icons are like a window back in time.

Screenshot of Firewatch gameplay
In Firewatch, you spend all of your conversations through a walky-talky while discovering the Wyoming wilderness.

Susan’s icons are simple depictions of everyday objects, giving the Macintosh an approachable look and feel for anyone not familiar with graphical user interfaces (which I imagine was almost everyone). The constraints of a 32 by 32-pixel grid make icon design a challenge, but Susan made it work. Before joining Apple, she’d been working with mosaics and embroidery, and it paid off. While many of us haven’t seen the icons of Susan Kare on the original Macintosh, her work still continues to influence designers today.

That includes me. And because the Netherlands has enacted a strict lockdown over the last month (that's no shopping, no sports, no restaurants, no fun), I decided to digitise some of Susan’s icons to Figma.

Susan Kare sitting at her cubicle smiling to the camera
Susan also pioneered the triple screen setup in what might be one coolest cubicle to ever exist at Apple HQ.

The process was loose, I tried to focus on 1-2 icons a day, usually in between different meetings. Recreating an icon usually involved some blurry reference of the original, and me trying to figure out which block should go where. Back in the day, Susan suggested that creating the icons felt like solving a puzzle, and I'm happy to report she's right. It’s super meditative, like solving sudoku.

An image with overview of the 48 retro Macintosh icons

At the end of the lockdown, I had put together 48 of Susan's icons, which are now available on the Figma Community. Some of the icons are based on her AppleLink sketches, others have been implemented into the OS. I hope you'll like them.

Find the iconset on Figma here.


Hi, third wall Casper here. I've reached out to Susan Kare's team to ask if they were okay with distributing the iconset on Figma. After all, it's her work I'm replicating so I wanted to make sure due diligence was done.

They politely asked me to stop sharing it on the Figma community tab as the rights for the icons still belong to Apple.

Published on 14-01-2022