Why Steve Jobs replaced the Mac’s  key with ⌘

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Graphic designer Susan Kare is iconic — literally. The mastermind behind the friendly 32 x 32 and 16 x 16 icons used in the original Mac operating system, Kare’s work has reached more people than almost any other graphic designer on Earth.

Yet the way she stumbled into designing the icons for the Mac operating system was pretty much a lark, and in a recent presentation at the EG conference in California, Kare spoke a little bit about how she stumbled into the job.

It’s a fascinating talk, not just for the details she shares about early Mac operating system development, but also because Kare finally reveals why Apple switched from the Apple symbol to the Command key.

Kare never thought she’d be best known for designing icons for a living. A high school friend of Andy Hertzfeld, who was leading up the Macintosh OS design team, Kare says the job was offered to her “serendipitously” based on no more than her ability to draw some off-the-cuff icons on graph paper during her initial interview.

To say that Kare was good at drawing icons is an understatement. In fact, many of the icons she drew during her interview became mainstays of the Macintosh operating system. Working with a prototype Macintosh OS, Kare’s job was to make the operating system as “discoverable as an arcade game,” with “no manuals.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting stories Kare tells in the video above is about why the Macintosh replaced the  key with the Command key. Originally, all shortcuts in the Macintosh operating system were done with the  key, but when Steve Jobs saw the dropdown menus, he screamed: “There are too many Apples! You’re using our logo in vain!”

Looking for a replacement, Kare consulted a symbol dictionary and plucked a little-known symbol used almost exclusively in Swedish campgrounds — the ⌘ symbol we all know and love today.

There’s far more, and the full video is well worth watching. Kare’s one of the most influential graphic designers of the last 30 or 40 years, and she’s just as charming and beautiful today as she must have been in the early 1980s.

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About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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