The surprising inspiration behind the design of Apple's command key

Unless you have driven around Sweden, it’s likely that you’ve only seen the curly four-leaf clover-like symbol on the command key of a Mac keyboard.

Its origins, though, like many an Apple story, can be traced back to a crazy Steve Jobs story and a great designer behind him.

Susan Kare, of Susan Kare designs, was a designer with the original Apple team in the 1980s and was tasked with creating a lot of Apple’s original icons for its applications, everything from the eraser and hand grabbing tool.

In 1983, Steve Jobs saw the drop down menu of the MacDraw program and decided that the Apple symbol was being used way too much, Kare said, speaking at the Bloomberg Businessweek Design conference.

The command key needed a new icon, but that’s hard to do for a word like “command,” which doesn’t exist in a physical space. Kare said she thought of everything from the 10 commandments to police or other commanding figures. Then she opened up a symbol dictionary and found the curly-clover-like icon in the back.

Susan Kare command keyBiz CarsonSusan Kare explains how she chose the command key from the symbol dictionary at the Bloomberg Businessweek Design conference.

What did it symbolise? A special attraction at a Swedish campground.

Kare didn’t realise that the symbol was based on the outline of a castle’s roof until years later. She chose it at the time because “it kind of looked like a four leaf clover,” she explained at the conference.

Susan Kare command keyBiz CarsonSusan Kare explains where the command key came from at Bloomberg Businessweek Design.

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