They are road signs for your daily rituals-the instantly recognized symbols and icons you press, click, and ogle countless times a day when you interact with your computer. But how much do you know about their origins?
It's plastered on T-shirts; it tells you which button will start your Prius; it's even been used on NYC condom wrappers. As far back back as WWII engineers used the binary system to label individual power buttons, toggles and rotary switches: a 1 meant "on," and a 0 meant off. In 1973, the International Electrotechnical Commission vaguely codified a broken circle with a line inside it as "standby power state," and sticks to that story even now. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, however, decided that was too vague, and altered the definition to simply mean power. Hell yeah, IEEE. Way to take a stand.
What do Swedish campgrounds and overuse of the Apple logo have in common? A lot, according to Andy Hertzfeld of the original Mac development team. While working with other team members to translate menu commands directly to the keyboard, Hertzfeld and his team decided to add a special function key. The idea was simple: When pressed in combination with other keys, this "Apple key" would select the corresponding menu command. Jobs hated it-or more precisely the symbol used to represent the button-which was yet another picture of the Apple logo. Hertzfeld recalls his reaction: "There are too many Apples on the screen! It's ridiculous! We're taking the Apple logo in vain!" A hasty redesign followed, in which bitmap artist Susan Kare pored through an international symbol dictionary and settled on one floral symbol that in Sweden, indicated a noteworthy attraction in a campground. Alternately known as the Gorgon loop, the splat, the infinite loop, and, in the Unicode standard, a "place of interest sign," the command symbol has remained a mainstay on Apple keyboards to this day.