Geek Trivia

Apple Keyboards’ Command Key Logo Is Derived From?

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Answer: The Saint Hannes Cross

Love or hate Apple, you have to admire their design chops and the amount of thought that goes into every element of the user experience. Take, for example, the icon on the Command key found on Apple desktop and laptop keyboards. At first glance it’s just a pleasant little symbol with overlapping loops, notable only because it’s different than anything you’d find on a Windows keyboard.

That little symbol, known as The Saint Hannes Cross or Saint John’s Arms, has a rich history that extends all the way back to the 4th century. To get back to the 4th century, let’s look at how the symbol ended up on Apple Keyboards and work our way back from there.  In the 1980s, Apple Designer Susan Kare, a woman with an enormous amount of input into the GUI and keyboard design of early Apple machines, was searching for a symbol to adorn the Command key. While leafing through an enormous book of international symbols and iconography, she stumbled across the four-looped symbol we now associate with the Apple Command Key.

That symbol was used then (and is still used) in several European countries (including Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) to indicate both on maps and on signage that there is something of interest nearby. The symbol appears on many ancient stone artifacts scattered across Europe, the most famous of which is an image stone (ornate slabs of limestone carved during the rule of the Vikings) in Hablingbo, Gotland, Sweden; as a nod to cultural heritage and that the original stones were located at important sites, countries now use the looped symbol to indicate places of interest and importance.

By this method of cultural transmission, a symbol that was linked to important sites in the 4th century became linked to important keyboard keys in the 20th.

Image courtesy of Wolfgang Sauber.