8

Mac Mickey Pointer Cursor

I just found out why the mouse cursor is slightly tilted*, and asked myself why the pointer cursor is a little Mickey hand. Do you guys know why is it like this and who invented it?

Related Question: Why is the mouse cursor slightly tilted and not straight?

  • Mickey hand? Your mouse cursor has only four fingers? – A.L Feb 19 '14 at 13:32
  • lol I think it's only on Mac. – Gui Okazaki Feb 19 '14 at 13:42
  • It is not a Mac-only thing. – Bart Gijssens Feb 19 '14 at 13:53
  • 2
    I think the original question is more focused on why it's a "Mickey Mouse" hand and not just a hand icon. Do a Google image search for Mickey Mouse hand. You'll see it was mostly drawn with the 3 lines as well. – wootcat Feb 19 '14 at 19:44
  • The original question did not state anything about the mickey mouse hand. – Bart Gijssens Feb 20 '14 at 8:03
8

The correct answer is Walt Disney, but tangentially. The Mickey Mouse watch famously used Mickey's hands as clock hands, which seems to be the earliest example I can find of using Mickey's hand as a pointer:

Mickey Mouse watch showing the Mickey Mouse hands as watch hands
Image source unknown

As far as I can tell, the pointing hand cursor originated as a PC cursor in HyperCard as mentioned in Bart's answer, and was adopted for use on the web pretty much right from the beginning as noted by Mark Griffiths:

HyperCard was a big influence on some of Tim Berners-Lee’s team at Cern, and many of the hypermedia conventions it established were carried through into Mosaic.

I'm struggling to corroborate that claim. He goes on to say:

Had the pointing-hand cursor never existed then a whole bunch of design assumptions might not have been transferred from HyperCard’s ‘link’ to HTML’s and we might have preempted the many years of work done to sort out web accessibility for machines and the full spectrum of human beings.

The open/grabbing hand cursor, though, is much older, and was designed by Susan Kare (who did most of the icons for the original Mac). MacPaint (on the original 1984 Macintosh) used it as the "pan" icon:

The original MacPaint interface demonstrating the hand icon meaning "pan"

That icon was tweaked slightly over the course of classic System/MacOS to add things like a countdown waiting animation:

Cursors extracted from an old MacOS build showing the hand being used as a countdown animation]
Image credit: Bjørn Sortland, Ka of Isis

Old point-and-click adventure games also used hand icons quite a lot, often richly-designed gloved ones, which starts to hint at that direction. Final Fantasy is a famous example. It would seem likely to me that there's an old point-and-click adventure game somewhere—possibly even a Mickey Mouse themed one—that used a cartoon glove like this well before it became part of the OS, but I couldn't find any explicit examples (it's not a genre I am particularly knowledgeable about).

As far as I can tell, it was the pointer icon that first got the Mickey Mouse darts in the back on a computer, which happened on the Macintosh system software some time before Mac OS 9 (sadly I can't seem to find a more specific example than this, but it wouldn't have been much before that since the pointing icon was only made a system icon in Mac OS 8.5. That coincides with the launch of the Platinum UI in Mac OS 8.5, which was all about richer bitmap graphics throughout the OS):

Mac OS 9 icons extracted demonstrating the hand and grab icons being stylistically different
Image credit: Nonme85851, DeviantART

The icons were brought into line at some point, but it's not clear when:

Cursors available in Mac OS 8.5
Image credit: Offscreen Graphics Worlds, Pictures, Cursors, and Icons Chapter 13 (PDF link)

It seems that the stylised hand icon was reverted to the original Susan Kare version in OS X all the way until Mac OS X 10.7.3 (when the two cursors were redrawn for Retina displays and brought into line stylistically):

A comparison of the hand cursors before and after the OS X 10.7.3 update showing the Mickey Mouse effect was added to the grab cursor in this update
Image credit: Marc Edwards, Twitter

I had a look at the metadata for those cursors in OS X and they don't seem to have any author credit specified (but it does say they were being worked on in Adobe Illustrator CS4 from the 17th of April 2008 at least until the 15th of September, 2011).

  • Hyper card really invented the 'stack' concept with linking. It's probably not coincidental that the WWW protocol is called "HYPERTEXT transfer protocol" HTTP: – PhillipW Mar 22 at 19:05
  • Hypertext predates hyper card by a long way. The Memex is from the 40s! – Kit Grose Mar 22 at 20:51
  • Thanks ! I hadn't realised that there is a long history to HyperText en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertext#History – PhillipW Mar 26 at 8:06
4

According to this article in wikipedia it was first used in HyperCard

enter image description here

As to why it is used... well, why not? What could be more natural than the index finger to point at something?

  • 1
    Ah Hypercard, that gives me a fuzzy warm feeling! Could have sworn it was used elsewhere than Hypercard, maybe not though, will have to dig out some old Mac stuff and check Resource files! – bateman_ap Feb 19 '14 at 13:53
  • That's not the same cursor though. The HC cursor (minus its shadow) is what browsers (even the early IE for Mac) used for links. When Apple added a system-provided cursor (with OS 7.6's Appearance Manager) it was like this, I think. Though an earlier version might have even been the classic "counting hand" cursor like Installer used it. – uliwitness Oct 26 '14 at 2:05
1

I'm guessing here, but one advantage of the white glove, with the three lines to indicate that it is a glove, is that it doesn't prefer one skin color over another. This way, users of all types of skin colors wouldn't be immediately off put by, say, a caucasian ungloved hand.

Also, in the early 90s, the computer companies had to make home computing easy - that is, something a complete novice would not be afraid of spending $5000 on. Using a gloved hand was another way of making it seem like a butler or assistant was doing the work for you. Kinda like how Ask Jeeves worked. Or At Ease - if you can even remember that far back, lol.

  • 2
    I don't think there's any evidence for the 'skin tone' argument at all. – Midas Mar 21 '16 at 7:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.