Sutherland earned his Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), his Master's degree from Caltech, and his Ph.D. from MIT in EECS in 1963. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, as well as the National Academy of Sciences. In 1994 he was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery.
He invented Sketchpad, an innovative program that influenced alternative forms of interaction with computers. Sketchpad could accept constraints and specified relationships among segments and arcs, including the diameter of arcs. It could draw both horizontal and vertical lines and combine them into figures and shapes. Figures could be copied, moved, rotated, or resized, retaining their basic properties. Sketchpad also had the first window-drawing program and clipping algorithm, which allowed zooming. Sketchpad ran on the Lincoln TX-2 computer and influenced Douglas Engelbart's oN-Line System. Sketchpad, in turn, was influenced by the conceptual Memex as envisioned by Vannevar Bush in his famous paper "As We May Think."
From 1968 to 1974, Sutherland was a professor at the University of Utah. Among his students there were Alan Kay, inventor of the Smalltalk language, Henri Gouraud who devised the Gouraud shading technique, and Frank Crow, who went on to develop antialiasing methods.
In 1968 he co-founded Evans and Sutherland with his friend and colleague David Evans. The company has done pioneering work in the field of real-time hardware, accelerated 3D computer graphics, and printer languages. Former employees of Evans and Sutherland included the future founders of Adobe (John Warnock) and Silicon Graphics (Jim Clark).
From 1974 to 1978 he was the Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science at California Institute of Technology, where he was the founding head of that school's Computer Science department. He then founded a consulting firm, Sutherland, Sproull and Associates, which was purchased by Sun Microsystems to form the seed of its research division, Sun Labs.
Dr. Sutherland is currently a Vice President and Fellow at Sun Microsystems and is a visiting scholar in the Computer Science Division at University of California, Berkeley (Fall 2005 - Spring 2008). He has two children, Juliet and Dean, and four grandchildren, Belle, Robert, William and Rose.
On May 28, 2006, Ivan Sutherland married Marly Roncken.
Ivan's older brother, Bert Sutherland, is also a prominent computer science researcher.
Sutherland has more than 60 patents, including: