The Apple logo is one of the most recognized logos in the world and perhaps one of the most closely associated with the concepts of “hip” and “cool” by several generations. Apple’s brand is the world’s most valuable brand, valued at $119 billion (2014 valuation); in second place is another tech giant, Google, with a brand value of $107 billion. Apple’s iconic logo, introduced in 1977, has always been the subject of fascination and interpretation — like some high-tech Rorschach test. Jean-Louis Gassee, head of the Macintosh development team in the 1980s, said it best: “One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.”
Over the years, the mysterious geometric apple has inspired many urban myths about its creation and meaning, perpetuated by published stories, books on graphic design, well-intentioned teachers, and, of course, that great mischief — the internet. In his article “Top 10 Myths About Apple” Dave Roos calls the company a “myth magnet” but the same term could equally apply to its famous logo. Some of the common misconceptions or myths about the Apple logo:
1. It was designed by Regis McKenna
2. The bite in the apple represents a computer byte
3. The bite in the apple represents Eve (the biblical Adam and Eve) biting into the forbidden fruit
4. The dent in the apple represents Newton’s discovery of gravity (when the apple fell from a tree and hit him on the head).
5. The color stripes reflect hippie culture of the 1960s
6. The color stripes are a tribute to Alan Turing, a British cryptanalyst and computer scientist, who was prosecuted as a homosexual (the color stripes mimic the gay flag)
7. The bite in the apple is a tribute to Alan Turing because he committed suicide by eating a cyanide-laced apple (although the apple was never tested for cyanide)
Fortunately, Rob Janoff, the original designer of the Apple logo is alive and well and still working in Chicago; he has set the record straight numerous times: on his own website and in several interviews, the most recent for creativebits.com, a blog about creativity, design and Macs. Additional insights come from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs published in 2011.
Rob Janoff worked as an art director/designer at Regis McKenna, Inc. (RMI) a Silicon Valley public relations firm founded by Regis McKenna in 1970. During the 1970s, RMI worked with many well-known high-tech companies during their start-up phase, including Apple, America Online, Compaq, Electronic Arts among several others. McKenna was friends with Mike Markkula, an early investor in Apple (actually employee no. 3), who brought the account to RMI in January of 1977.
In 1977 Apple already had a crude black and white logo created in 1976 by Rob Wayne, an early partner with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Wayne’s pen and ink drawing was visually complex: it featured Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree, an apple with a white halo, natural scenery in the background; all of the elements were framed inside an ornate border with a banner that wrapped around the border with the words “APPLE COMPUTER CO.” Jobs realized that this logo would be difficult to reproduce in a small size; moreover it was not harmonious with his new slick modern computer, the Apple II. The creative director on the Apple account selected Janoff to design the logo due to his “ability to visually define abstract concepts” according to Janoff. Jobs met with Janoff and gave him a one sentence creative brief: “Don’t make it cute.”
After his meeting, Janoff developed the Apple shape, drawing it by hand (remember this was BEFORE personal computers existed), based on his study of cross-sections of real apples. A single design illustration, a simple apple shape, was then created. On his website, Janoff explains the three reasons for adding the rainbow stripes: 1. to humanize and make the products more user-friendly; 2. to emphasize Apple II’s unique ability to show images in color; and 3. Jobs’ desire to make these computers more attractive to school children. When Isaacson was researching the story of the apple logo, he questioned Jobs directly about the “Turing homage” theory via email; Isaacson wrote: “[Jobs] replied, that he wished he had thought of that, but hadn’t.”
Janoff added the bite to the apple simply for visual reasons — so the simple shape would look like an apple and not a cherry; Janoff elaborates: “I designed it with a bite for scale [and distinction], so people get that it was an apple not a cherry. Also it was kind of iconic about taking a bite out of an apple. Something that everyone can experience. It goes across cultures. If anybody ever had an apple he probably bitten into it and that’s what you get.” So much for all the creative urban myths.
Janoff’s work took only two weeks (in contrast to large design/branding agencies that take months and charge millions of dollars for logo work). Janoff met with the two Steves and Markkula and presented two versions of the logo — one with and one without the bite; in addition to several variations: striped version, solid color version, metallic version. Jobs instantly liked the logo and approved the one with the bite and rainbow stripes. Disclaimer: no focus groups were involved in the making of this logo.
The logo’s shape has remained relatively unchanged over the decades, getting a slight makeover by Landor & Associates, a branding firm based in San Francisco, in the late 1990s. Landor used Macs running Adobe software, tools that Janoff did not have in 1977, to refine the logo making it more geometric, more symmetrical. The logo continues to define Job’s vision for computers and computing devices: accessible, friendly, and of course, cool and hip — but definitely not cute.
For further reading: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Simon & Schuster (2011)