Logo TalksApple logo designer, his early career and legends, lore of the Apple Logo

My career path in graphic design started in a very ordinary way. After attending college in Northern California at San Jose State University I started working in the early 1970’s at small design and advertising agencies in the San Francisco Bay area. It was the in the heart of Silicon Valley, at the start of the Information Age and the beginning of the consumer electronic boom. An extraordinary place and time to be a young art director/designer.
I was soon doing trade advertising and sales materials for the new products being pumped out of the surrounding high tech companies in the area. Among those early electronic gizmos were some not very attractive digital watches with their very hard to read displays. Another early “ground breaking” product I worked on as a young art director/designer was one of the first basic hand held calculators.
The “tools of the trade” I was using back then were basically unchanged from the ones being used decades before. Paper, pens and pencils. T-squares, triangles and rulers. Comp layouts were done with hand indicated headlines. Photos and illustrations were all roughed in by hand or Xeroxed from books and magazines. Camera ready “mechanicals” were all constructed by hand which became an art itself. Copy blocks of type and headlines printed on proof paper were cut up with x-acto knives then glued on to illustration board with rubber cement to make the paste-ups.
No Computers, no Adobe InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator. Layout ideas were shown rough so there was lots of “wiggle room” for a client to imagine just what he wanted to see. It was a far cry from the practically locked-down, camera-ready form as layouts are shown today. I didn’t know that I was working at a place and time that soon would be changing all those familiar tools of the trade for the graphic design world.It was 1977, I was a young twenty-something art director working in a small advertising and public relations agency in Palo Alto California. My creative director tells me that we just got a new client and that he wanted me to work on it. The clients were two guys named Steve and they were making something called a “home computer.” The name of the new company is Apple Computer. I knew right then that working on the introduction of a new product as complex as a computer named after something as simple as a piece of fruit was going to be fun. I had no idea that working on that account would soon become a major turning point in my career.
The head of the company was Steve Jobs. He was not your typical CEO. He had long stringy hair, wore jeans and came to meetings wearing sandals. Steve loved blowing people’s minds with his “counter culture meets business world” look and attitude.
I first met Steve Jobs when he brought his prototype of the new computer to our office in Palo Alto. This was the point in time I think he knew he needed a new logo for his new computer. His old logo was used for the Apple I which was a circuit board that “do it yourself” computer geeks would buy to build their own computer. The old logo was a line drawing of Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree.
The new Apple logo was a simplified silhouette of an apple with multi colored stripes and a bite taken out of it. The contour of the bite matched the contour of the letter “a” of the name of the new computer, the Apple II.
I had no Idea that this logo was the beginning of what would later become the international rock star in the world of logos. I also had no idea that over the next 30 plus years that so much “logo-lore” would develop about it.
What does the apple shape represent? What does the bite stand for? What do the colored stripes mean? Is it a gay thing? It’s been an amazing experience to design something then years later read about all the urban legends that have grown up around it.For most design projects you start with a brief or strategy. Steve didn’t really give us much direction for the logo other than “don’t make it cute.” But usually you’re given guidelines to follow when you start a new project. What image the company is trying to communicate? What’s the person like that the company is trying to reach? How and where will the logo be used? What are the sizes that the logo will be reproduce? All these things become kind of an obstacle course that you dance around as you develop your design ideas.
With all these important client issues to hit I’m amazed to think that people actually believe you’ve got any “design room” left to build in secret meanings. I’ve heard that the reason the logo is shaped like an apple was to represent knowledge as in the story from the Bible of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And so the bite must represent a person being able to bite into that apple (computer) to get the knowledge out and use it.
It makes for a nice story, but I don’t think the Bible was what Steve had in mind when he named the company Apple.
Some think he really liked the Beatles and their company Apple Corp. Maybe it was a fruitarian for a while and thought that an apple was the perfect food. He’s really never publicly said why he named the company Apple. So why is the logo shaped like and apple? Simply because that’s the name of the company and that was my idealized silhouette of an apple.The bite doesn’t symbolize getting smart or anything like that. The bite gave the apple the correct scale. The bite also keeps the shape from being confused with any other piece of round fruit. In addition, I think taking a bite out of an apple is a universally shared and pleasant experience.
One last fun fact about the bite of the Apple logo. As I was sketching out my ideas for the logo, my creative director looked at it and said: “You know there is a computer term called a byte.” I didn’t know that computer term back in 1977. But at that very moment I knew that I had unintentionally designed in that “wink, wink” humorous element that would give the logo it’s personality. I think it’s that happy personality of the Apple logo that makes people so very fond of it.What about the stripes? That’s another question I’m asked a lot. Is it a gay thing? Actually, the Apple logo and it’s stripes predate the gay pride symbol by about a year.
Some urban legends have it that the stripes of the logo were designed as an om age to the late Alan Turing. Turing was a math genius who was a British decoder during World War II. He made the first “modern computer” called the Enigma Machine. Turing was gay which was illegal in England at the time and was arrested in 1952. Instead of going to prison he had to undergo treatment which involved female hormones and chemical castration. He committed suicide in 1954 by eating a cyanide laced Apple.One of the reasons I designed the Apple logo with colored stripes was that it made the logo seem friendly. In the 70’s the idea of bringing a computer into the home or a kid’s classroom was kind of threatening. A computer in your home was a whole new idea back then. In the first Apple ad we talked about how the computer could help with keeping track of home finances, help file recipes and could help kids with their homework.
Speaking of making companies’ logos look more friendly, looks like what I did over 30 years ago is catching on for international corporations like Walmart, and Kraft. who have recently redesigned their logos to make them more consumer friendly.
Besides making the Apple logo friendly, the colored stripes represented one of the major points of difference between the Apple computer and all the other early personal computers at the time. The Apple was the only one that could produce a color image on the screen. In fact you could connect it to your color TV at home. The idea of the color stripes came from the color test bars on the monitor.
So even though I’m most known for a logo design I did very early in my career, I chose advertising art direction as the path I wanted to follow. I didn’t design a lot of logos during my career, a “one hit wonder” you might say. Designing print advertising and TV commercials are what I found more interesting and it turned out to be a very rewarding and satisfying career.Tags: apple logoRob Janoff8 Responses to “Apple logo designer, his early career and legends, lore of the Apple Logo”Great legend Rob and interesting information about that ..
keep it up ThanksVery interesting and most of all clarifying read:)Sorry to be picky, but Alan Turing didn’t make the Enigma machine: he designed and built the ‘bombe’, an electromechanical computer (of sorts), in order to break the Enigma cypher designed by the Nazis. The ‘Enigma Machine’ was a mechanical typewriter-like device used to encode and decode messages using the cypher. In essence, Turing was trying to break the Enigma Machine; quite different really!Interesting article though – thanks for the info =)Thank you for sharing this with us. It is very interesting to learn what thinking drove you to design the Apple logo, which is in fact a great logo.Back in around 1983 or 1984, when Apple User Groups were all over the country, Steve Wozniak visited the Houston Area Apple Users Group and told the story behind the Apple name. He says that he and Jobs and the other founder were up late the night before they were going to file the paperwork to form the company, and they didn’t have a name for it yet. They were brainstorming, and at one point, someone (I don’t remember if he said which one) suggested Apple. None of them were thrilled by it, but they didn’t hate it, and they put it on the list to use if they couldn’t come up with anything better. They couldn’t fine something they liked better, so they went with it. He noted that it turned out to be a very serendipitous choice because when Creative Computing and Byte and all of the other PC magazines listed PCs that you could go and buy, they always listed the companies alphabetically, and that always put Apple at the top of the list.The reason why Alan Turing has so much traction in Apple-bite logo story is because not only was Turing a mathematical genius he was so much more. He was also the designer of what we would nowadays call an electronic computer. Without him Apple and all the PC manufacturers would not exist.The first computer he designed, (built by Tommy Flowers) was relay based, cracked the German WWII Enigma code and the second computer he designed Colossus (using valves also built by Tommy Flowers) was so powerful that the allies were able to plan and run D-Day, understanding all of the German High commands intentions having broken Enigma so completely.A copy of Colossus was given to America and that was used to make the Atomic bomb (Manhattan Project). The fact is, Turing did “Think different” apart from being a genius, he was also gay. Unfortunately for him not only was it illegal, it was considered a security-risk in the cold war. Faced with the choice of resignation or chemical castration. He chose instead to leave this world by biting on an Apple that he’d injected with cyanide.Such a shame because had he lived longer his genius may have become as universally recognised as that of Newton and Einstein. Whether the logo was ever intentionally meant as an homage to Turing we may never know. I’m uncertain as to how Turing felt about his design ultimately enabling the birth to the atomic bomb but he may not have been completely at peace with it either. Especially as it then brought about the cold-war and potentially the end of world as he knew it.Intriguingly, the biblical story of the apple is not even about “forbidden fruit” it’s about Judgement and believing that you know the difference between right and wrong (or good and evil) based on the name of the tree in the Eden story. This good-evil facet of being human has cursed us throughout our history. Curious how even this aspect of the Apple logo legend holds relevance.I suspect that Rob Janoff was inspired (as so many artists are) by something beyond his own knowledge and intellect – to convey something simple and yet staggeringly poignant. A symbol of understandings that are pertinent to all our lives.peace to allpierreAt an after-hours party at the 2006 MacWorld Expo, there was a trivia contest. One of the questions was “What does the bite out of the Apple logo mean?” After a number of people made wrong guesses, I jokingly guessed that it was the dent from Newton’s head when it landed there. I was told that I was right, and won a prize.I guess that the people who wrote the quiz didn’t know either, and made that up.great story.steve (jobs) was a craftsman and calligrapher himself. liked the “don’t make it cute” anecdote… makes the secretive branding guru more human. the silence over at apple can be deafening… but you didn’t hear that from meLeave a Reply
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Otba Mushaweh is Graphic, website and logo design Specialist Also blogger. I am working as freelancer under my business Logos Guide Studio. I have found Logo Talks site to be great community and platform for designers, students and everyone who interested in all about logo, brand, typeface and typography…… Read More
Rob Janoff worked on many high tech accounts including, most notably, a new start-up called Apple Computer. He designed the now famous Apple Computer logo and all of Apple’s introductory graphics and advertising. Janoff then worked on national print and television accounts for advertising agencies in New York and Chicago….. Read MoreArchives