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Beyond Apple’s epic legacy of innovative products lies an equally compelling history of corporate identity. One should expect nothing less from the company that helped to transform the industrial landscape and usher in a new age of personal computing - a foundation upon which so many businesses thrive today.
Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak discusses the inspiration behind the name in his 2006 book “iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon”
“I was driving Steve Jobs back from the airport along Highway 85. Steve was coming back from a visit to Oregon to a place he called an ‘apple orchard’. It was actually some kind of commune. Steve suggested a name – Apple Computer. The first comment out of my mouth was, ‘What about Apple Records?’ This was (and still is) the Beatles-owned record label. We both tried to come up with technical-sounding names that were better, but we couldn’t think of any good ones. Apple was so much better, better than any other name we could think of.”
And just like that, a billion dollar brand was born. Wozniak’s concerns turned out to be merited however, and in 1978 Apple Corps sued the company for copyright infringment. The suit would be settled 3 years later for an undisclosed amount. In the end it turned out to be a minor setback which didn’t seem to slow down this burgeoning company.
Wozniak and Jobs had developed a revolutionary personal computer built around a screen and pointing device which stood in radical contrast to the console-based computers and word processors of the time. In tandem with this feat of engineering, they would continue to develop the Apple brand, eventually referring to their invention as ‘Macintosh’ - a particular variety of which Steve Jobs was fond, especially during his famous phase of frugivore dieting.
By this point it was becoming clear: big things were brewing in an understated garage on Crist Drive in Los Altos, California which would serve as Apple’s first base of operations.
The first Apple logo was designed by Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne in 1976, featuring Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. It was inspired by a quotation by Wordsworth that was also inscribed into the logo that said: “Newton… a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought” with ‘Apple Computer Co.’ on a ribbon banner ornamenting the picture frame.
It was a good start, but in the end Steve wasn’t 100% convinced so in 1977 he commissioned designer Rob Janoff to focus more on the apple itself. At the time Janoff was an Art Director at Regis McKenna, a vanguard design firm which would not only develop Apple’s corporate identity, but also write a full business and marketing plan for the fledgling company.
In the end Janoff did not disappoint and history was made as he delivered the iconic logo we know so well, albeit a more colorful version dubbed the “rainbow apple” which was accompanied by a bold and modern sans-serif font.
Since then the logo endured small iterations over the years. Landor Associates eliminated the wordmark in favor of the icon in 1984. It would later take on a stark black look in 1998, followed by more polished 3D versions and finally the flat/white or gray versions we see today.
The Apple brand was such a massive success that it would invite constant speculation as to its meaning or purpose.
One of the most popular theories came from artists and authors like Sadie Plant of Zeroes and Ones, who considered the Apple logo as an homage to Alan Turing who was persecuted for his homosexuality and committed suicide by eating a cyanide-laced apple. Turing was the father of modern computing, and revolutionized the overlapping fields of math, science and technology with his published paper “On Computable Numbers”.
Others would draw inevitable comparisons to the Garden of Eden, where Eve took a bite from a forbidden fruit. It’s an attractive idea, particularly when one considers the fruit was picked from the Tree of Knowledge, granting her wisdom of the gods as she gave in to temptation of the talking serpent.
This idea was bolstered by the fact that some of Apple’s earliest prototypes were sold for $666.66. Apple tech service manager Archie D’Cruz elaborates on this in his detailed response to a question on Quora:
“Each computer cost Jobs and Wozniak about $250 to put together and they decided to offer it to the store at the wholesale price of $500. Retail price would be about a third more, which came to $666.66. Wozniak said that as a mathematician, he liked repeating numbers, so instead of rounding it up, that’s the figure they went with.”
The concept wasn’t lost to Apple’s marketing team either, which made playful references in some of their earliest advertisements.
When you think about it the humble apple carries a lot of symbolic power, presenting itself throughout history as the center of many stories and traditions.
In Greek mythology, immortality can be found in the Garden of the Hesperides , where nymphs gain eternal life by eating golden apples which are guarded by a dragon with a hundred heads. The entire Trojan war itself was also indirectly spawned by a divine fight over a golden apple which was provoked by Eris, goddess of dischord.
Today, everyone knows the story of Snow White and aside from modern lore, apples form a significant part of our rituals and vernacular. Whether you are bobbing for them on Halloween, presenting one to a teacher as a gift or simply eating one a day to keep the doctor away, it is clear that notions of health, wisdom and temptation are common associations.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is the case. Perhaps it’s the polished appearance, the contrast of skin color. Maybe it’s the uniquely satisfying crunch from that first bite. Whatever the case apples never failed to captured both our appetites and imaginations, making it an ideal symbol for a popular product.
Despite all speculation and theories, the reasoning behind Apple’s logo was a lot more practical according to Janoff, who apparently used the bite for clarity’s sake to represent the appropriate scale.
From his interview with Forbes Magazine
“The apple shape itself didn’t have anything to do with computers. It’s to get people to notice that an Apple computer was not some piece of hard-edged metal that has no place in your home and that your kid wouldn’t want to be near. Lots of different fruits have a stem, are sort of round with a leaf dangling off of it. So the bite in the apple was initially meant to indicate that it was an apple, and not something else. Also metaphorically the bite indicated biting into all the knowledge users would get out of this computer.
What’s funny, though, is after I came up with it my creative director, Chip, said “Oh guess what, Rob. You just designed something you didn’t realize. The word ‘byte’ is a computer word. And you took a bite out of Apple.” I wasn’t computer literate enough to see that initially. And I was like, there’s a bit of wit that will last! Any logo that makes a joke or engages you in that way you’re going to remember. And the rainbow colors had to do with the USP of this product. The Apple computer was the only one that could show images in color.”
Steve Jobs expressed some regret that such parallels were not drawn in the conceptual stages. When asked directly by writer/actor Stephen Fry if the logo was inspired by Turing he said “God we wish it were. It’s just a coincidence.”
Even today the speculation continues. Apart from the symbolism of the logo some artists have visually analyzed the logo’s design. Probably one of the more interesting studies is by graphic desiger Thiago Barcelos who applied the Fibonacci sequence, or Golden Ratio as the underlying structure of the logo. His work illustrates one of the more subliminal reasons why Apple’s brand may have endured the test of time, despite its famously rapid pace of innovation. The folks over at Edible Apple Blog poked a bit of fun with this idea, creating a mockup of what current Apple products might look like with the old rainbow logo.
On Mac OS, hold down the Shift and Option keys then press the letter ‘K’, and a postscript version of the font will appear, sized down and scaled to whatever block of text you are writing.
iOS devices also have the font baked in but it is not as accessible with a keyboard shortcut. Thankfully, there is a workaround which will allow you to summon the icon at will.
Windows users can open the Character Map app. Press Windows+R keys from keyboard to open Run window and then type the word charmap and hit Enter. Select font face “Baskerville Old Face” from Font drop-down menu. Scroll-down a bit and you’ll see Apple logo in the characters list. Select the Apple logo symbol, hit the “Select” and then “Copy” buttons to copy the Apple character to clipboard.
It’s incredible how far Apple has come since its humble inception nearly 40 years ago. Today few companies enjoy the enthusiastic fanbase that Apple does, and it is clear that their visual prowess plays just as big a role in their success as the industry-shifting technology they are known for cranking out.
One wonders if they would have enjoyed the same success under one of those alternative technical names that Jobs and Wozniak were kicking around on that fateful drive. It just hits home the importance of inspired marketing and presentation. Build the right brand and they will come.
Fine Print Art is an educational independent research publication. The above content has not been officially sponsored by Apple Inc.