Earlier today, someone pointed me at the Daily Mail’s article How Britain drove its greatest genius Alan Turing to suicide… just for being gay, which includes the following quote:
[...] just two weeks before his 42nd birthday, the softly-spoken genius killed himself by taking a bite out of an apple that he had dipped in cyanide.
Some believe his bizarre death is commemorated to this day in the logo used by Apple on its electronic goods—so significant was his contribution to the genesis of the computer.
Over the years, this and many other myths have sprung up about Apple’s logo, but by writers who presumably can’t be bothered to ask its designer, Rob Janoff, what his thinking was behind the iconic design. As it turns out, aesthetics were Janoff’s only real concern, as I discovered when interviewing him for MacFormat a couple of years ago.
Below is the full transcript of the interview (lacking the brutal edit that was required for print), which explains how one of the world’s most famous logos came to be, and also delves a little more into Janoff’s (then) use of the Mac.
What do you use Macs for, and how do they help you work?
I use Macs for graphic design projects, internet communications, presentations and the daily business of life… from calendars to cooking! What’s very weird is that back in 1977, when I was introduced to the concept of a ‘home’ or personal computer, I thought it was kind of b.s. that anyone would actually do the applications we were promoting in the advertising and literature. But that was the Apple II and this is a Mac. You really had to be into computing to do your household finances or keep track of recipes on an Apple II. The Mac is so much more intuitive. It’s like apples and oranges—pardon the pun! Now I can’t imagine my life without my Mac. This hit me yesterday as I was cooking dinner, leaning over the counter, reading a recipe on the screen.
What software and hardware do you favour and why?
I just completely use a laptop now. Portability is the thing for me. I split my week between country and city, so if I have design work or life work I carry it with me. The software I use is not all that exotic: InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Office.
What’s your approach to design?
I guess the most important thing a good design has to do is communicate. I don’t think people should have to work very hard to get what you are trying to say visually. How simple can you make it?
Do you have any golden rules?
“When in doubt, leave it out!”
How did you approach designing the Apple logo?
It was very simple really. I just bought a bunch of apples, put them in a bowl, and drew them for a week or so to simplify the shape.
What was the thinking behind the colour order of the stripes, and the ‘bite’?
There wasn’t a whole lot of hidden meaning behind the colours. The logo predates the gay-pride flag by about a year, so that wasn’t it—and there also goes the whole Alan Turing myth! The religious myths are just that too—there’s no ‘Eve and Garden of Eden’ and ‘bite from the fruit of knowledge’ symbolism!
I didn’t have much of a formal brief on the logo assignment, other than “don’t make it cute”. But I did know the selling points of the Apple Computer, and one of the biggest was colour capability. To me, that looked like colour bars on a monitor, which became the stripes in the logo. The order of the stripes, I’m sorry to say, had no particular grand plan other than I liked them that way. And, of course, the green stripe would be at the top where the leaf is.
The bite is really about scale and the common experience of biting into an apple. It was a happy accident that ‘byte’ is a computer term.
Apple’s logo is considered truly iconic, alongside logos like Nike’s. How does it feel to have been responsible for such a versatile, recognisable and long-lasting design?
Nobody’s ever asked me that before. It’s almost an out-of-body experience when the logo pops into my field of vision unexpectedly. I’ve felt the same way when I see a print ad or a TV spot I did when I’m not expecting it. But they only live for a week or two. And although the logo has changed over the years, it’s still the same basic shape and concept I designed over 30 years ago. I feel incredibly lucky to have crossed paths with Steve Jobs when I did. It’s kind of like watching your kids grow up and do really well. I’m incredibly proud of my kids—and the logo too.
What do you think about Apple’s more recent changes to the Apple logo, such as its move to a single colour, often with 3D effects?
Hey, it’s all about growing up. Everything goes through changes as it ages. I’m glad the logo has been able to keep up with the times. Logos often need to say different things as they age. I’m just glad it’s in such capable hands.
Are there any jobs you’ve worked on that particularly stand out for you?
One of the down sides of doing your most memorable piece of work so early in your career is that it’s hard to beat. Most of my career has not been about being a designer—it’s been about being an advertising art director. So I don’t really have a job that compares to the Apple logo. I would say coming up with an idea for a TV spot and watching it grow from concept to finished product was great most of the time, but most advertising isn’t as enduring.