Retail

Logo big or go home: In 1997, Rob Janoff designed a logo of an apple with a bite out of it. But he didn’t make it on a computer.

Why does it have a bite out of it? Is it a reference to the Bible? To Snow White? The real story of the Apple logo.
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Illustration: Morning Brew, Photos: Apple

· 4 min read

These logos are imprinted in our minds. Let’s look at where they came from and why they work.

Brand: Apple Inc.

Designer: Rob Janoff, Regis McKenna Inc.

Year: 1977

Jobs description: In 1977, Steve Jobs, along with Apple Computer Company (now Apple Inc.) co-founder Steve Wozniak, was getting ready to launch the Apple II. The Apple II was the company’s first computer that would be a consumer item that could be used right out of the box, unlike the Apple I, which was essentially a circuit board that required assembly to a keyboard and monitor. For advertisements for that product, the company sometimes didn’t even show its first logo, which wasn’t really a logo: It was an intricate drawing of Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree, an apple about to drop on his head and, as the probably apocryphal story goes, inspire his theory of gravity.

So it was time for a redesign, and the assignment went to Rob Janoff, an art director at Regis McKenna Inc., an advertising and PR agency.

Ink different: Janoff, who didn’t know much about computers in 1977, sketched mock-ups, among them a simple silhouette of an apple, with a leaf tilted to the right and hovering, stemless, above it.

One variation had a bite out of the apple’s right side. Some filled the logo with bars of color, which brings to mind an LGBTQ+ pride flag today, but the rainbow flag would not debut for another year, in 1978. What the bars of color were meant to highlight that Apple II was the first PC with a monitor that could reproduce color images.

Apple chose the striped-colors version with the bite and used it for 21 years, until 1998, when Jobs, who’d returned to his CEO role after a 12-year hiatus in the fall of 1997, ordered the redesign in anticipation of the 1998 debut of the iMac. Since then, it has stuck with essentially the same silhouette with black, a solid color, or metallic versions.

But what’s it mean? Creative Bits asked Janoff about some theories for the design:

  • One is that the logo is an homage to Alan Turing, the pioneering computer scientist. Turing, who was depicted by Benedict Cumberbatch in 2014’s The Imitation Game, was persecuted for being homosexual and possibly died by suicide, after eating a cyanide-laced apple.
  • Another draws from the Bible, with Adam and Eve succumbing to temptation and eating the fruit—often described as an apple—from the Tree of Life.
  • Yet another says the bite of the apple in the logo is a homonymous reference to byte.
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Janoff has described all of the theories as, alternately, “BS” or “wonderful urban legend[s],” and dismissed them all. The reason the apple has a bite taken out of it, he said, was simple.

“I designed it with a bite for scale,” he told Creative Bits, “so people get that it was an apple, not a cherry.”

Why it works: Among Americans, Apple is the most-recognizable brand logo, followed by Mcdonald’s and Coca-Cola, according to a survey released in 2020 from Promotique by Vistaprint and OnePoll.

The logo is “a little work of art,” Rutger Thiellier, executive creative director at CBA USA in New York, told us. “It’s not just smart or functional, but it’s also pretty.”

And even though the company couldn’t have anticipated this in 1977, the simple logo is still legible when reduced to something as small as its placement on an iPhone or, even smaller, in an app icon like those for the Apple Store or Apple TV.

“It’s discrete,” Thiellier said. “You’re designing it to put on something that you carry around with you, so you don’t want it to be distracting or complicated.”

Apple picking: The logo goes some unexpected places, owing to both the appeal of its design and the affection many have for Apple products.

It’s a popular tattoo—Euphoria actor Dominic Fike has a small Apple logo under his right eye. It’s also inspired bakers, with logo-shaped cakes popular tutorials on YouTube.

Decals for Apple laptops incorporate the logo into other iconic images. Snoopy and Woodstock roast marshmallows over a campfire, with the Apple logo on a laptop standing in for the marshmallow on Snoopy’s stick. In another, the image is from the cover illustration of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, but instead of the apple the tree drops to a boy it’s the logo.

One decal even depicts what some have suspected (but Janoff denies) was the original inspiration for the logo: Snow White looks dreamily into her cupped hands, not at the apple that will make her sleep, but rather at the Apple that has sold billions of products and often fills our waking hours.

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