Interview by Touraj Saberivand
Steve Jobs and Wozniak worked in their garage and asked Rob Janoff, who had studied design, to make a logo for their first apple products. Janoff went to Jobs with final sketches of his work, Jobs just smiled, nodded and didn’t say much. Everything went very smoothly, The bitten apple has been the logo of apple brand since four decades ago, and now, the most famous one in the world.
Rene Magritte, one of the foremost surrealist painters, once said in respond to the question “What is behind your painting” : “Nothing! behind the colors is the canvas, and behind the canvas is the wall, and behind the wall…”.
Striving to interpret and explain many of the symbols and signs not only in art, politics and social matters, but also in graphic design is quite common. the bite on the apple’s logo is such a one…
Some like to rationalize the unbearable unreasonableness of this bite with different stories. From pointing to the original sin, to the idea that it was in memory of Alan Turing, The father of computer science, who was found dead while a half-eaten apple which was suspicious to have been poisoned with cyanide was found besides his body. However, the designer of the logo himself has a different story: “I was going for the silhouette of an apple, but to make it look more like an apple and not some other round fruit, I did what one does with an apple, I took a bite out of it.”
The bitten apple, nowadays is the subject of cartoonists’ and poster designers’ works, they make jokes out of it, stick it to their cars, and copy it in such an amount that no other logo has ever been. Rob Janoff, back then, a young man, never imagined that apple would become the most expensive brand, and his logo the most known, even more than coca cola and google; But whatever it was, he is still proud of it after 40 years.
He’s so friendly in the interviews and Emails, having a face to face conversation with Janoff wasn’t easy due to our long distance and it was done through Emails.
Do you remember how many logos you have designed?
I don’t really remember, but let’s just say dozens.
Is the best logo which you’ve designed, actually the most famous one?
Yes nothing quite holds a candle to the Apple logo.
Can you guess how many people have seen that?
It’s been almost 40 years since the original logo was first shown and I can’t even guess how many people have seen it. Last year it earned the honor of the most recognized logo in the world, more than CocaCola and Google. I’m pretty proud of that!
You’ve already noticed that when you designed the logo, it turned out to be like a cherry. So you made a bite to look more like an apple. But there are so many different stories about that.
Like many things, stories have a way of getting stretched and changed in the retelling. I never really thought the logo looked like a cherry. I was going for the silhouette of an apple, but to make it look more like an apple and not some other round fruit, I did what one does with an apple, I took a bite out of it. The most enlightening part of this logo design project came about ten years later when I started reading the stories about why I designed the logo the way I did. The stories are way more interesting than my actual rationale for the design. Stories are told and people believe them and the lore gets passed on (all before social media). The fact that people believe the stories about the Apple logo tells me that people feel a special connection with it, beyond the love they have for the Apple devices, that the logo adorns.
Did you ask Steve Jobs about the reason why he named the brand Apple?
No, not really. I knew that he had been a fruitarian for a period of time and that he lived on a ranch or farm in Northern California for a while where they had an apple orchard (Steve thought an apple was the perfect food.) I also knew we shared a love of Beatle music. They had a list of names for the company and they had to pick one the next day to sign business papers. Apple was the favorite on the list and if they could‘t come up with something better, Apple was going to be it even though Woz thought they would get sued by Apple records. They didn’t come up with something better, so Apple was it, and I’m so glad it was.
Was his answer effective on your work?
No, again. But when I first got the assignment I thought is was a brilliant breakthrough name to call something so complex as a computer after a simple piece of fruit.
When you presented the logo, what was his reaction? What did he say?
He just smiled and nodded and didn’t say much. I didn’t have to sell hard or pitch the idea. We both liked it and knew it was the way to go.
The logo you designed had colorful strips to represent the full-color displays of Apple. Was the audience supposed to get it?
The colored stripes did illustrate Apple’s main point of difference when compared to the competition, but it served a more important function. I thought one of my biggest challenges in designing the logo was to make a computer friendly enough to bring home for the whole family to use. Computers back then had a harsh and negative connotation, I wanted to create a warm and positive feeling about the Apple Computer.
What role do the client’s tastes play in your works?
I usually ask clients what logos they admire and why. Then I try to translate those tastes to the specifics of the product or service that the logo is to represent.
How effective you think the logo was in Apple’s success?
I believe Apple’s success is mostly due to Steve Job’s incite into knowing what people wanted in a device before they knew they wanted it. Also Steve’s super high quality standards for functionality and design were a huge factor. That said, I do think the logo helped a lot. The love people have for Apple products goes hand in hand with Apple logo love. If they didn’t love the Apple logo they wouldn’t put in the rear window of their cars!
Are there other logos which have had an important effect on the success of their brands?
I think great brands and great logos go hand in hand. A crapy product won’t be helped by a great looking logo. Similarly, a great product with a very forgettable brand logo might not get the traction needed to be a success.
The next question is about the graphic and visual features of logos. What are the most important features which a well-designed logo should have?
I think the most important feature of a logo is simplicity. Too often clients have long laundry lists of elements the logo “must have.” That is a recipe for failure as far as I’m concerned. Logos need to be simple and distinctive or they won’t be remembered. The frequency that a logo is seen is a huge factor in the logo’s success. The fact that the Apple logo was on the corner of every screen of every Apple product helped to make it and internationally known (and loved) icon.
Are there any differences between logos of small businesses and the large ones?
In terms of design, no difference. In terms of cost, yes. Usually large companies have more money to spend and often have better results.
Do you teach these anywhere like university or your office?
I am no longer teaching, but yes I have taught taught graphic design classes.
“Graphic designers who have not studied graphic design at universities, know more about it than those who have studied it at universities.” Mr. Haghighi one of the famous Iranian designers has recently said in an interview. As far as I know, you’ve not studied graphic design at university too.
I imagine there are many self-taught designers out there, but I don’t think studying graphic design is a bad thing at all. All knowledge is power. Seeing how graphic design has developed from cave drawing to digital design is fascinating. Seeing the development of classic logo designs tells you so much about the culture and graphic trends of the time. Learning the principles of graphic design is very important. I studied graphic design at a university, and I think things have worked out pretty well.
Nowadays, we can see that everything is taking the minimalistic and simplistic road. How more minimal do you think Apple’s logo can be?
Logos like fashion change with the times. The silhouette of the Apple logo has stayed basically the same same for decades even though the coloring and rendering have changed with the times. Currently the trend is toward simplification, who knows what tomorrow’s trend will be. I am very pleased that the shape remains the same.
Check out Rob Janoff’s work at: http://www.designvand.com/