The Colorful and Much-Debated History of the Apple Logo
Few images are so able to capture the zeitgeist of the last decade as the Apple logo. You can almost see Andy Dick’s face plastered over a TV screen desperately trying to think of something funny to say about the iconic logo on VH1’s Remember the ’00s. Now that I’ve implanted that nightmarish vision of the future in your head, let’s take a stroll down memory lane where we explore the ghosts of Apple logos past and their oft-debated origins.
Few readers will recall the original Apple logo designed by Ronald Wayne in 1976. This logo was known as “The Newton Crest” and looked like an intricate wood-carving more at home in the pages of Dante’s The Divine Comedy or the side of a $12.00 bottle of wine than a state-of-the-art computer. This may be why the initial logo, launched in 1976, was retired in…1976. Wayne was unofficially considered a co-founder of Apple and, while the art of the Newton Crest is impressive, it betrays that commercial design was probably not one of Wayne’s strengths. Also, while this logo adopted the pioneering spirit Apple would be known for, it did so in a much moodier, brooding way with the border reading “Newton…A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought…Alone.” Hide the razorblades. Of course, this could have just been a prophecy on World of Warcraft where many a gamer voyage through strange seas of thought…alone.
Jobs must have been pretty bummed out by the original logo because he commissioned graphic designer Rob Janoff to sort that mess out by the end of 1976 and the second and much more memorable logo was born. You’ll probably remember the tiny rainbow Apple logo on the one computer your classroom could afford in 1987. That’s assuming you could see it through your tears of frustration after losing yet another child to cholera playing Oregon Trail. This Apple logo causes a lot of controversy in people who have actually discovered a way to have heated debates over a logo. The name Apple is supposedly a tribute to the late Alan Turing who, despite paving the way for the modern computer, developing valuable code-cracking systems used in World War II, and doing important early research into artificial intelligence, committed suicide in obscurity in 1954. How does this tie into Apple? Staring down the barrel of a prison sentence for indecency and ravaged by estrogen treatments he’d taken in a desperate bid to “cure” himself of homosexuality, Turing left this world chomping down on a cyanide-soaked apple. Suddenly that grim first logo makes a lot more sense. Others, possibly just trying to avoid the ghost-at-the-feast, claim that Apple pays tribute to Sir Isaac Newton and his wandering into strange seas of thought (alone) when an apple pounded the concept of gravity into his head. Others draw a parallel between seeking knowledge and the biblical story of Adam and Eve.
The choose-your-own-adventure history of the Apple logo doesn’t stop there. Sources actually argue over why the bite mark exists in the logo. Janoff’s official explanation is that the original Apple logo, which was smaller than the one you see proudly displayed on Apple products today, could be mistaken for a cherry by its size. Only a complete psycho takes one tiny bite out of a cherry and Janoff knew this. Some argue that the bite mark was to leave space accommodating an “a” but this was more than likely an afterthought just as the wordplay in “bite” and “byte” was only brought to Janoff’s attention after the fact.
Steve Jobs requested that Janoff use rainbow colors in his logo in an attempt to bring an element of human warmth to the corporation. Some have praised the anarchy of the color pattern with Jobs only stating that the green stripe should fall over the leaf. However, a mere year after his return to Apple in 1997, Jobs ditched the rainbow look for the larger monochrome Apple logo you know. The rainbow worked in the anything-goes ’80s when every sitcom featured a robot but it was hard to imagine the sleek spacey silver design of the Macbook with a logo that would look at home on a Haysi Fantayzee album cover. While a sleeker image and the need to re-brand were definitely factors in this decision, the truth is that the rainbow logo was an expensive pain in the ass to print.
It’s funny that such a simple logo can leave such a complex trail of conflicting reports on its origin and meaning. Perhaps it’s simpler to recognize that, while Apple owes much to Steve Jobs, the product is not the work of one man but a collaboration of a team. When each vital member of that team looks to that logo, what each sees in that moment is the true story behind one of the most recognizable logos of our time.