Rewind: A Look Back at Apple's Logos, Including One You Might Not Know

Designers Ron Wayne and Rob Janoff on Creating Emblems for the Once Little Company that Could

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The first Apple logo, created by Ron Wayne.
The first Apple logo, created by Ron Wayne.

As Ad Age reported earlier this week, Apple's marketing is undergoing an evolution: The brand has been expanding its reach outside of dedicated agency TBWA/MAL by trying to rapidly beef up its own in-house team, approaching other shops and amping up its creative forces across the board. But one thing that has endured over the years is its iconic logo, a slick graphic apple, almost perfect in symmetry save for its leaf and characteristic bite.

Before that sleek marque debuted in 1977, however, Apple's emblem had a completely different look -- something you'd be more likely to find within the pages of a Victorian novel than adorning a piece of high-tech wizardry.

The original logo was created in 1976 by former Atari draftsman/engineer Ron Wayne. Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak brought on Mr. Wayne, Mr. Jobs' former colleague from Atari, to be the company's third partner, with a 10% ownership stake. Mr. Jobs and Woz each had 45%. "I was supposed to be the tie-breaker," Mr. Wayne said.

Mr. Wayne's first order of business was designing a logo, and he created something he said was based on both the personalities of Mr. Jobs and Mr. Wozniak.

"It was related to Newton and the falling apple," he explained. "I put it into a Gothic frame, and within that I took the last line from a Wordsworth sonnet-- 'A mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought.'" (Mr. Wayne, a fan of poetry, has the entire sonnet committed to memory.)

Apple logo, designed by Rob Janoff.
Apple logo, designed by Rob Janoff.

"I put all the elements together in my mind as to what these guys were putting together in terms of something new, different, unusual -- as well as their character," Mr. Wayne added. "It seemed to fit Jobs particularly, as well as Woz. Woz was a very whimsical character, and it was infectious. He did things strictly for the fun of doing it. It was Jobs who actually saw the thing as the core of an enterprise, the philosophy of the beginnings of Apple. He was the dynamo. Wozniak was the creative genius and I was sort of there as the adult in the room to help."

Mr. Wayne had years of experience as a draftsman and illustrator, majoring in architecture and industrial design at the School of Industrial Arts in New York before going into engineering. He drew the logo in one sitting, using pen and ink. (One element didn't make it through: "In the lower right hand corner, in the grass, I had put in 'R.G. Wayne,'" he said. "Jobs caught sight of that and had me take it out.")

As for Mr. Jobs' opinion on the logo, he "did find the design significantly intriguing that he had a banner made up, and at the first convention they appeared in with Woz's computer, he had the banner hung over the stand," said Mr. Wayne.

But it was just a year later that Mr. Wayne's work went into retirement, replaced by a streamlined marque created by an art director named Rob Janoff. Mr. Wayne's work with Apple ended even sooner. Just days after signing on, "I had my name taken off the contract," he said. "I had very good reasons. I was in my 40s, those kids were in their 20s. To be candid, they were whirlwinds -- it was like having a tiger by the tail." Had he stayed on, he would have been a billionaire today, but "I would have been the richest man in the cemetery trying to keep up with the guys."

As for the new logo, "I thought it was excellent," said Mr. Wayne. "It was superb, and it certainly was a 20th century logo, where mine wasn't. I'm sure they paid a huge price."

Turns out, they didn't pay much, at least compared with the millions that can go into rebranding major corporations today. The designer of the brand's lasting emblem, Mr. Janoff, who now runs his own branding firm in Chicago, had been on staff at the company of publicity maven Regis McKenna, a key figure in steering Apple's early branding and a longtime advisor to Mr. Jobs. Mr. Janoff was salaried at $21,000 dollar a year, and the logo was just one of multiple assignments at his job.

The brief he received was a simple, verbal, direction. "I was just told these two guys were starting a company making computers for the home, and they're calling the company Apple," he said. "There was something interesting in that. I thought Apple was a very friendly name, but of course, since it was a logo it had to more than just represent an apple. I studied the shapes of apples, became very aware of the various shapes of them. And to make it look like an apple, and not another round fruit, I took a bite out of it. When I found out that the word 'byte' sounded like 'bite' I thought, Ohhhh, good! Now we have the wink-wink that will make people think about it."

Apple's current logo.
Apple's current logo.

As for the rainbow colors of the first iteration, Mr. Janoff said there were two points of inspiration. "One of the big selling points was that you could hook the Apple up to your home TV in color," Mr. Janoff said. "It was the only computer that could translate information in color, so it mimicked a color test pattern. The secondary motivator was that it made the logo happy -- a way of making it seem fun and easy to have a computer in your home because then, a lot of computers were seen as a threat. Also, it made it inviting for kids and Steve wanted to make a dent in the education space."

Tools back then weren't the digital ones you'd expect today. "First, I drew it in pencil and paper, then felt pens," said Mr. Janoff. "Then I handed it over to my assistant who did the real detailed comp for it, which was done with cut Pantone papers. She cut strips meticulously and made the stripes out of paper butting up to each other. The curves were very smooth and beautiful -- something I wouldn't have done so well. Glue, X-acto knife, paper -- that was it."

Mr. Janoff remains proud of his creation and its evolution since 1977. "I'm impressed how they keep updating it. As long as they keep the shape, I'm pleased as punch. I think it was important to change from stripes and move to a more slick blue to metallic to crystal white. The whole idea of the logo was about simplicity, and they're keeping with that."

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