The origin of the logo


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1 comment.

Apple rainbow logoApple Inc.'s logo has been through three major revisions: from the early, cerebral scene of Sir Isaac Newton, to the rainbow logo we Apple II users identify with, to the modern, sleek, silver fruit. The shape of the logo has not significantly changed in more than three decades, its simplicity proving enduring. Such a legacy inspires questions to its origins, which designer Rob Janoff answered in a 2009 interview. Were the rainbow theme and the bite from the apple a joint reference to the fate of Alan Turing, the supposed "father of computer science" who committed suicide by biting a cyanide-laced apple, to avoid prosecution for homosexuality? It's a clever tale, but not one that holds up to Janoff's take on history — though supposedly, Steve Jobs himself refused to debunk the myth.

A recent article in Scientific American, "Hunters of Myths: Why Our Brains Love Origins", explains Jobs's reticence:

Jobs, it seems, understood intuitively an important facet of our minds: we like to know where things come from. We like stories. We like nice tales. We need our myths, our origins, our creations. It would be disappointing to know that the apple was nothing more than an apple—and the bite, a last-minute addition to clarify scale, so that it was clear that we were seeing an apple and not a cherry. And that rainbow? A representation of a screen’s color bars, since the Apple II was the first home computer that could reproduce color images on its monitor.

How boring. How much of a letdown. Far better to have a story " and the better the story, the better for us.

The article elaborates on this anecdote, using it as an example of why clever or secret origin stories are often preferable to the truth:

Psychologist Tania Lombrozo argues that such impromptu causal explanations are critical to our everyday cognition. They contribute to improvements in learning. They can foster further exploration and idea generation. They can help us form coherent beliefs and generalize about phenomena—and then use those beliefs to understand, predict, and control future occurrences and, in turn, form new beliefs.

It's a short but interesting article that demonstrates yet another aspect of Jobs's genius. His contribution to design may've been questionable, and his first tour of duty at Apple may've marked him as an irascible manager who failed to respect the humanity of his employees — but given the success of his products, Jobs did seem to have a keen understanding, if not of human nature, then of human desire. Even when it comes to logos:

Steve Jobs’s silence was truly perceptive. Sometimes, it's just better to let natural human tendencies take over and start weaving tales, true or not, that will help people understand and relate to you better than anything you say ever could.


  1. I guess I'm in the minority on this, but I'm happy with explanations along the lines of the color bars. I'm not sure whether that's because I've been writing fiction since discovering AppleWorks & MultiScribe as a 13-year-old in 1990, or in spite of it!

    According to that interview, Janoff designed the color bars as one of the original three options for the two apple shapes. IMHO, the artist was the one showing insight & design genius — not the guy that just picked 2 out of 3 existing thoughtful designs. :)

    Also, I thought you might find it interesting to know that recent reviews of the evidence strongly suggests that Turing's death was accidental — the BBC ran an interesting article on it recently:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18561092