Cliff Spohn's Art of Apple

April 3rd, 2017 9:47 AM
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Filed under Musings;
1 comment.

Like many of my generation, I got my start in gaming on an Atari console. The Atari 2600 was home to countless classic games, from Adventure to Indiana Jones to the notorious E.T. Whereas my Apple II had games that came on unremarkably labeled floppy disks, Atari's games sported works of art on their boxes and labels, evoking worlds of excitement and intrigue far beyond the console's ability to render.

The history, process, and impact of this art is detailed in a new book, The Art of Atari, released in October 2016. This hardcover coffee-table book features gorgeous blow-ups of published Atari creations, as well as concept art and early drafts. Many of the original artists were interviewed about their inspirations and workflows.

One such artist is Cliff Spohn, who gets a two-page profile on pages 70–71. Accompanying this spread is a piece of art that is decidedly un-Atari. Its caption: "Spohn's illustration for an early Apple Computer manual. His artwork was personally commissioned by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs."

I'm unsure where this art would've originally been published; the only references to it that I can find on Google refer back to this very book. According to Spohn's website, he "also did Apple's first one or two instruction booklet covers", but I don't recall having seen this artwork before, either.

UPDATE: Will Scullin cites this art as appearing on Jef Raskin's Apple II BASIC Programming Manual, and Sean McNamara has proof:

Nonetheless, Spohn's legacy could be felt even in recent years of Apple media. Spohn writes that "demand for my kind of illustration was and is slowly disappearing". But Apple II enthusiasts may remember that the style of Spohn and his contemporaries inspired the art for the Jason Scott documentary GET LAMP, as illustrated by Lukas Ketner.

GET LAMP art by Lukas Ketner

GET LAMP art by Lukas Ketner

Atari was the proving ground for many early computer pioneers, including Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Let's remember the geniuses like Cliff Spohn that made them look good, too.

(Hat tip to Susan Arendt)

The origin of the logo

May 21st, 2012 10:09 PM
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Filed under History, Steve Jobs;
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.

Woz on Jobs on Computerworld

August 29th, 2011 12:14 PM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage, Musings, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
1 comment.

Last week, I posted a blog to Computerworld that may be of interest to Apple II users: "Steve Wozniak on Steve Jobs' resignation". It started when Greg Nelson sent the KansasFest email list a link to the CNN's video interview with Woz. I thought to simply repurpose it for an Apple II Bits blog post — but the more I looked into it, the more I realized there was more to say here than found in a single embedded video.

The final blog post would've fit right at home on this site, but I decided to post it instead to my professional blog at my day job, Computerworld for several reasons:

  1. It was already Friday, and I post here on Mondays and Thursdays only. I wanted to get the post published in time for the weekend.
  2. Due to my own inconsistent publication schedule and a lack of focus in topics, I've not attracted an audience at Computerworld, which makes it rarely worth my time to blog there. But it's still in my best interests to demonstrate that I occasionally have something relevant to contribute to discussions in the IT sector.
  3. Even without a regular audience, the readership of Computerworld.com is, unsurprisingly, significantly larger than Apple II Bits. The details are company confidential, but I can say that putting the blog post there has earned it about a hundred-and-fifty times more pageviews than it would've gotten here.
  4. My Computerworld co-workers have little interest in my Apple II hobby, but they'll gladly promote any Computerworld content they find intriguing. As a result, my post got much more social media love on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus than it would've otherwise, contributing to the above pageviews. Heck, even Steve Wozniak had something to say about it on Facebook.
  5. I was able to include a link back to apl2bits.net. Since it was a link to relevant and timely information, it wasn't a conflict of interest or a blatant plug so much as a good opportunity to bring some new readers here.

I can't republish that blog post here, but I wanted to do more than just link to it and say "Today's Apple II Bits post is over here." I hope I've demonstrated some value in choosing to write for The Man instead of myself in this instance.

The questionable role of Steve Jobs

October 14th, 2010 1:58 PM
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Filed under History, Steve Jobs;
7 comments.

When I was a teacher, I asked my 11th-grade students who founded what was then called Apple Computer Inc. "Steve Jobs!" they confidently replied. I prompted them, "Yes, he was one of two Steves. Who was the other?" I died a little bit inside at their blank stares, then showed them G4's special on the Apple II to rectify the matter. (They were, surprisingly, impressed by Wozniak's wizardry as demonstrated in that show.)

Sadly, it is not just the next generation whose reality has been distorted. Whatever Apple's origin, Steve Jobs has attained a popular culture ranking greater than his counterpart and will go down in history as having had more impact on the company. But does that belief reflect historical truth?

Doubtless much of Apple's success has been attributed to Jobs. Last month's Juiced.GS cited Carmine Gallo's book The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, which outlines seven principles Jobs has used to attain success:

  1. Do what you love. Think differently about your career.
  2. Put a dent in the universe. Think differently about your vision.
  3. Kickstart your brain. Think differently about how you think.
  4. Sell dreams, not products. Think differently about your customers.
  5. Say no to 1,000 things. Think differently about design.
  6. Create insanely great expectations. Think differently about your brand experience.
  7. Master the message. Think differently about your story.

Gallo's book is not the first to define these concepts. The Cult of Mac recently interviewed John Sculley, CEO of Apple 1983–1993. In that lengthy transcript (8,321 words!), the former sugar water salesman affirms several of the above points, including #4:

[Jobs] always looked at things from the perspective of what was the user's experience going to be? But unlike a lot of people in product marketing in those days, who would go out and do consumer testing, asking people, "What did they want?" Steve didn’t believe in that.

He said, "How can I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphic based computer is? No one has ever seen one before." He believed that showing someone a calculator, for example, would not give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap.

And #5:

What makes Steve's methodology different from everyone else's is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do — but the things that you decide not to do. He's a minimalist.

But are Jobs' philosophies truly what drove Apple to success? In Susan Lammers' 1986 book Programmers at Work, an interview with the late Jef Raskin, a former Apple employeee, offers a different perspective:

If Jobs would only take credit for what he really did for the industry, that would be more than enough. But he also insists on taking credit away from everyone else for what they did … He has not designed a single product. Woz designed the Apple II. Ken Rothmuller and others designed Lisa. My team and I designed the Macintosh. Wendell Sanders designed the Apple III. What did Jobs design? Nothing.

Andy Hertzfeld offers an opposing view of who can be considered the father of the Macintosh, but that computer is just one example. Mike Maginnis brings the above product line up to speed by amending it with the iPod, the design of which should be credited to companies PortalPlayer and Pixo. So what has Steve Jobs actually designed Apple Inc.? "Probably not as much as Jobs would like you to think," Maginnis suggests.

But as far as our favorite computer is concerned, there is one story that most sources agree on — one quoted in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs and retold in Sculley's recent interview:

If you go back to the Apple II, Steve was the first one to put a computer into a plastic case, which was called ABS plastic in those days, and actually put the keyboard into the computer. It seems like a pretty simple idea today, looking back at it, but even at the time when he created the first Apple II, in 1977 — that was the beginning of the Jobs methodology. And it showed up in the Macintosh and showed up with his NeXT computer. And it showed up with the future Macs, the iMacs, the iPods and the iPhones.

Jobs may not be the design genius he's made out to be, but his marketing genius is significant. Last month made 25 years since he was ousted from Apple; compare the decade without Jobs to the years since his return in 1996, and you'll find the company has been revitalized and made significantly more profitable.

It was during Jobs' absence from the company he founded that the last Apple II, the template for all that was to come from Apple Inc., rolled off the production line. He may have been responsible for the commercial success of the computer, but he cannot be directly blamed for its death. In the end, what else matters?