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March 22, 2004

Isaac Newton and William Wordsworth: Who’s really behind the Apple logo design?



Math & poetry: Apple’s first logo


Apple is one of the most recognized logos in the world today. Despite this though, not many know the real story behind the logo, its meaning or its evolution. Most have heard that Steve Jobs was a fan of the Beatles’ Apple record label, had worked on an apple farm and thought that apples were the perfect fruit. In a 1976 brainstorming session, he and partner Steve Wozniak decided that if they couldn’t come up with something better than Apple as the company name, they’d go with it. As it turned out, nothing more inspiring was produced, so on April Fool’s 1976, Apple Computer Inc. was born.


Then came Apple’s first logo. The original India ink drawing was rendered by the least known Apple founder Ron Wayne. His illustration depicted Sir Isaac Newton reading under an apple tree that was swathed in a cloth banner that said "Apple Computer Co."


The writing on the frame itself was an excerpt from The Prelude, Book Third: Residence of Cambridge by English poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850). It read: "Newton… a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone."

Steve Jobs believed that the logo was partially responsible for the sluggish sales of their first computer, the Apple I. He considered the design too intellectual to represent a brand, too detailed and intricate as a logo and, therefore, also unsuitable for reproduction in small sizes.


Apple’s new logo


Regis McKenna Advertising agency of Palo Alto had successfully helped big computer firms like Compaq, America Online and Intel establish themselves, so Apple decided to hire them to redesign their own logo. By April 17th, 1977, the new Apple logo was unveiled at the West Coast Computer Fair.

Colours with bite

Although Apple logo designer Rob Janoff started off with the silhouette of a black apple on a white background, he knew that something was missing and incorporated a few changes. In a 1980s conversation with French artist/designer/photographer Jacques Moury-Beauchamps, he remembers the reasoning behind the new look: "…I think that people responded to the colours and the joke of the shape. There’s a little bit of a pun in the way that the shape is designed. The bite that is taken out of it: it’s not only the silhouette of an apple – you couldn’t take a bite like that out of any other piece of fruit shaped that way – but byte is also a computer term.


"So from the beginning really, I think that what computer people responded to was the little double meaning there in the shape. It’s not always that you have the chance to have that kind of fun with the viewer on a logo. Logos are usually so serious!"


Bill Kelley, who also worked at Regis McKenna Advertising, remembers the thinking behind the bite a little bit differently. He says that the bite was a symbol of acquiring knowledge, a biblical reference to eating of the apple from the tree of knowledge.


Part 2 of the Apple Logo Story will be posted in a few weeks.

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