Apple logo creator Rob Janoff reveals his tips on design success - and the surprise influences on his most famous creation

Image: iStock

The designer for Steve Jobs reveals how pareidolia, Pop Art-psychedelia and PC-phobia played their role in the making of the world's most famous Apple, his own favourite logo, the many opportunities of China - plus his touching love for illustrator interpretations of the logo as introduced to him by Digital Arts.

An apple with a bite out of it - we know the logo, we know the company it belongs to, but do you know the brains behind the iconic design?

The creator of the world's most famous logo is California's Rob Janoff, a designer who's been in the industry for almost five decades, and who managed to land the Apple gig before even turning 25.

Rob was at this year's D&AD Festival discussing his history with the Apple company and Steve Jobs, along with promoting his new book Taking A Bite Out of the Apple: A Graphic Designer's Tale.  After his talk we interviewed the great man for his thoughts on the design field and tips to give on logo design and success in the industry. He also happily gave us his opinion on interpretations of his landmark logo from talented illustrators like Rune Fisker and Siggi Eggertsson.

Keep Ideas Key

"The way things are done digitally is way different from the way we did things before," Rob tells me in a quiet corner of the festival base. "A lot of people around now really have no idea how that was. I really can't imagine doing it analog as opposed to digital now, using Adobe apps for my work.

"Things have also gotten more technique-y, as opposed to idea-based, but I think ideas are really important.

"It's hard to avoid technique, especially when it's all so doable now, but as far as logo design goes, it's the idea itself. It's the idea that kind of cuts through, and that's one of the things that I find so satisfying about logo design. You get to say so much without saying anything. You're showing, and I think that's kind of the key."

Put a famous face to your logo

Image: iStock

"When I work with new clients, I always ask them, 'If your logo was a celebrity, what would that be? What would the personality be?' Rob reveals.

"If I know of a famous person and how that famous person communicates themselves, I try to get that vibe into whatever it is I'm working on. Having a personality, as opposed to just being a design or a piece of art, is what grabs people, and makes them want it and makes it be a success."

I ask Rob if the Apple iconography was based on his impressions of Steve Jobs or impressions back in 1977 when he created the logo for him.

"It wasn't Steve," he says. "It was based on a spirit of exuberance. It was all the great things that was inside the Apple II.

"I was also trying to make computers friendly and overcome my own fear of computers," he continues. "I was not a techie person, and the idea of bringing a computer home into your life and having your kid work on it, it was important for me to make it a real friendly concept for everyone."

"Back then, remember, a computer would feel like an intruder in your own home."

Image: iStock

Look to the East's new Silicon Valley

"Go where the action is, go where the business is. China and the Middle East are crazy with opportunities," Rob says, telling me he's just recently come back from Chengdu, China following a few prominent branding gigs there.

"If you have any kind of experience or track record in logo design for businesses that might be at all similar to any company out there, then they're hot for it.

"There's something about American/Western design that's very clear, but a lot of local designers are very into the culture and it's difficult for them to see beyond that. That's one of the reasons they come to me."

Leave behind the Old Silicon Valley

"It would be very kind of dated now," Rob replies when I ask if he misses that 'Flower Power' era of the early days of Silicon Valley. "I loved it, because I think you kind of love what you grow up with.

"So it's yes and no. I still love it because that's where I came from, but it wouldn't play now in design."

Turn on, Tune in, Drop out

But those hippy vibes of the 1960s did play a key role in the formation of the original Apple logo's colour test bar motif, with Rob saying he was inspired by the colour-overload of Beatles cartoon classic Yellow Submarine. The age of Pop Art was also formative for him.

Image: iStock

"It was so fitting with my culture and Steve's culture at the time," he says. "Because it was counterculture, and anything that wasn't being done traditionally.

"Everything had a real brightness in it, and it wasn't subtle at all. It was hard-edged stripes and stuff like that.

"The kind of graphic design I like is simple because I think that cuts through so much better in so many cultures, so many languages. Pop Art and that whole counter-culture era really had all that, and I always tell designers in my talks to keep it simple."

Tickle creative minds

As we finish up talking, I show Rob some interesting interpretations of his famous logo from last year.

Created for event invitation cards to an Apple product launch last year, the Janoff apple was re-interpreted by famed illustrators Karan Singh, Rune Fisker (below), Margherita Urbani, Sac Magique, Daniel Ramirez Perez and more, their designs highlighted by Digital Arts in this popular piece.

"These are amazing," Rob says, looking at my iPhone. "I love it; this means that I'm tickling creative people's minds. There's nothing better than that."

As he looks again at his favourite re-maginings by Siggi Eggertsson (below), I ask Rob if he's seen many reworkings of his baby over the years.

"Not really. I'd see articles where they asked people to freehand a logo, and nine times out of ten it's the Apple logo.

"Seeing how different people interpreted it is just fascinating for a designer. It means it makes illustrators' juices flow."

Keep the Mystery

As for Rob's own favourite logo besides his own over the years, there is only one contender.

"The Fed-Ex logo," he says. "For the mystery that's in there.

"I love any kind of logo that draws you in, and that's one of the things that I found really successful about the Apple logo.

"I've always thought that the apple was kind of like a face, and the bite was kind of like a smile, and it had a real personality to it that grabs you, that draws you in." 

Read next: These artists reimagined the Apple logo for the 2018 iPad Pro launch event

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