How a viral Steve Jobs tribute sparked one designer's career

How a viral Steve Jobs tribute sparked one designer’s career


Grieving Apple fans took comfort in this tribute to Steve Jobs and turned it into a viral phenomena.
Grieving Apple fans took comfort in this tribute to Steve Jobs and turned it into a viral phenomena.
Illustration: Jonathan Mak Long

Cult of Mac 2.0 bugApple fans felt a deep sense of mourning in 2011 when Apple founder Steve Jobs succumbed to cancer. With the fifth anniversary of his passing approaching, Cult of Mac looks at the artistic tributes that followed.

The Tumblr bio of Hong Kong graphic artist Jonathan Mak Long reads, “I try to do good work, and the world agrees on occasions.”

The death of Steve Jobs was one such occasion. Within hours of the news, grieving Apple fans across the world took comfort in an image created by the then-teenaged college student of a silhouetted Jobs in the bite of the Apple logo.

The simple black-and-white image that Mak, now 24, actually created two months before Jobs’ passing went viral on social media as fans posted and reposted it to express feelings of sorrow and gratitude.

Jobs’ death inspired artists across all mediums to create commentaries or lasting tributes. Statues were erected, portraits assembled with bubble wrap and technology debris, an Oscar-nominated movie made, and even operas in two different countries were written.

Struck a powerful chord

While many artists were well-reviewed for their pieces, none received the global attention as Mak’s tribute logo. Hundreds of messages poured into his blog and email inbox each day in the 72 hours following the image going viral. At one point, he was getting requests for media interviews at the rate of two per hour.

Graphic designer Jonathan Mak Long, now 24, was a college student when he create the Steve Jobs tribute logo.
Graphic designer Jonathan Mak, now 24, was a college student when he create the Steve Jobs tribute logo.
Photo courtesy of the artist

“A lot of people emailed me about the tribute, sharing their personal stories with me,” Mak, 24, told Cult of Mac. “Going through the interviews was a very unique and interesting experience, but hearing from the Apple users was what really made me appreciate how much Steve Jobs had touched people’s lives.”

Mak created and posted the image shortly after Jobs announced his resignation from Apple in August. It did not generate any buzz until he reposted it again on October 5, when news of Jobs’ death was announced.

Not long after, Mak found his image incorporated into tattoos, T-shirts and iPhone cases.

There was even a brief controversy with a British artist who accused Mak of copying his work. Mak insists he never saw the other artist’s work and arrived at his design on his own. He does acknowledge he may not have been first to arrive at the idea, but says his online research while adapting the logo did not turn up the other artist’s work.

A career begins

Mak never thought to copyright the image or cash in on its use. He says he created the logo because of his love of Apple and respect for Jobs, and to exercise his interest in a design style with minimal elements to create powerful messages.

He graduated from Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Design three years ago and works for a digital design studio.

Hired by Ogilvy & Mather China to create a design for Coca-Cola, Mak turned the company’s wavy vertical white line on a red background into two hands reaching for a Coca-Cola bottle.

The award-winning Coca-Cola poster Mak Long designed for ad agency Ogilvy & Mather.
The award-winning Coca-Cola poster Mak designed for Ogilvy & Mather.
Photo: Jonathan Mak Long

The “Sharing a Coke” design went on to win a Grand Prix Cannes Lions award, the advertising industry’s equivalent to the Oscars.

“I try to make things that people will remember,” Mak says. “Whether it is an instant ‘wow’ or a delayed ‘aha’ reaction from the viewer, I think minimalism is an effective tool to achieve it.”


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