Today in Apple history: Rainbow Apple logo gets a modern overhaul

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Apple logo
Apple's retro rainbow logo gave way to a new, sleeker design.
Photo: Lyle Kahney/Cult of Mac

August 27: Today in Apple history August 27, 1999: Apple replaces the striped, multicolored logo it used since 1977 with a new single-color version.

The replacement of the iconic logo shocks many long-time Apple fans. However, it is part of a sustained, company-wide overhaul on the part of Steve Jobs. The makeover includes new products, the “Think Different” ad campaign, and eventually the removal of the word “Computer” from the company’s name.

The birth of the ‘bitten apple’ logo

Apple’s first corporate logo was actually not the memorable “bitten apple” logo at all. A riff on a Victorian woodcut, it portrayed Sir Isaac Newton sitting beneath a tree with a solitary apple dangling over his head. A quotation from William Wordsworth’s The Prelude ran around the image’s border: “A mind forever wandering through strange seas of thought, alone.” (Apple’s third co-founder, Ron Wayne — who sold his stake in the company for just $800 — designed the original logo.)

After less than a year, Apple replaced that logo with the outline we know today. Designed by 29-year-old Rob Janoff, it coincided with the debut of the Apple II at the West Coast Computer Faire, which marked Apple’s graduation from a small startup to a serious business. Janoff was a junior art designer at Regis McKenna, a firm that handled a lot of Apple’s early marketing and publicity.

Steve Jobs and the Apple logo

Jobs gave Janoff — who does not receive any royalties for his design — two directions for the Apple logo. 1) Don’t make it cute. And 2) Find some way to visually incorporate the Apple II’s revolutionary 16-color display.

Janoff added the bite in the apple to give it a sense of scale when reproduced at different sizes. (It was also a play on the word “byte.”) The colorful stripes showed off the Apple II’s big feature, while embracing the countercultural tenor of the times.

“I had a big hippie influence myself, having grown up in North California in the late ’60s,’ Janoff told me for my book The Apple Revolution. “I’d dabbled in all the psychedelic stuff, as well as the music and the visuals. To me, it was more interesting to draw it like that than, say, a red apple. The idea was to make it appealing, and to differentiate it from everything else that was out there.”

logo
A look at Apple’s changing corporate logo over the years.
Photo: Nick DiLallo/Apple

For anyone paying attention after Jobs’ return to Apple in the late 1990s, the new logo should not have been a total surprise. The earlier iMac G3 featured a single color logo as part of its case design, although the striped logo continued to show up in Apple’s software — for example, in the “Apple menu.”

On August 27, Apple officially scrapped the rainbow logo, telling vendors they shouldn’t use it anymore. Cupertino replaced it with single-color versions of the logo in different colors. Vendors could choose between either black or red versions of the flat logo.

New logo reflects a new kind of Apple

“Like our products and our customers, the Apple brand continues to evolve,” Apple wrote in its marketing guidelines.

“To reflect this, we’ve made some important changes to the Apple logo and how we use it, and how we expect our channel to use it, too. Don’t worry: We haven’t replaced the logo, just updated it. We’ll continue to reflect who we are and what we stand for as a company in the same timeless symbol: an apple with a bite taken out of it. We’ve reduced some of the clutter in the original design, however, and updated the way we use color and light. In other words, we’ve taken the same standards of style and innovation that make our products and our design unmistakable and applied them to the company logo. Instead of rainbow stripes, solid colors. Instead of just one solid color, a palette of logo colors to suit a variety of uses. Solid colors emphasize the timeless shape of the Apple logo.”

Apple later upgraded the single-color logo. The new polished-metal look reflected materials used by design chief Jony Ive.

Which version of the Apple logo do you prefer? Leave your comments below.

  • bradmacpro

    I prefer the rainbow stripe design for the history I have had with Apple products since before the Mac. Got my first in 1984. Still the chrome look version gives the impression of depth or an Art Deco look. It should be noted Apple has extensive guidlines how affiliates can use the logo.

  • Wes Button

    The modern interpretation of a logo really doesn’t necessarily tie it to a specific color. I like the idea of the shape being used to display many textures and colors — plain white, silver, classic rainbow, brushed metal, etc. It’s pretty much used that way today.

  • Henrik Vendelbo

    I think sticking to black and white is the right choice for the logo, although it looses the sense of fun. I like the color version the most though, I associate it with cheerful, kind, multi faceted. The new one is too serious

  • bIg hIlL

    This sub-story about the bite taken from the apple, me sitting here imagined that, if we look at early logo artwork, the symbol appears slightly in front of the company title and the lead letter ‘a’ of ‘apple’ being lowercase is placed slightly over the apple symbol, producing an obscured area that today with the lettering part of the logo done away with, is taken as a bite/byte out of the apple. Interesting, I wonder which train of thought is closest to the truth?

  • Catoblepas

    Wish there were more pictures of the different logos in the article. A text description leaves a lot more to be desired.