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

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Apple hardware
20 years ago today, Apple ditched its rainbow logo.
Photo: Lyle Kahney/Cult of Mac

August 27: Today in Apple history: Rainbow Apple logo gets a modern overhaul 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 longtime Apple fans. However, it is part of a sustained, company-wide overhaul by 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 very 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. One, don’t make it cute. And two, 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.”

For anyone paying attention after Jobs’ return to Cupertino in the late 1990s, the new Apple logo came as no 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.”

New Apple logo, new direction for Apple

A look at the evolving Apple logo over the years
A look at the evolving Apple logo over the years.
Photo: Nick DiLallo/Apple

On August 27, Apple officially scrapped the rainbow logo, telling vendors not to 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.

“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.

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