Published on October 12, 2021

The View from my Seat

My classmate designed the world’s most recognizable company logo

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I have been fortunate to run across some famous people in my journalism career: Debbie Reynolds, Robert Redford, Peggy Fleming and Gen. William Westmoreland, to name a few.

But until recently I didn’t realize that I had a famous high school classmate.

You won’t recognize the name - Rob Janoff - and you wouldn’t recognize his face, but I guarantee you that almost on a daily basis most of you - and millions of people around the world - see his work.

Rob and I graduated from Culver City High School in California in 1965. We went our separate ways. I don’t think we ever ran into each other again, unless we bumped into each other at a high school reunion that I don’t remember.

It is only through a recent conversation with another classmate that I learned about Rob.

After graduation from high school, Rob attended San Jose State University, where he initially majored in industrial design. He later - in a fortuitous move - switched to graphic design.

He began working for a number of small Silicon Valley advertising agencies and in 1977 joined Regis McKenna, located in Palo Alto.

Among the clients of Regis McKenna was a computer startup whose executives worked from a strip mall. The company had a strange name for a computer company: Apple.

Rob was chosen to design the company’s logo.

When Rob first met Steve Jobs, he says that Jobs was not yet the “scary demanding guy we think of today. He wasn’t rich and famous yet.”

Jobs’ only direction for designing the logo was, “Don’t make it cute.”

In an interview with Forbes, Rob discussed how the logo evolved.

“I told Regis that if we don’t somehow use the fruit, the apple, we’d lose a whole lot of the fun-ness of the idea. In fact, this logo we all know today would never have happened if I listened to everybody. I just wanted to make the computer easy and fun to be around.”

He was asked what the bite out of the Apple signifies:

“Lots of different fruits have a stem, are sort of round with a leaf dangling off of it. So, the bite in the apple was initially meant to indicate that it was an apple, and not something else.”

He continued:

“What’s funny, though, is after I came up with it, my creative director, Chip, said ‘Oh guess what, Rob. You just designed something you didn’t realize. The word byte is a computer word. And you took a bite out of the apple.’”

Rob says in 1977 he wasn’t yet computer literate but thought “there’s a bit of wit that will last.”
He was right about that.

Those of us who have been around for a while remember that the original Apple logo that Rob designed had striped rainbow colors. That was because the Apple computer was the only one that could show images in color.

Rob says he was so confident in what he created that for the only time in his career he presented a client with only one sample from which to choose.

“It was really low-key then,” Rob told Forbes. “He was just starting and so was I. I showed the logo to him, and he was like, ‘O.K., that’s nice.’ And that was it.”

The entire process of designing the logo took all of two weeks.

Rob later worked for agencies in New York City and Chicago, where he did work for numerous national and international clients, including IBM, AT&T, Citibank and John Deere.

He now lives in Chicago, where he has established a digital agency.

He travels worldwide helping companies with their branding and giving keynote speeches at universities.

I hope to catch up with Rob some day and reminisce about our high school days.

If I don’t, however, every time I pick up my iPhone or iPad or turn on the television, I will be reminded that I went to school with the guy who created what is thought to be the most recognizable brandmark in history.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)