Jan Karlsbjerg

A Great Dane in Vancouver

Deconstructing Apple’s and IBM’s logos

Once upon a time I attended a lecture on semiotics, the study of signs and symbols. Apple’s logo (1976-1998) was displayed, and professor and fellow students talked about how friendly and inviting and organic the logo was, and how warm it made them feel the first time they saw it.

Apple-logoThat certainly wasn’t my experience when I first encountered the logo. I was probably around 10 when I first saw the Apple logo, and it reminded me of something a (hippie) teacher had said once in a lunch break, that the orange juice from school cafeteria was so full of preservatives and other chemicals that if you poured the contents into a glass, you’d see the "juice" separate into layers of its different chemical components.

Apple-logo-chromeTo me it looked (and still looks) like a completely artificial, chemical object. A decorative wax apple, with shocking colors to warn anyone from mistaking it for a real apple. Yet somebody did, they took a bite out of the side of the apple and then put the apple back down again. A real apple with a chunk missing would quickly decay, of course, change its color and form, fold in on the missing chunk. But not this apple; it maintains a constant, non-degraded form, proving that there’s nothing biological about it.

Of course Apple has since gone even further away from the organic colors with the chrome version of the logo.

Back to the semiotics professor. He also showed us IBM’s logo (1972-current) and asked us which associations this gave us.

IBM logo (8 liner - white on black)The responses he preferred were that this logo is all business (no fun to be had here), machine-like, its straight lines reminded people of accounting printouts on endless reams of folding paper.

I’d probably seen the IBM logo in print and on TV before the IBM PC came out, but at that time the company was completely irrelevant for me. I didn’t have access to any IBM minicomputers — nor did I know anyone who did. But then when the IBM PC came out, the brand suddenly came on my horizon, it started getting mentioned in the magazines I was reading.

I particularly remember reading an article somewhere about the logo and the rules for its use. The logo had to appear in a certain place for certain purposes, there were two official versions (one with 8 lines and one with 13 lines), etc. I thought that was cool. The IBM logo didn’t just exist on company letterhead, office stamps etc. in a form cut or stamped from some common template. Rather this logo existed as an algorithm; there was a recipe, a description of how to produce the logo starting from scratch.

My observations about these logos weren’t well received by the semiotics professor (he hated my guts anyway, but that’s another story). I’ve since mentioned this topic to a few people, but never to anyone who were interested and/or geeky enough to have an opinion on the topic. But I know I’ve got at least a couple of readers here on the blog who are very graphically oriented and plenty geek savvy, so I’m hoping for some feedback here.

If you want an interesting look at some tech company logos and their evolution over time, check out Neatorama’s recent article on the topic (I see they also have a similar article about the evolution of car logos over time).


  1. I’m not remotely graphically oriented, but as usual have opinions: ? original apple looks hippy, not in a good way, to me. ? New apple: ? not bad but a bit to sleek. Doesn’t convey the joys of apple, just the techy part of it. ? IBM logo makes me dizzy and I want to stop looking asap.

  2. Hi Jan,
    Greetings from 65.36.21S, 064.46.65W where it’s yet another breathtaking day.

  3. Yeehaw! A comment on my blog from the South Pole! Thanks Pam and David. 🙂

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