It was 1977. Robert Janoff had been out of school for seven years and was working at public relations and advertising firm Regis McKenna in Palo Alto, California. Intel was one of his biggest accounts.
One day, a guy entered the office holding a machine that looked vaguely like a typewriter. With long stringy hair and holes in his jeans, he was looking for the person working on Intel’s ads. His name was Steve Jobs, and he very much wanted Janoff to design the logo for his new company, to be put on the Apple II computer.
“Talk about being in the right place at the right time,” says Janoff, now 70.
The only direction he received from Jobs was to “not make it cute.” Janoff got to work, designing what would become one of the most iconic logos on the planet. He played with the dichotomy of a complicated electronics company having the name of a simple fruit, focusing on an apple shape and adding in the bite for scale and the multicolor stripes as a way to represent the test pattern bars shown on computer screens.
He presented only this one idea to Jobs. “I just did the one – I have never done that after that,” Janoff says. “I was so clear this was exactly the thing it should be that there weren’t any alternatives.”
Fortunately, Jobs approved – and the logo, while tweaked in the coming years, remains Janoff’s original design.
“Today, when I go into an airport and everyone’s on their laptops, I’ve got these little white logos looking at me all over the place,” says Janoff. “It’s a great reward to see it all over the place.”
It’s easy to imagine that Janoff’s life changed the day he created that logo. But it took years for Apple to become the trillion-dollar tech giant it is today, years for its logo to brand itself in consumers’ minds. And the reality is, if Apple hadn’t become a great company, Janoff’s great logo might have faded into oblivion.
That’s the thing about logo design – so much of its success is wrapped up in external factors, particularly the fate of the company itself. With no guarantees that one “big break” will lead to another, designers must develop their own barometers for success.
Ruth Kedar, the designer behind Google’s original logo, came to terms with that reality long ago. “I am absolutely positive that if Google had not gone to the great heights that it has gone, and that if the Google logo had not become the most ubiquitous design of all time, you would not be talking to me,” she says.
Kedar, 63, had been introduced to Sergey Brin and Larry Page through a mutual friend while she was teaching at Stanford. Recognized for her forward-thinking approach and interest in arts and technology, the two founders sought out Kedar for their Google logo. Using a unique Catull typeface, Kedar set out to create a logo that was approachable, disruptive, and different, with an anti-establishment tone.
After getting blessings from Brin and Page, the logo remained with the company until 2015 – and is forever imprinted in consumers’ minds.
“We started a very small company with a great vision, but none of us envisioned the company to be where it is today. And the fact that the brand allowed them to use and grow them with them for such a long time was my biggest success,” she says.
Yet similar to Janoff, Kedar didn’t become an overnight success. While the public’s response was positive, there was no major media coverage, accolades, or peer recognition. After its completion, Kedar continued teaching at Stanford before she transitioned into the online marketing world, focusing more on her design firm, Kedar Designs.
“Success is not a certificate that promises you smooth sailing after that,” says Kedar. “Because the truth is, if everything is fantastic after that, what do you really draw your inspiration from?”
It wasn’t until Google’s 10th anniversary, in 2008, that the world would pay attention to Kedar.
Not only did the U.S. media want to meet the woman behind the Google logo, but so did press outlets from all over the world, including Brazil, Israel, and Argentina.
“There was definitely a lot more interest, no doubt about that,” she says. “There were a lot of opportunities that I had that I would not have had, had those articles not been published.” It helped her get more clients for logos and also provided her a platform to mentor young women designers, participate in speaking engagements, and inspire others.
For Janoff, his opportunities arose only after getting over internal conflict about what success should look like for a designer behind such an iconic brand.
“For the longest time, I didn’t talk about it that much. I believed that people thought the person who designed the Apple logo must have a huge design studio and be really rich,” he says. “I was neither of those things.”
It wasn’t until meeting a business partner pushed him to share his story with the world that opportunities based on the Apple design started coming in.
“People love Apple. People love American stuff,” Janoff recalls his business partner telling him. After sharing his story on his website, he says, “We started getting inquiries from companies, and I am having a wonderful time working for international companies all over the world doing interesting work.”
Because achieving external success often takes a long time in the creative world, many designers continue to build their portfolio in the ensuing years – focusing less on what the public may one day deem successful and more on how they continue to raise their own bar in their career, including creating milestones.
“Whether they are personal goals or business goals, the idea is that they have a clear direction,” says success coach and mentor David Neagle on how to stay inspired. “They should not be focused on a destination at which they can stop, but focused on opportunities to step into situations that will challenge them and also give them experiences that then lead them to achieve their next set of goals.”
For Mike Deal, 31, one of the designers behind the Pinterest logo, success, even in the digital age, took years. Yet he never waited for external recognition to push himself to the next level; it had to come from inside.
“At the time the Pinterest logo came out, it wasn’t a highly recognized brand, and so it was kind of a slow build over time,” says Deal, who even before Pinterest had successful ventures early on in his career, at around the age of 23. Rather than wait for any sort of recognition, he focused on his next milestone, which took him to the media industry and soon to the blockchain world.
“A lot of designers, creative types – you are driven by a kind of curiosity, and it’s at odds with what makes more business sense, which is to specialize deeply in something and command a high asking price for those services,” he says. “But a lot of designers and artist types are more prone to leaping around and trying new things and chasing butterflies.”
And that sort of mindset is what success tends to be about: an individual’s internal journey. Creatives often look to use their skills to finish a problem, and due to their ambition and drive, once solved, they want to try something new. Otherwise, life can become a bit stagnant.
“Greatness is not created by always trying to do something better than you did last time; it’s a constant expression of where you are in your own evolution,” adds Neagle. “Your mindset should be that you can be constantly creating throughout your entire lifetime.”