Steve Jobs and the Upside Down Apple

Andrew Littlefield By Andrew Littlefield May 19, 2017

Imagine having your company’s logo plastered all over one of the most celebrated TV series of a decade, watched and adored by millions.

Great news, right?

Now imagine the logo is upside down the entire time.

Upside Down AppleSex and the City defined television during the early 2000s, right around the time Apple was re-emerging from a decade-long slumber of mediocrity into a period of explosive growth, led in no small part by its intense focus on design and aesthetics. This was the period that saw the birth of the iPod, the colorful G3 iMacs and the iBook. Steve Jobs was back at the helm of his company and Apple was on its way to becoming what we know it as today—the “cool kids” brand.

But in the midst of all that, there was one mind-boggling design choice—the decision on which way the Apple logo should face on the lid of their laptops.

Logo positioning on laptops presents an interesting debate, with compelling arguments in favor of each side. You could make your logo face the user when closed, thus making it clear which side the laptop opens from. The problem here is that as soon as it’s opened, the logo appears upside down to everyone looking at your computer. Putting it right side up in this orientation provides the obvious word-of-mouth type of marketing that Apple has thrived on—it’s hard to beat the kind of free advertising that Apple enjoys in every single coffee shop in the country.

So the argument really comes down to what’s more important—the user’s experience or the brand? That’s a constant area of strife for any business, no matter the industry. Media companies feel this pain in the debate on ad blockers—do you let your readers use a tool they prefer, or cater to advertisers who keep the lights on?

There’s really no good answer. It’s one of those areas that you just need to make a decision on and be prepared to defend your stance. Which is precisely what Jobs did.

Joe Moreno is a former Apple Engineer who explains the decision the company made on his blog:

“The design group noticed that users constantly tried to open the laptop from the wrong end. Steve Jobs always focused on providing the best possible user experience and believed that it was more important to satisfy the user than the onlooker.”

That’s hard to argue against. After all, the user is the one who spent the money on the computer, better to make sure they’re satisfied than Joe Schmoe at Starbucks.

But it does lead to a confounding problem like we see on Sex and the City. The back of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Apple laptop is featured constantly in the series, but the iconic apple is balancing on its stem. The show was a powerful tastemaker, making the cosmo cocktail and Manolo shoes household names. Looking back at clips with the laptop, it’s hard not to feel like Apple missed a golden branding opportunity.

Eventually, the design team came around to this argument—but without feeling like they were selling out users in favor of the brand. Here’s Moreno again:

“Obviously, after a few years, Steve reversed his decision. Opening a laptop from the wrong end is a self-correcting problem that only lasts a few seconds. However, viewing the upside logo is a problem that lasts indefinitely.”


Image credits

Steve Jobs photo by Matthew Yohe (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sarah Jessica Parker photo by MiamiFilmFestival (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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