How do You Like Them Upside-Down Apples?

Like a lot of designers, I own a MacBook. Every single time I take my computer out of its case, I have to remember to place the laptop with its logo upside-down, so the computer will open facing me.

Of course, as a graphic designer and marketer, I like to reflect on why Apple placed their logo upside down for me, a loyal customer, and dedicated user.

Apple has always been an example of great branding and marketing. Of course, the Apple logo has to read right-side up for the potential buyers of the brand, not for the already-convinced users. The rule of repetition in marketing is operative here; the more often a potential customer sees the logo, the more the idea of owning an Apple is implanted in his subconscious mind. So, the logo needs to be upright for him, not me. So, my owning a computer with an apple on the cover makes me into a quiet evangelist for the brand. I don’t mind evangelizing a brand that I like so well.

And I am not alone. Convinced Apple users are more than just computer users who bought a certain kind of computer; many are evangelists for the brand. Why? Because Apple is the computer that fulfills the original promise of the personal computer: it makes your life easier. But more than that, it is a computer with style. The higher price point reinforces that point, rather than detracting from it: only those who appreciate the beauty, style, and design of a utilitarian object will ultimately buy Apple. Apple fans WANT Apple products to be more expensive so that they can join an elite market that shares the same refined design values. The higher price point keeps the riffraff of the dull utilitarian user who doesn’t appreciate art and culture out of the store.

I call this phenomenon “Elite Marketing,” a term that defines a type of market share of users who see themselves as belonging to a smaller group of individuals who share common values, in this case, they value beautifully-designed utilitarian objects. The same difference separates the buyers of Chrysler Sebring’s and Jaguars: both cars share the same purpose and will get you where you want to go, but one of them does it in style.

One of the major reasons that people buy Apple products is that Apple leads in computer style and design. But, if they didn’t know it when they bought the product, they soon find out that they bought better-designed hardware and software; a computer that won’t get many—if any—viruses, and one that almost never breaks down. Good design again.

Now, like any style leader, Apple has had its imitators. But, without exception, these copycats see only the exterior of the brand. They try to compete with the outward style, but they lose the main point: Apple products are designed well inside and out. Every detail is thought out from every design standpoint. Apple employs design leaders in every field: marketing, hardware, product design, usability design, web design, human design, graphic design, GUI, etc.

I won’t deny that sometimes they miss the mark, like the weird-just-incrementally-smaller-than-normal keyboard that shipped with the G4 towers. I had to buy a new keyboard because it made me miss all the keys when I typed. My personal favorite faux-pas was the Cube, one the most beautiful, classic computer designs that I had ever seen in my life. I actually lusted after this computer — I think a lot of my fellow designers did too — until I realized that the design was severely limited: it was impossible to add any hardware to the CPU. So it became, instead of a cherished classic, a paperweight or doorstop.

A well-designed, recognizable logo is the best kind of advertising. Every time I go to my local library, it is hard not to notice a field of illuminated apples around me; it’s a testament to the growing market-share of my favorite platform. As a branding technique, the simplicity of the softly-glowing iconic logo cannot be denied.

I have owned Macs for my entire career as a graphic designer, and, I have to admit that one of the draws to buying this computer is that Apple —as opposed to every other brand of computer hardware manufacturer — pays attention to those kinds of design and branding details that make the computer and the brand appeal to people like me.

From the time I opened the lid of my first Mac, I have been impressed by the genius of this brand. Even the packaging is not overlooked; ease of use is emphasized, the brand carries the idea that Apple makes your life both easy and beautiful. A Mac computer, like any well-designed object, is a thing of beauty and a future classic collectible.

I have been a Mac enthusiast since the days when I taught software packages through online videos; I had to show how to use the same software on both Macs and PCs and used to grit my teeth whenever I had to get on the PCs to do my work. Everything about the PC was clunky, insulting, primitive, or just plain wrong. I found this essential difference impossible to describe to an avowed PC advocate. Since they belong to another group of evangelists who don’t share my design values they simply couldn’t see what I was talking about.

Years later, I had the chance to work for Apple in the educational division. I would have been employed in teaching users how to use the interface without having to crack a manual. Since the early days of interactive design, expert usability designers have known that the best design is the one that “teaches” the user how to use it without the user realizing that he is being taught. The user doesn’t even notice the design or realize that he has had a question, it is answered so fast by the presence of the “transparent” platform. Again, another, case of good design. Apple is the king of transparent design.

To a large degree, I buy Apple because the design of the computer puts me in a smaller elite class of computer users, those who appreciate the good design, both outside and inside, that Apple has come to represent. There are many other reasons, of course, and they mostly have to do with the fact that the design itself makes the computer easy for me to use.

Design today is so much more than visual design: it now stands for several kinds of design at once:

  • visual communication
  • branding
  • usability
  • transparency

The question I have to ask myself is: if tomorrow another company started making computers as good as or better than Apple, would I switch?

And my answer? Only if Apple dropped the ball and I could no longer believe in their collective genius. For now, I have nostalgia to add to my evangelism; after all, I have seen my career develop on their platform, in fact, I would go so far as to say that I would not have become a graphic designer if I had had to do it on a common PC.

Copyright Aliyah Marr

Aliyah Marr is the author of Parallel Mind, The Art of Creativity: The (missing) manual for your right brain