By Any Other Name…

Naming. It gets a lot of attention and it has for thousands of years. The Bard tells us, “…that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Indeed, it would. But if the name is flat, inscrutable, or undecipherable, then will we ever get to the lovely bouquet?  Only if something else attracts us.

We recently had a CEO tell us that “there are just no more good names out there…” which makes me wonder; did anyone ever tell Michelangelo that there were just no more good sculptures out there? Not that I would ever directly compare our work to that of the master, but it does cause one to wonder, “is that what people really think?” Or, is it just that naming seems too hard and it just seems easier to not have to go there?

The general rule is the fewer words you use to describe something, the harder it is to do. The famous story about Samuel Clemens telling his publisher that a 30 page story takes 2 days, but a 2 page story take 30 days, makes it clear that the real genius is not in complexity, but in simplicity. And that, I think, is where naming becomes such a challenge and makes executives and entrepreneurs hypertensive–more than just an elevator pitch, it is your TEN SECOND pitch.

And if, in that 10 seconds, you don’t intrigue, fascinate, and, yes, even titillate, then is anyone going to get to your bouquet?

In this time-compressed, fast paced, world we all inhabit, that is, indeed, the question. For, to answer The Bard’s question, “what’s in a name?” The answer is “everything.” And that’s the answer to why naming is such an incredible challenge for so many people/executives/creatives/entrepreneurs; because it is (or should be) a wonderful representation of exactly what makes you so great…in 10 seconds and a handful of characters and phonemes.

But never fear. The greatest names are yet to come.

So, It’s Just an Apple?

Logos are created to visually communicate the brand of a company, product, or service. In the blink of an eye, with or without prior interactions, the receiver should gain a basic understanding of the core values of the brand.

It is the designer’s responsibility to learn about these core values and visualize them. Many tools are used to do this including analogy (reference to an existing experience), semiotics (the science of symbols), visual culture (local associations), and rhetoric (metaphors, etc.). When a logo is minimalist and the subject has a wealth of cultural ties to it, the symbol can unintentionally welcome a variety of interpretations. It is in the branding of the logo that these references can be tamed.

After reading through an interview Creative Bits conducted with Rob Janoff, the designer of the Apple logo, I was amused and even surprised by the amount of interpretations the public had shared. Here are a few:

– The bite in the apple is referencing the computing term’ byte’.

– The apple is referencing the biblical event when Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, signifying knowledge and lust.

– The fruit itself is referencing the discovery of gravity by Newton when an apple fell on his head while sitting under a tree.

– The colors of the rainbow (ROYGBIV) are in the wrong order, suggesting hope and anarchy.

– The colored logo is homage to Turing, the famous supposed father of computer science, who committed suicide in the early 50’s while facing a jail sentence because he was a homosexual.

– Turing also apparently killed himself with a cyanide-laced apple. His favorite childhood story was also Snow White where she falls asleep forever for eating a poisoned apple to be woken up by the handsome prince.

So, did anyone get it right? In Rob’s words “they are all BS”. His reasoning for the design focused on readability, simplicity, and intrigue. The only creative briefing he was given by Steve Jobs was “don’t make it cute”.

At first, he prepared two versions—one with the bite and one without—fearing the bite may look too “cute”. The bite was added simply for scale. Rob’s concern was that people might confuse the shape with that of a cherry, so adding the bite mark provided context. He also felt people across all cultures could relate to it through their own physical experiences of biting into an apple. It was iconic.

Now, how about those colors? Rob confessed that the purpose of the stripes was to reinforce what differentiated the Apple from other personal computers at that time. The Apple II was the first personal computer that could reproduce images on the monitor in color, so the color bars in the logo are actually representing the color bars seen on the Apple II’s screen.

So, the Apple logo we see today may just be an apple that someone has taken a bite out of, but over the years it has become a very symmetrical, scalable, polished, well designed and functional apple. Sound familiar?

To read the whole interview, visit

Happy Birthday Oya. My Thoughts on Turning Eight.

Happy Birthday to Us.

Ian Gordon turned 12 on July 31, 2009. Ian is my dear, dear, dear stepson. I love him madly. When I tell him that he replies, “Most people do.” And, it’s true. He’s truly one of a kind. Early that morning he texted me with the following: “It’s 8:32 I’m 12!” He was thrilled to have finally made it! We threw him a party. There was fun, food, laughter, and cake. The floor was littered with sleeping bags filled with moppy-headed boys, presents, and video games. It was all good. A fitting celebration for a wonderful kid.

The next day I woke up, thinking birthday thoughts and realized that it was Oya’s 8th birthday. Though I’ve had an agency since 1994, the Oya brand was born on August 1, 2001. I must admit, this birthday kinda snuck up on me. In years past I never even gave it a thought. August 1st always came and went without fanfare. No cake. No balloons. No singing. No party. Just another day…

So, why is this year any different? Why did I wake up and make note? Maybe because it’s been a hard year for business overall and the year 2001 had similar challenges. In 2001 the high-tech industry was in crisis. Many of my friends had lost their jobs and everyone was cutting back and watching every penny. ROI was the most important thing to our customers. The work had to be good, thoughtful, and effective. Then just when we thought things would settle down, the events of September 11th hit us like a freight-train, further eroding our confidence. Everyone was in shock. But, Oya survived and thrived in the following years as everyone went back to work and back to business.

The last 12 months have been very challenging for everyone and when that happens people seek new ideas. Creativity is at a high level as people reach out for new and innovative ways to connect with each other and tell their unique stories. This is both a difficult and exciting time.

So, as we turn 8 years old I would like to celebrate and acknowledge this momentous occasion.

Happy birthday to us! We made it! Let’s have cake!

The Incredible Sign Up Button

Is it me or are sign up buttons getting bigger and sign in buttons smaller? I spent at least 5 mins looking for the sign in button/field on WordPress just now and almost gave up, thinking I just needed to get my morning caffeine boost first. Stubborn and annoyed, I continued to scan the page using my cursor like an Exacto blade to carefully dissect the page. I design user interfaces, so why was it so hard for me to figure out where another UI designer had placed the sign in button? I visit WordPress frequently, I should know where to find the front door knob to my own blog domain.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across a dominant sign up field. Take any of the popular social network sites — Facebook, Twitter, Linked in — and one of the first places your eyes are drawn to is the large sign up button or glowing fields inviting your cursor like a moth to a light bulb. Sure, new users are important and you don’t want to make it difficult for them to commit to your service, but forcing the larger portion of your landing page’s traffic to search for a seemingly invisible button is not a good way to welcome back dedicated users.

Eventually, I found my sign in link carefully crafted into my browser’s UI.

Wordpress home page