The Apple logo, Annie Hall and the single version of the truth

9 08 2009

CreativeBits published last week a good interview with Rob Janoff, the designer of the Apple logo (thanks to TUAW for the pointer). Over the years, I’ve heard several theories explaining the bitten apple, from the obvious (Eve’s bite on the forbidden fruit representing the lust for knowledge), to the nerdy (a reference to the computer term byte), to the convoluted (like the one below from Wikipedia).

Another explanation exists that the bitten apple pays homage to the mathematician Alan Turing, who committed suicide by eating an apple he had laced with cyanide.

Then you learn directly from the horse’s mouth that all of the above are just BS (his term, not mine). The real explanation turned out to be so much more mundane and simpler:

Anyway, when I explain the real reason why I did the bite it’s kind of a let down. But I’ll tell you. I designed it with a bite for scale, so people get that it was an apple not a cherry. Also it was kind of iconic about taking a bite out of an apple. Something that everyone can experience. It goes across cultures. If anybody ever had an apple he probably bitten into it and that’s what you get.

All the fancy theories about the bitten apple logo and the real reason is that Janoff didn’t want to have people mistaking his stylized apple by a cherry??? “Kind of a let down” is the understatement of the year.

This whole discussion reminds me of this classic scene from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall movie:

The video above is a bit long, so here is a description for the time-starved among you:

In one scene, Allen’s character, standing in a cinema queue with Annie and listening to someone behind him expound on Marshall McLuhan’s work, leaves the line to speak to the camera directly. The man then speaks to the camera in his defense, and Allen resolves the dispute by pulling McLuhan himself from behind a free-standing movie posterboard to tell the man that his interpretation is wrong.

I had a great literature teacher who told me many years ago that what an artist meant when creating his art is important if you are interested in history or passing an exam, but all the possible interpretations by consumers of that art are as legitimate as the one by the author, be her or him a writer, a musician, a painter or a sculptor. The bottom line is that once the art is out to the public, the audience owns its meaning, and that meaning will evolve as time and context keeps building on top of it, regardless of what the author’s original intention was.

Revisiting the Annie Hall scene from that perspective, Allen’s character, McLuhan and the Columbia U professor were all right in their distinct interpretations, and all wrong in assuming that only one was possible.

In the fields of IT and Business Intelligence, we often hear the (terrible) acronym SVOT, or Single Version of the Truth (sometimes referred as “one version of the truth”). While in very technical terms that may make sense – a person cannot have two different places of birth, for example – SVOT in anything above bits and bytes is just an urban myth.

A personal story to illustrate this: my maternal uncle’s place of birth was supposed to be some Japanese city named Keijo, according to old documents from my grandfather. As many of you know, my mother is Japanese, and I always just assumed that my uncle was born in Japan, so I never bothered looking for Keijo in the map. Last month, talking to my sister over Skype, I googled it and found that Keijo is actually the former Japanese name used for Seoul, the capital of South Korea, during the period of Japanese rule! In a few seconds, SVOT just became to me IDWTYART, as in “it depends what truth you are referring to” :-)

Just to bring this post back to its original subject, I want to conclude it with a pictorial representation of SVOT vs. IDWTYART juxtaposing the iconic logo and its corresponding pwned version:


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