Designing an Apple Logo That Doesn't Look Like “APPLE”
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
As a lover of Apple (computer) products together with the love for the Apple icon being faced with a logo design brief that needed to incorporate an apple (the fruit) was challenging to say the least.
I mean, how do you go about designing an apple logo that doesn’t bear any resemblance to one of the most recognisable logos in the world?
Apples to Apples
You only need to do a Google search to realise that Apple Inc. has a monopoly over the apple shape so, whilst doing initial research the following question arose:
Can only Apple use an apple in its logo?
Apple Inc. did name itself after a common fruit however, the apple (the fruit) is so ubiquitous that thousands of companies ranging from different industries feature an apple in their logo. Sometimes the idea for an icon is just so generic that there are only so many ways to draw an abstract image of an apple.
Let's take a look at a range of apple icons...
More than just an apple
The world's most famous apple is a great logo but, what is it that makes it iconic?
For starters, the Apple logo has all the ingredients of a well designed logo:
It doesn’t need a logotype to be identified and the icon is frequently seen on its products.
However, the distinctiveness of its logo isn’t the silhouette of an apple. If you look at a silhouette of an apple it’s really just a simple shape; there’s nothing special about it and it’s one of the many common shapes that appear in a children’s ABC. What makes the Apple symbol unique is the missing bite taken out of the apple.
The bitten apple is an unmistakable brand mark. It is iconic because it’s instantly recognisable. It can stand alone without additional text or product shots and when you look at it you know exactly what it represents and what the brand stands for. You can’t confuse it with anything else in the market.
So, if it's the ''bitten apple'' that is the symbol of the brand then that means that other companies should be able to feature an apple in their logo, right?
In the market today there are a wide range of industries that feature an apple in their logo, ranging from grocery stores, cafes, juice bars, organic food shops, dietitians and nutritionists to name a few. From a healthy point of view an apple is considered to be the king of all fruits so it's only natural that businesses connected to the food and health industry want to use it after all, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.
Let’s take a look at a range of apple logos...
But, here’s the but... where Apple can be the only one to use an apple is in the industry of technology which essentially comes down to trademark and trademark protection.
What is a trademark?
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a trademark lawyer. There are numerous articles on the web which explain trademarks in depth, it can get quite detailed. I have provided some links based on my research. When it comes to registering a trademark or trademark law consult a legal expert.
A trademark can be a word, name, phrase, slogan, symbol, product dress (packaging design, colour, shape, texture, graphics) or a combination of these elements, that is used by a business to distinguish its products or services from its competitors.
Trademark protection only applies to a particular industry category (or class) of goods and services that a business is in. There are 45 classes into which trademark applications are classified.
The main purpose of a trademark is “to prevent confusion in the marketplace” so that consumers know exactly what and from whom they are buying from. It’s about protecting your brand ID so that no one in the competing goods & services market can come in and use your brand or trademark for a similar thing.
The Apple logo is a protected trademark of Apple Inc. Earlier we looked at what makes Apple a great logo and one of the key ingredients is "distinctive". In order for a mark to have trademark protection it has to be distinctive.
Apple is considered to be an arbitrary trademark meaning that the common english word “apple” has absolutely no connection to computers. The stronger and more distinctive the mark the greater protection it has.
So, when you see the bitten apple logo on a product you instantly know that it has something to do with Apple Inc. and what you can expect from the brand: innovation, high quality design, user friendliness and techno-supremacy. But, imagine if a new company called Red Delicious comes into the market selling computers with an "Apple-like" logo this will dilute the apple brand and will likely confuse the customer into thinking that the computers are made by Apple Inc. and constitute trademark infringement. On the other hand, if you were to use this term in a completely unrelated industry customer confusion is unlikely to occur as you are not in competing categories.
Trademark law is meant to protect consumers from being confused about where a product comes from. If you decide to use an apple logo as the face of your company ask yourself:
Will consumers believe that you are selling Apple Products?
For anything related to computers and technology avoid using an apple or you might have a lawyer knocking on your door.
An apple might not keep a lawyer away
So, if it is the “bitten apple” that is the trademark symbol then why the fuss with companies using an apple shape in their logo?
Over the years there have been a number of apple logo controversies where Apple has filed oppositions against companies' trademark applications for using an apple-like mark claiming it’s too similar to its own.
Here are a few examples:
In 2008 Apple filed an opposition against a trademark application by New York City for the apple logo for 'GreeNYC' environmental initiative claiming that the greeNYC logo "is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception in the minds of consumers".
A green apple shaped like the infinity symbol with a stem. The apple mark takes its cue from the ‘Big Apple’ nickname.
NYC deleted the leaf from its GreeNYC logo leaving only the stem. Apple's opposition and counterclaims were dismissed.
Comparing the 2 logo designs I think that the two logos are just apples but not enough similarity to generate a problem. Also, the GREENYC logo is not competing in the consumer electronics category so consumer confusion is very unlikely to occur.
In 2009 Apple disputed a trademark application by Woolworths Limited in Australia over the new logo for its supermarket chain Woolworths Supermarkets. While computers and food are in totally different markets and the logos are clearly not similar Apple's main concern was that Woolworths may in the future sell electronics, which may create confusion for consumers.
A green, rounded, stylised "W" with an abstract leaf symbol representing fresh food. Some have described it as a peeled apple, a person with outstretched arms or if the color were orange it would resemble a pumpkin.
In 2011, Woolworths amended its trademark application to remove various goods and services and Apple withdrew its opposition allowing the trademark to proceed to registration.
Comparing the two logos there is clearly enough difference that the two cannot possibly be confused as the same. When I look at the Woolworths logo, I simply see a green “W” for Woolworths with a connection to a piece of fresh produce. Perhaps another colour could have been chosen but, as a representation of freshness, green is the best colour choice.
Apfelkind (means “apple child” in German) is a small child-friendly cafe in Bonn, Germany. In 2011 Aplelkind’s owner filed for a trademark application for the company.
Apple filed an opposition against the trademark application claiming that customers could confuse the two logos.
A silhoutte of a child's face inside a red apple.
After a two-year legal correspondence Apple withdrew its objection to Apfelkind’s trademark application.
Comparing the 2 logo designs I think that the two logos are just apples but not enough similarity to generate a problem. The Apfelkind logo is a play on the word apple child and has a more cutesy, cut-out feel compared to the sleek design of the Apple Inc. logo. Also, Apfelkind is a cafe and it’s not competing in the consumer electronics category so customer confusion is very unlikely to occur.
In 2014 Pear Technologies of Macau, which develops digital mapping software and services, applied for trademark registration for two word/device marks. Apple filed an opposition claiming it was confusingly similar to it’s own apple silhouette logo.
Rounded silhouette of a pear.
A pear composed of lots of different-sized squares.
OUTCOME: The European Intellectual Property Office’s (EUIPO) Opposition Division agreed with Apple’s proceedings and refused both applications. For more insights and key points of this ruling check out Novagraaf’s Frouke Hekker post entitled: Comparing APPLE(s) to pears, in EU trademark law
Although pears and apples are different fruit when I first saw this logo my first thought was “Apple Wannabee”. Coming into the technology market and calling yourself Pear Technologies with a sleek pear silhouette lacks originality and seems like Pear Technologies wanted to ride on Apple’s popularity. While the other 3 examples clearly have their own characteristics and are not similar other than showing the same fruit the Pear Technologies feels like a blatant copy.
The forbidden fruit
These four examples really make you think that an apple is the forbidden fruit and, particularly with Apfelkind, it feels like the big guy attacking the little guy but, according to Spear IP
“Policing your trademark isn’t about being the bad guy; it’s about protecting a valuable asset and preserving all of the good will you’ve built into your brand”.
The simple fact is that all companies with a trademark MUST defend it in order to keep its strength or else risk losing it.
It should also be noted that in these examples Apple raised objections (oppositions) to new trademark applications. As the original trademark owner they pretty much have make these objections in order to protect its brand reputation and set a strong precedent for the future. Protecting, policing and monitoring marks are part and parcel of owning a trademark.
For more insights check out these great articles on upcounsel.com:
So, after getting carried away with the research side of things, how do I design a logo that takes the concept of an apple and creatively transform it into something that doesn’t resemble the globally recognised Apple logo.
Let’s take a look...
The Idea / The Brief
I was asked to create a logo for La Manzana, a commercial block of 10 businesses.
La Manzana means “apple” in Spanish and also means a “square/block” in the city.
The logo needed to reflect a synergy and union of businesses coming together as well as a play on an apple + square.
A bunch of apples (concepts)
Starting with the apple shape I worked up various concepts merging it with a
I love simplicity in logo designs but my earlier concepts still looked too Apple-ish. I decided to focus on squaring it up and create divisional compartments as a way to represent a union of businesses coming together.
Various concepts were presented to the client and the final one was selected.
You can check it out here