KEEPING IT SIMPLE
With one lower case ‘i’, APPLE changed the world. TWENTY years on, the BRAINS behind that move is still extolling the virtues of simplicity.
Ken Segall is the man responsible for one of the most recognisable branding initiatives of the last century. Yet he is quick to downplay the fact that he gave the technology world a new vocabulary, simply by naming Apple’s comeback computer the iMac.
“In the scope of world issues it’s a tiny achievement,” he says, laughing. “But, I humbly acknowledge that I am responsible for the ‘i’. It was more of an exercise in logic than real creativity: ‘i’ for internet and ‘Mac’ for Macintosh.”
The ad executive was working at an advertising agency in Los Angeles when his name was put forward to manage the account of a struggling technology company called Apple. It was 1997 and Steve Jobs had recently returned to the company.
“The first thing he did was get people working on a new computer for the home that would get Apple back into profitability,” says Ken. “There was a name he was hot on – the Mac Man. We were all aghast! So, he gave us a week to come up with a replacement.”
Over the next seven days his team covered walls with potential names. His ‘iMac’ idea was one of the first that everyone in the team agreed upon – but there was a problem.
“Steve hated it,” says Ken. “We showed him five names and he hated them all. We came back a week later with more suggestions and he didn’t like them either. So, I pulled iMac out of the bag again.”
This time around, for whatever reason, Apple’s co-founder was a little more receptive. “A couple of days later he put the name on a machine and showed it around,” says Ken. “It must have passed the test, because it became iMac.”
Since that day, Apple has applied the same format to the names of some of its most famous products – the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad, iBooks and iTunes. And Ken spent the next several years working alongside Steve Jobs, both at Apple and NeXT (Steve’s other computer company, which merged with Apple in 1996). He oversaw Apple’s famous ‘Think Different’ campaign, helped launch the
It was hard not to be INSPIRED by Steve [Jobs]’s love of simplicity. It was INCREDIBLE to be a part of.
first iPod, and created magic with the tech brand’s defining element: simplicity.
“It was hard not to be inspired by Steve’s love of simplicity,” says Ken. “He turned an unfocused organisation into a place where everyone understood the journey ahead and the part they were to play. He simplified the corporate structure, he simplified the product line and he simplified the marketing. It was incredible to be a part of.”
Now a public speaker and author, Ken has written two books on this subject, Insanely Simple and Think Simple: How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity.
“Simplicity is one of the most deceptive concepts on earth,” he writes. “It’s arguably the most potent weapon in business – attracting customers, motivating employees, out-thinking competitors, and creating new experiences. Yet rarely is it as simple as it looks. Simplicity takes work.”
As well as drawing on Apple as a role model, he has travelled the world interviewing ‘agents of simplicity’ in the business sphere, from the CEO of Wholefoods to bankers, and even the Blue Man Group, an international performance art company that has developed a business plan to weed out complexity before it is able to take root.
“It struck me that simplicity is a super powerful thing that is available to everyone on earth,” he says.
“It doesn’t take any special education. It’s a philosophy and a methodology, and it can be implemented at every level of an organisation. It can transform a company internally and change the way it’s perceived by others.” In a business ecosystem where launching more products, employing more staff and having more processes is seen as a mark of success, is it time we ended the glorification of complexity? Ken sees the merit in doing so.
“When Steve came back to Apple he saw all the complexities – and cut through that stuff,” says Ken, who was a drummer and lyricist before being drawn into the advertising industry. “He killed all the committees. Apple made 25 products and he killed 23 of them. I describe it as a childlike idealism of how a company should run.” >