The Value of Design: Steve Jobs and the $100,000 Logo

Huddle around the digital campfire, folks. I’m going to tell you a story of design, of innovation, and ultimately, of a quest for identity that happened in the not too distant past in the mythical land of Silicon Valley. The year was 1986, and a young man by the name of Steve Jobs had been tossed out of his technology company as if he was a rotten piece of the fruit the business was named after. Determined to pick himself up and carry on, Jobs decided to launch an education computer start-up with a small troop of employees that had followed his exodus and call it Next. Hailed a business visionary, Steve Jobs was staking his reputation and millions of dollars on this new chapter. He had everything to lose. But as a visionary does, even before the product details had been determined Jobs approached one and only one wise man to create Next’s brand – Paul Rand. He knew a strong identity would be the basis for the tied success of him and his company and went all in with the legendary graphic designer. Paul Rand emerged out of the dust of WWII in the growing capitalist land of America. He had built a reputation as iconic designer, responsible for the logo creation of some of the world’s largest corporations including Ford, IBM, and UPS. Rand believed that graphic design should be both beautiful and functional – commingling the heavenly with the earthly. His philosophy, like his creations, was simply stated:   Good design is good business.   So, the two men of strong vision met and discussed the plan for Next’s logo. The mythic conversation went along the follow lines: “Will you come up with a few options for us?” Steve asked. “No,” Paul answered with authority. “I will solve your problem. And you will pay me.” Each word was given weight unbearable to the frail egos of most. Steve breathed in deeply and exhaled widely. The cost? $100,000. Far more than had been asked from the titans of industry, but this was no ordinary job. Silent, Jobs stared off into the ether. He turned to Paul and nodded his head. The terms were accepted – the call to adventure heeded. Paul Rand’s message to Steve Jobs was clear: trust me, because you have chosen me as the expert. He was not interested in letting his client dictate anything more than the request. When you come to a sage, you must not define the conditions of their wisdom. Rand would deliver a single logo and Jobs could take it or leave it.

So, Rand went off to meditate on, to play with, and to work through the formation of Next’s next piece. Two months later, a playful, askew cube with the company’s name inside was delivered within a 100-page booklet outlining the logo’s meaningful creation. In fact, Rand had even renamed the company to NeXT, citing the lowercase e stood for ‘education’. A new image was borne. The ashes of Steve Jobs’ engulfed path at Apple had given way to a fierce phoenix emerging, rising, and spreading it’s graphically designed wings in the Valley of Silicon for all to revere. After looking through the brand bible, engrossed with typography and romantic ideals, Steve stood up, looked at Paul and asked, “Can I hug you?” The two embraced – a sacred seal formed; peace on earth. Clearly, he was satisfied with the quest’s conclusion. And so, my dears friends and listeners of words, why do I tell you this story of intrigue, insight, and creative submission? In the years to follow, NeXT grew and grew until it was acquired by the ailing Apple in 1997, reunifying Steve Jobs with his first passion project. Legend has it that on that day, an important piece of Paul Rand’s wisdom was attained too. For the King had returned from exile, carrying with him the Sage’s awareness. Design has become an integral part of Apple’s way of being and its renewed success, not least because of the reappointment of Jobs as CEO in 2000, heralding in a decade, or perhaps Millennia, of revolutionary products that balance beauty with utility. What may have seemed like a young man’s folly and a wasteful $100,000 has helped build a corporate kingdom that continues to flourish by trusting innovators to lead the way forward.

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