INTERVIEW: A Few Words from the “i” Behind Apple Branding, Ken Segall

Ken Segall

Here are a few excerpts from our exclusive interview with Ken Segall, author of the bestselling book Insanely Simple and formerly part of Apple’s famous advertising and branding juggernaut. Before setting off for his successful writing and blogging career, Ken was the man who originated the “i” branding in Apple’s product names, beginning with the iMac computers in 1999. Today, the lower-case “i” is as ubiquitous to daily life as cereal.

Ken’s comments on Apple’s success, the late Steve Jobs and branding are fresh and insightful, as is his blog, “Ken Segall’s Observatory,” which many in the industry follow. You can read the full interview in Legacy Series Magazine, which will be on newsstands in November.

Q: First of all, Ken, why do you feel that Apple’s streamlined, simplified approach to product development made such a big splash at a time when the rest of the marketplace seemed more specialized and complex than ever?

A: You’ve actually answered part of the question already. The world is a very complicated place, so it’s only natural that simplicity stands out as it does. Apple puts major effort into distilling its products to the essence, so in most cases they have an intuitive nature — even though they are performing some very sophisticated functions. This same drive to achieve simplicity is present throughout all of Apple’s behaviors, including its advertising and retail operations. It’s in human nature to prefer a simpler approach, and Apple is mindful of this in everything it does.

Q: Could you review the 10 elements of simplicity that Steve Jobs espoused — and how what might seem obvious now was anything but when he first integrated them into Apple’s operations?

A: One of the interesting things about simplicity is that it seems so natural that you don’t always notice it. The point of my book, Insanely Simple, is that Steve had a way of looking at a wide range of things through this lens of simplicity. He’d make product design decisions this way, as well as advertising decisions, financial decisions, manufacturing decisions, and so on. There came a point when I realized that I was witnessing a pattern of sorts, that Steve was relentless about adhering to this notion of simplicity, and it guided his judgment in so many different ways. I felt it even more when I found myself working with companies that did not have a champion of simplicity like Steve. In those places, processes were far more complicated, projects took longer and cost significantly more — while achieving inferior results.

Q: You started the “i” naming series for Apple products. What did you have in mind when coming up with this naming concept? Did you ever imagine the branding goliath it would become?

A: Naming iMac was just another job on the table at the time. I thought it was a neat opportunity, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would turn into what it did. Steve just wanted a cool name for the computer he was betting the company on. We did note that the “i” was a foundational element and could be used in future products. After iMac came iBook, iPhoto, iMovie, etc. Keep in mind that in those days, Apple didn’t make any consumer devices, it just made computers. So it was way outside the scope of our thinking to believe that the “i” would become such a critical part of Apple’s product naming framework.

Q: What were some of your most enjoyable experiences while putting together and writing Insanely Simple? What do you hear most from readers when you make appearances or give talks about the book?

A: To get all the material for the book together, I poured through tons of documents. though it wasn’t all that long ago, you know the way it works — you come upon things that you had completely forgotten about, and they bring back some terrific memories. (Maybe a few painful ones as well.) Those memories spurred me to get in touch with various people to help fill in the gaps. So what I thought would be a relatively straightforward exercise in solitary writing became a journey of rediscovery.

When I talk to various groups, I’m always struck by the degree to which people are interested in the story of Apple and Steve Jobs. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Apple is fascinating to people in virtually every industry — because so many people own Apple products, and have followed Steve’s story over the years. So even though I may be speaking to organizations in industries that have absolutely nothing to do with technology, people are always eager to find out more about how Apple works, and how they might be able to adopt some of Apple’s principles in their own organizations. And of course there are always people in the audience who just want to know: “What was it like to work with Steve?” It reminds me of how fortunate I am to actually know the answer to that question. Steve truly is a historic figure.


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: iPhone Film Fest Grand Prize Winner Craig Anthony Perkins

Interview by Robert Yehling, Editor
Legacy Series Magazine

What do you do when you ply your trade in music and film for 20+ years, then suddenly, you’re an “overnight” sensation? That’s what Craig Perkins, founder/director of the Genshi Media Group ponders daily. Within the space of four months, Craig became the talk of the digital filmmaking community – for his films shot entirely on the iPhone 4S.

In January, Craig was a featured presenter at the 2012 MacWorld/iWorld Convention for his short film, Isobel and the Witch Queen. In May, he won the iPhone Film Festival Grand Prize for The Haunting at Danford Cabin. Both films featured tight shooting, good direction, excellent scripting and acting, and the winning combination that directors from Samuel Goldwyn to George Lucas used to make themselves: stretching the most out of available new technology with very limited resources.

Legacy Series Magazine contacted Craig to discuss both the creative and technical aspects of his winning films, as well as other aspects of the craft. In an aspect of independent filmmaking as revolutionary as The Blair Witch Project in the late 1990s, one that is quickly gaining technical and financial footing, his candid responses offer compelling insight into the future.

We present a portion of our interview here. We will present the full interview In Legacy Series Magazine, which will be available on newsstands nationwide in November.

Legacy Series Magazine (LSM): First of all, Craig, congratulations on winning the iPhone Film Festival award. While certainly, you go into competitions hoping to win, what do you think it was about your work that appealed to the judges?

The Haunting at Danford Cabin from Craig Anthony Perkins on Vimeo.
Winner of Best Animation and Grand Prize Winner for Best Overall Film at the 2012 iPhone Film Festival.
© 2012 Genshi Media Group

Craig Perkins (CP): Thank you! Well, I think the judges may have recognized the work that went into this film; from the sets that we did, the puppet and costume creations, to the fact that this was all done in stop-motion (on the iPhone no less!) and the original score and sound design… it was truly an indie production!

LSM: You screened two different movies at the iPhone events in 2012 – one in January for the panel discussion at MacWorld/iWorld, and again for the final judging in May. In both cases, you scripted and presented a full movie, with good production and direction value, as well as good storylines. What differences do you find in writing and blocking shots in the iPhone format from ordinary filmmaking?

CP:  Well, I start off trying to think of it as a regular film, at least when it comes to the story, then the casting, costumes and location. But when it comes to lighting everything, then I have to say “Oh yeah, I’m shooting this on the iPhone” and then I have to re-structure how I’m going to shoot certain things (due to the iPhone not liking low light situations.) At the same time, it also inspires new ideas because I can get the iPhone into situations you normally can’t with a regular camera. This was especially true with “The Haunting” as the small size of the iPhone allowed me to get into the miniature cabin set, and down low at ground level in the exterior scenes, making the viewer feel like it was a real life- size setting.

LSM: What are some of the aspects of shooting and producing in the iPhone medium that intrigue you most as a filmmaker?

CP: The immediacy of the format. If I get an idea, I can [usually] shoot it right away without a crew. It’s just a great way to try out ideas. Also, you can dream up new shots, such as, “can I get a camera in-between the walls here?” Well you can with the iPhone! Also, the ability to upload and have people view what I’ve done instantly is a huge plus.

LSM: Without divulging specific trade secrets, could you list out the combination of hardware, software and iPhone-specific devices and attachments you used to build each movie?

CP: For Isobel and the Witch Queen, I got an iPhone 4S and I had won a Steadicam Smoothee from the iPhone Film Festival for my first film (Remembrance). Also, my partner and producer, Debora Jo Myers, and I built our own dolly tracks for use with the Pico Dolly. In both cases of these two films, I used the Filmic Pro app.

For The Haunting at Danford Cabin, it was mostly the olloclip wide- angel lens attachment for the iPhone 4S, with the iPhone mounted on the Slik tripod, with a couple of scenes using the Pico Dolly (but shooting one frame at a time.) The app we used for that movie was the iMotion HD app, occasionally triggered by the iPad 2 using the iMotion Remote app. We had to shoot 24 still shots for every one second of footage you see onscreen, so overall about 4,000 still shots were used for the movie.

LSM: Where are we at in terms of technology development for filmmakers who see a viable future with iPhone formats? How do you foresee this development progressing in the next two to three years?

CP: That’s a tough question. Many people, myself included initially, would have said that the iPhone can’t be used for serious filmmaking; it’s just for shooting family parties for YouTube, and yet, here I am with my third iPhone film screening at several film festivals (including traditional “film” festivals)! So it really does put filmmaking into the hands of anyone that wants to tell a story but can’t afford traditional movie cameras. Particularly the iPhone 4S with it’s ability to now shoot 1080p was a nice upgrade because you can really get a nice look from your footage with the right post processing. In the next two to three years, Apple will need to work on the camera chip to give us higher bit rates, smoother frame rates and hopefully the ability to shoot 60fps. Still, as much as the iPhone has allowed me to make these films with no budget, I still wish I can have professional removable lenses with rack focusing (though you can do this with the Owle Bubo and a 35mm attachment, the quality/results are not the same.)

LSM; How did you celebrate your iPhone Film Festival Grand Prize win?

CP: Unfortunately, I didn’t. I’ve been too busy working on the next three projects!

See Isobel & The Witch Queen:

Isobel & The Witch Queen from Craig Anthony Perkins on Vimeo.
World premiered exclusively at the event as part of the iPhone Film Festival discussion panel.
© 2012 Genshi Media Group

The “Whole Widget”: Integral, Holistic Education

By Kamran Tristan Matlock

Students are in need of an educational “whole widget” more than ever. Steve Jobs revolutionized the way classrooms learn with technology. Towards the end of his life, however, he clarified that technology should support, not lead learning. He believed the national education system was broken: it rattled with outdated parts, inefficient cogs and had a clumsy design. Such teaching models, he argued, were made up of cumbersome, inharmonious parts that hampered its ability to see into the future and prepare children adequately for what was next.

The current model favored by most US schools, and the one you probably grew up in, is the Transmission Model. Knowledge is defined as an objective, authoritative realm of facts existing separately from life’s experience and personal opinions. Teachers are supposed to “transmit” information to students, along with academics attitudes about learning and growth.

What Jobs unsurprisingly favored in lieu of the contemporary “PC” version of education was a “whole widget” system: a single sleek and intuitive arrangement that could prepare students for the future in an integral and holistic way. The Holistic Model perceives human existence and the world as infinitely complex and dynamic, so much so that any one worldview cannot grasp its entirety. A holistic educator draws upon many levels of understanding, technique and discipline to respond uniquely to each learning situation as it arises.

Although Jobs was visionary in many respects, it only takes common sense to realize a lack of professional talent in the US stems from the country’s broken public school system. Jobs exclusively invited high-performance, original-thinking professionals to his design table, but lamented that such individuals were rare. He knew from experience that the best and brightest of the STEM industries (science, technology, engineering, math) weren’t coming from American school institutions.

This is where the “whole widget” comes in. In his search for a complete gadget—hardware and software seamlessly interfacing with the internet and our personal and professional lives—he realized that technology, however embedded in our lives, is not sustainable beyond a supportive role. Nothing replaces human interaction, especially where learning is concerned.

Many schools, in fact, that value experiential, individualized, holistic education are already in place. Maybe you’ve heard of Montessori and Waldorf, but most charter, alternative and private schools doing the next big thing in education are off the radar. That goes doubly for higher education institutes.

Ever hear of the Ananda College of Living Wisdom, Maharishi Institute, Gaia or Naropa University? A few relatively small schools are making waves in the world of higher education. If innovators like Jobs aren’t around to change things from the top down, students will inevitably make change from the bottom up. Steve Jobs had a gift for tuning into the future needs of young people. In the end, if education can learn anything from him, it might simply be an ability to listen.

Enterprising Learning Initiatives

By Kamran Matlock

The California Federation of Teachers president once informally awarded Steve Jobs the “rotten apple” award, “for the individual who best personifies the need to think differently about public education and teacher unions.” The award, part of a retaliatory response to the Apple CEO’s public disapproval of teacher unions, was never formally accepted by Jobs.

As has been the case for Jobs in life and death, much of his sincerity has drowned in sensationalism about his personality and outspoken nature. Perhaps Jobs wasn’t tactful, but he did consistently champion meritocracy over bureaucracy. He spoke from personal experience with frustrated industries lacking creative, imaginative, empowered individuals. That teacher unions do block reform, monopolize school policy and drive away quality professionals is after the fact.

Jobs favored a competitive, merit-based system holding schools and teachers accountable for quality education. He thought a more entrepreneurial fashioned industry would check and balance learning institutions by letting parents choose where to send their kids (and their money). The bottom line is that Jobs advocated a widespread breaking up of rigid, uniform practices that fetter progressive education movement.

Perhaps Jobs did deserve the “rotten apple award” for personifying the need to think differently about public education. After all, he dropped out of college, made millions of dollars in a garage and created one of the world’s most successful companies. Bill Gates and Michael Dell are also college dropouts.

The “rotten apple” lives on. Maybe Apple hasn’t “thrown the hammer” at teachers unions yet, but they did send a major blow to textbook monopolies with the iBooks Author textbook app for the iPad. And at the January, 2012 Macworld/iWorld Expo, it was clear the company was taking Jobs’ education legacy seriously. Tech talks and presenters pumped up audience members with an array of educational innovations, including the latest from real-time interactive software, free learning networks and tons of customizable education apps.

Apple’s custom education software allows teachers and students to change (dare I say “reform”) how learning happens without being bogged down by bureaucracy, unions or school boards. Will the iPad affect major public education change? Jobs didn’t think technology alone could do it. So even if an iPad does find its way into the hands of every student, without Steve Jobs at the pulpit, it’s hard to imagine a software/hardware company revolutionizing education culture with technology alone.

President Obama said after Jobs’ passing, “[He] was among the greatest of American innovators… Brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.” Maybe he developed his innovation, boldness and talent while traveling through India or in Zen monastery… Or perhaps repeated corporate oustings built up his creative backbone over time. Wherever he picked it up, it certainly wasn’t in school.