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.

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The Road to Robust Business Innovation

In the past five years, we’ve heard, seen, read and experienced plenty of difficult news concerning business and economy. However, as the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Out of the rubble of the Great Recession has come tremendous focus on innovation and invention. Both will be featured and discussed at the INPEX convention outside Pittsburgh, which we’re attending to showcase The Legacy Series: Innovations and Technology.

“When you look at it, the amount of innovation in business the past 10 to 15 years has been astonishing,” says  The Legacy Series publisher Charles Warner. “Take one of Steve Jobs’ creations for example — the app. Who would’ve thought when he came up with the idea of a mobile app that apps would fuel billion-dollar companies?”

Creative minds throughout the business world are running on overtime to create solutions and enticing products to energize the economy. Innovation has been the subject of recent books, including Gary Shapiro’s Comeback: How Innovation will Restore the American Dream. It also is finding its way into the public at large, through direct advertising campaigns like Fujifilm’s “expect INNOVATION,” and Dodge’s newest slogan, “Get Into Innovation.”

“Innovation is one of the things America can hang its hat on and feel good about,” Warner says. “Our eyes are squarely on the ball when it comes to innovation, and what you see happening are new markets and niches opening up from new ideas and products.”

Innovation will be a major theme of The Legacy Series: Innovations and Technology, which publishes in Fall 2012. Leading business, technology and feature writers, along with visionary business executives, will spotlight the latest innovations in manufacturing, software, education, green business, computer technology, and industries that have reinvented themselves in the past ten years; the automotive, Internet-based and book publishing industries are three examples. Accompanying the case studies and in-depth articles will be specific pieces on how these innovations and inventions are transforming the economy into the viable, sustainable and abundant marketplace of the future.

“That’s why we’re coming to INPEX,” Warner says. “Let’s go to this show, get to know many of the top inventors working in and for the marketplace, and see what types of innovations are taking place among industry leaders.”

National Inventor’s Month: A Time to Tap into Our Inner Innovator

Right now, we’re in the midst of one of the most significant but understated commemorations –National Inventors Month. Sponsored by Edison Nation, the free community of inventors, ideas and entrepreneurs, National Inventors Month honors one of the most crucial stages in business: creating new products and technologies and bringing future vision into present-day reality.

Invention is also central to our editorial focus with The Legacy Series. It is the pivotal link of a vital four-part equation that converts an idea into a finished product that succeeds in the marketplace. After all, without the vision and ability to invent, where would our featured inventor for this issue, Steve Jobs, have taken Apple? Where would our lives stand now without all of the innovations and new industries driven by his inventions — and the slew of allied and competitive products and businesses that resulted from their impact on our personal and business lives?

When looking at the life course of a new product or technology, invention comes third — the pivotal position — in a four-part process. Everything initiates with the IDEA, derived from a perceived need in the marketplace and one’s plan for filling that need. Next up is INNOVATION, the R&D phase, where full creativity is unleashed to find ways to turn the idea into reality. Everything pivots with the INVENTION, the actual product that is the physical manifestation of the idea and the driving force of the innovation. Following that, gears switch into the nuts-and-bolts world of PRODUCTION-MARKETING-DISTRIBUTION, the new invention’s emergence in the marketplace.

We’ve always celebrated the great inventions, those that profoundly change our personal and professional lives: Cars. Airplanes. Televisions. Telephones. Personal computers. The Internet. iPods. Tablets. These inventions and others not only created huge sales and market share, but they also expanded entire industries by increasing the production and performance potential of vast numbers of people. The amazing thing? When the invention hits the market and becomes part and parcel of our lives, we ask ourselves: “How did we live without this?” Yet, before the invention reached the market, chances are, only the inventor could see this.

That’s why we are so enamored with inventors and their inventions. However, as we are chronicling in The Legacy Series through a series of provocative, enlightening stories and profiles, everyone has the potential to invent and innovate — and that goes for every company developing products, services and technologies for either business-to-business or consumer markets.

Celebrate National Inventor’s Month. Better yet, extend the celebration for two weeks. A great way for you to check out tomorrow’s technologies — and pick up a creative spark for ideas and innovations you might be percolating — is to come to the inventor’s trade convention, InventHelp’s INPEX. The event will be held June 13-15 at the Monroeville Convention Center just outside Pittsburgh, PA. We’ll be there with The Legacy Series, looking forward to hearing of your inventions or innovations, and joining hundreds of innovators and inventors who are setting the course for our business and personal futures.