From time to time at Macworld we get the opportunity to see and speak with some of the big personalities that have influenced Apple over the years. The other day we were given the opportunity to see Ken Segall talk about how being simple made
Ken Segall was the creative director at Apple’s ad agency, TBWAChiatDay and worked with Apple for a number of years. He is most famous for coming up with the name
iMac: “I have written longer things than that but for some reasons nobody remembers those things,” he joked.
Segall was also part of the team that bought us the
Think Different campaign, although in that case he cannot claim to have any input on the words other than convincing a somewhat cantankerous
Steve Jobs to read them out loud for the advertisement.
Segall revealed details about working with Steve Jobs, what the
iMac could have been called, and how antennagate showed just how much Apple loves its customers, in a discussion – organised by
JLA as part of their Speakers Breakfasts.
Who is Ken Segall?
Ken Segall is an ad man who worked with
Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple in 1997. This wasn’t the first time Segall had worked with Jobs though – he also worked with Jobs for eight years at NeXT. NeXT being the company that Jobs founded after he as ousted from Apple in 1985.
“So for quite a long period of time I got to see the unsuccessful Steve, because NeXT didn’t really make it,” noted Segall. Although we would add that since NeXT was bought by Apple for $429 million and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock – and as part of the arrangement Jobs returned to Apple NeXT wasn’t entirely unsuccessful.
Segall also worked for a number of other companies, including Intel and Dell. Indeed it was his time working with Intel and Dell that helped him formulate his theories about simplicity outlined in his book, ‘Insanely Simple, The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success’.
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“To be honest,” he admitted: “The inspiration to write my book wasn’t Apple, I thought that was a really exciting fun experience, but it was only when I worked with these other guys that I realised how much better Apple was at keeping things simple and therefore achieving better results.”
On Steve Jobs’ transformation of Apple
Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. At the time the company was “three months away from bankruptcy,” a point Segall highlighted by showing this June 1997 Wired magazine cover with the single word: “Pray”.
“It’s kind of famous because Apple was doomed basically,” said Segall. “It was time to pray for them.”
Despite the gloom and doom, there were a lot of people who didn’t want Apple to fail, explained Segall. “Apple was a symbol of creativity in the world and there would be a lot of people who would be very upset if Apple failed.”
There was no certainly that Steve Jobs would be able to save Apple, Segall continued. Back in 1985 Jobs had been ousted from Apple partly because he had mismanaged the company, “so there was no real guarantee that it would be any better this time round,” Segall noted. “But you gotta believe and so we ad folk who had worked with Steve before thought it would be a great fun thing to do, and so we joined in,” he said.
Their faith paid off: “A mere 14 years later Apple became the most valuable company on earth.”
Segall described Apple’s transformation from almost bankrupt to the most valuable company on earth as: “A feat unprecedented that we’ll likely never see it again in our lifetimes.”
On how simplicity is what made Apple the best
This transformation was extraordinary, but Segall thinks he knows what made it possible. He explained: “It’s a pretty remarkable thing to go from near destruction to king of the world. What I attribute it to is this thing called simplicity, and it isn’t just in Apple’s products, it’s the result of a company that believes in simplicity up and down the line.”
He continued: “Steve had a thing about simplicity from the way the company was organised, to the way it advertised, to the way it offered support, the way it sold in the retail stores. You could see it was in his head when he looked at any issue that was on the table, he would be analysing it for ‘is this clear enough, is this quick enough?’ It was that thing that I think set Apple apart. It was Steve’s love of simplicity that I think was the overriding feeling that he had.”
What makes simplicity the ultimate solution? Segall explained: “The reason simplicity works is that the world is a complicated place and if you do something simpler then it stands out. In Apple’s case when they make a product it’s usually noticeably different and simpler than the other guys. “
“With its products Apple likes to place its features up top – the ones you use the most often are the most accessible.” Segall used the iPhone as an example to illustrate this point: “When the people who were in the
iPhone product team at Apple introduced the idea to us, they pulled out their BlackBerrys and said: ‘This is what we’re all using, what most of the world uses, there are a lot of great features in here. But you have to drill down: inside a menu, inside a menu, inside a menu’. What they thought was so cool about the iPhone was that it not only had those features and then some, but everything was just so damned obvious.”
Further promoting why simplicity is such a good thing, Segall said: “People talk about doing things ‘faster better cheaper’ and how you’re only allowed to do two of the three. I think simplicity is the way to do all three: you have fewer people working on something, you have better ideas in the end, and you do it quicker without all the extra expense.
“Dell and Intel, you would not believe how much money was spent in focus groups and testing of things that never saw the light of day. At Apple it was just people sitting around tables saying that ones better than that one, let’s go!”
On Steve Jobs and Apple’s Think Different campaign
“It’s not Think Differently, it’s Think Different! I had to do a lot of defending against the grammarians of the world after the campaign broke,” joked Segall.
Apple was aware about this creative misuse of grammar from the early stages of the campaign. Segall described a point early on in the planning stage when a woman who was in charge of education raised her hand and said: “You know we’re dealing with the institutions of higher learning, and high schools and grammar schools and we’re going to get a little flack for this Think Different thing. Should it be think differently?” Segall noted that: “Steve thought for a very brief moment and said ‘Nah’ and that was the end of the discussion. It’s advertising.”
When you consider the success of the Think Different campaign the grammar question becomes somewhat trivial.
Segall explained the reason why his team came up with the Think Different campaign: “It had no computers in it whatsoever, and that was because we didn’t really have any computers to talk about. Steve wouldn’t have an iMac ready to go for a good six or eight months. He wanted to tell the world, because all eyes were on Apple, that after his return the spirit of creativity and technology was still alive. So we created this campaign called Think Different.”
“I wish I could say I wrote the words but an art director did, which is obviously infuriating to all the writers in the room,” Segall joked. “But the words were all pretty magical, and they seemed that way at the time too.”
The campaign worked because it was authentic: “The great thing about a really powerful idea in advertising is authenticity. I’ve worked for companies that wanted to do a brand campaign and the first thing they try to do is decide what they want to be and then they create a campaign that would fulfil that vision. But we didn’t have to do that with Apple. Steve didn’t want something that felt like advertising, he wanted something that was authentic. And the words Think Different could have been hanging in the garage when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the very first computer in the late 70s and it would still work today if you featured those words under an iPad. They don’t use it anymore, but the spirit of Think Different certainly was one that captured the essence of Apple.”
Jobs played a big role in the first of the Think Different ads, Here’s to the Crazy Ones. “It was something of a labour of love for him, he didn’t write the commercial as some people think, but he did participate, more so than any CEO I’ve ever worked with, giving his opinion at various stages along the way,” recalled Segall.
Jobs participation didn’t stop at sharing his opinions. Jobs voiced the Here’s to the Crazy Ones ad. “We said to him: ‘Steve you should be the voice on this commercial, if you believe it why would we hire an actor who will act like he believes it?’ We pressed heavily for Steve to read the commercial, which he resisted – he though it was a bad idea because if he was the voice then everyone would be talking about why Steve Jobs was such an egomaniac, they wouldn’t be listening to the words. He liked the words so much he wanted people to hear the message.
“So begrudgingly he agreed to record and I went up to Apple one day with the sound guy and we set up in the Apple auditorium, which was a dark lonely room, and their was a lone mic stand on the stage. Steve came in with a fairly nasty attitude that day I recall. He was late and he said ‘I’m really busy today I don’t have time for this, I don’t like the idea, but I’ll give you one read and then I’m out of here’. So he did it. It became popular on YouTube after he died. I think it’s really neat to hear Steve Jobs reading these words himself because he really believed in them.”
On working with Steve Jobs
The story of the recording of Here’s to the Crazy Ones proved to be a great example of Segall’s experience working with Jobs. Segall explained: “Just to give you an idea of what it was like to work with the man, just imagine you’re in this lonely, empty auditorium, his just finished that reading, and the words are just ringing in the air, and then their was a great pause, and he said: ‘That’s it, I’m out of here. This is a horrible idea,’ and he stormed off. It kind of reminds me of Roger Rabbit where you see the cartoon character being so lovable on screen and then the moment the camera stops rolling, he’s got a cigar and he’s cursing at everybody.”
This scene is recapped in the Jobs movie staring Aston Kutcher. Segall admitted that he enjoyed the movie but said: “I thought it wasn’t entirely accurate.” Regarding that particular scene in the movie, Segall explained that Jobs reads the words quietly and then he just looks at the camera and says: ‘Is that OK’?
“I’m like, no no no! That’s not the way it happened! I think my story would have been funnier,” Segall joked.
He might not have enjoyed recording it, but it turned out that Jobs “really, really loved the commercial”. In fact, ten years after it ran Segall explained that he went to one of the Macworld Expo shows and watched Jobs play this commercial at the start of that keynote. “He always though it captured the essence of Apple.”
Segall shared a couple of other stories about his experience working with Steve Jobs. Referring to: “The curse of working with Steve Jobs,” Segall noted that there have been: “Many other rooms I’ve sat in where I’ve wished he was there because most of us are so mannerly and civilised we wouldn’t think of lunging across the table and strangling someone. He didn’t physically but he did mentally. You wouldn’t do it yourself, but you kind of wish he was there to do it for you.”
Segall had the “pleasure” of seeing this side of Jobs on a number of occasions, and was the recipient twice, “Which is a small number but I remember both of those occasions vividly,” he revealed.
Speaking of his time working with Jobs at NeXT, Segall said: “He was the same guy, very intense, very focused, very passionate, and prone to an occasional outburst.”
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Ken Segall on naming the iMac
“Then there is the matter of that little thing, something I do bear some responsibility for,” said Segall, as he indicated the name
iMac. He described being the one who named the first iProduct as: “Somewhat embarrassing and humbling all at the same time. Keep in mind that I am a writer. And I have written longer things than that but for some reasons nobody remembers those things.”
Segall explained the task he and his team were confronted with. “Back in those days computers were all beige and boxie and ugly. The iMac was the first computer to break the mould. It was something that Steve was betting the company on.
“He wanted us to come up with a really good name, he called us in one day and said I have a name that I really like, we’re going to go with it, but if you guys can do better we need you to do better within the next two weeks. So his name was… yes it’s true… MacMan. And trust me, we had long conversations about it. It was a bit on the sexist side.
“He had two things he thought the name should accomplish: one was that it should not make it appear to be portable because it had this big handle on the top, but it would weigh 50lb, that was just there for convenience. So, why would you call it MacMan because that sounds like Walkman, which is the world’s most portable device.
“He also didn’t want it to sound like a toy, because it looks sort of playful, but it’s a serious computer, so again, we’re thinking MacMan sounds like PacMan, which was one of the world’s most popular games at the time.
“So it had everything wrong with it. But no amount of fact would sway him. ‘I like it’ – you can’t argue with that. Whether he was a genius or not, he was fixated on MacMan.”
Segall continued: “We actually presented five names to him the first time. I should quit while I’m ahead, but we had names like Macster, Mac Rocket, things that were not very good. We saved iMac for last because I was pretty sure it was the killer name.
“Steve hated the first four names, and I showed him iMac and he was like, ‘I hate it also, you’ve got another week’. So we came back a whole week later, showed him three new names, and he didn’t like any of those, and we then said ‘But we still like iMac’. And at that point he said: ‘I don’t hate it this week, but I don’t like it either, so now you’ve got two days’. But the next day I saw a friend at Apple who said ‘did you hear Steve had the name put on one of the models and he’s showing it around and he’s getting good reactions’. I never said another thing, there was never any great moment – there wasn’t an email or a phone call. And for that we were all very thankful, because had we not then you might be sitting there with your PhoneMans, and your PodMans, and your PadMans. Wouldn’t that be silly.”
Referring back to the Think Different campaign, Segall explained: “When we did the Think Different campaign Steve said: ‘Trust me we’re working on things that are going to be really cool and never been seen before’. So we did the campaign for about six months before iMac appeared and when iMac did appear basically all we had to do was show a picture of it and say ‘Think Different’ and that worked with pretty much with every product Apple made for the next few years after that. Everything looked different and functioned differently, so that was a good thing.”
Watch Ken Segall talk about how he convinced Steve Jobs that iMac was the best name:
On why less is more
When Jobs came back to Apple the company had many different products in many different categories. Segall explained how Jobs “killed the entire product line,” another factor that may have helped save Apple.
“He [Jobs] did something remarkable when he announced the iMac. He not only showed his first product, but he showed this grid, and he said ‘We’re killing our entire product line’. I don’t know of any other company that’s done that before.
“He said ‘We’re going to do four things, and four things only, a consumer version, and a pro version of a desktop and a laptop’.”
Segall recalled that Jobs revealed the iMac, while the PowerMac (the desktop tower) and PowerBook (pro laptop), survived the purge. “And then Mr Secret himself, who prided himself on never giving a clue, said the next thing we are going to make is the laptop version of the iMac.”
Slimming down the product line was a winner because: “That gave everyone at Apple a clear understanding of what they made, and it told the world what Apple stood for. And it allowed Apple to concentrate its resources on doing a few things well, instead of a lot of things in a mediocre way.”
The less is more philosophy can also be applied to advertising copy, explained Segall. “When they came out with the iPod it wasn’t a 5GB drive with Firewire port and click wheel. It was 1000 songs in your pocket. They were real words that meant something to people.”
“One should use common words to describe uncommon things,” Segall concluded.
On love and antennagate
According to Segall, simplicity works so well is because your customers love you for it. “The reason simplicity works so well is that it makes people love you for presenting it to them. One thing that Steve said more often than anything else was that our job is to get people to love Apple, he believed that by establishing this connection, three things would happen: 1) People would keep buying products, 2) They would evangelise to friends, their families, and their colleagues, and then 3) In the event of disaster, the unforeseen scandal, or whatever, the bad things that inevitably happen to even good people, people would stick with Apple because they would have this attachment to them.
“Things that are simple to understand make you like the person who’s offering it to you.”
One example of how Apple turned to love in a crisis is antennagate. Segall explained: “You may recall when the iPhone 4 came out, it’s already a distant memory, but it had a new design with the antenna around the edge, and there was a horrible reaction to it because the story was that if you held it a certain way then you could short out your call. It wasn’t totally true, and probably the press jumped on Apple more than they should have.
“Steve himself didn’t help by the way, because his email replies to people were spread around, and someone in the early days of the iPhone 4 scandal sent him a note that said: ‘The phone has a way of shorting out my call, I’m losing my calls’, and Steve wrote one of his snappy answers: ‘don’t hold it that way’. That got a lot of press, which didn’t do him a lot of good.
“The iPhone 4 thing blew up so badly for them that for the first time in Apple’s history, Steve had to have a press conference, just to address the turmoil. And it struck me when I watched it, it’s an hour-long thing, but quite often in it he would talk about this love thing, bearing out my theory.”
How Steve Jobs really felt about antennagate
Watch Ken Segall talk about working with Steve Jobs and more in these clips:
Why Segall hates the iPhone names
We asked Segall for his thoughts on the somewhat confusing naming convention for the iPad and iPhone. Here’s what he said:
“My favourite kind of person in the technology world is someone who can like Apple and yet be honest with them when you don’t agree with them. I try to speak out when I don’t like something. I don’t like the iPhone naming convention. They have to do something, because they were selling the previous year’s model, so what do you call the two different things?
“iPad, everything else, doesn’t have a number, it’s just iMac, iPad, now. But the S thing, you just kind of broadcast to the world that this year isn’t a big improvement over last year, and next year will be a bigger one. When in fact the S models have had major things in them.”
Read our articles we wrote after interviewing Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak back in in 2006: