The man who put the ‘i’ in iMac

November 4, 2009, 5:47 PM UTC

Meet the creative director who named a generation of Apple products

Photo: Apple

The TBWAChiatDay creative team was horrified in 1998 when Steve Jobs pulled back a cloth and revealed the bulbous teardrop that came to be known as the Bondi-Blue iMac.

But then Jobs wasn’t so crazy at first about the name they proposed for it.

No one had ever seen anything like the new computer, veteran creative director Ken Segall tells Cult of Mac‘s Leander Kahney in an exclusive interview published Tuesday evening.

“We were pretty shocked but we couldn’t be frank,” Segall recalls. “We were guarded. We were being polite, but we were really thinking, ‘Jesus, do they know what they are doing?’ It was so radical.”

Segall eventually came up with “iMac,” a name that connected the original 1984 Macintosh with the rapidly expanding Internet. But Jobs took some convincing.

Below the fold, excerpts from the story as Kahney tells it:

Photo: Ken Segall

Jobs said he was betting the company on the machine and so it needed a great name. He suggested one at the meeting, Segall says, but it was terrible. It would “curdle your blood.” …

Segall says he came back with five names. Four were ringers, sacrificial lambs for the name he loved — iMac. “It referenced the Mac, and the “i” meant internet,” Segall says. “But it also meant individual, imaginative and all the other things it came to stand for.” It “i” prefix could also be applied to whatever other internet products Apple was working on.

Jobs rejected them all, including iMac.

“He didn’t like iMac when he saw it,” Segall says. “I personally liked it, so I went back again with three or four new names, but I said we still like ‘iMac.”

He said: ‘I don’t hate it this week, but I still don’t like it.’”

Segall didn’t hear any more about the name from Jobs personally, but friends told him that Jobs was silk-screening the name on prototypes of the new computer. He was testing it out to see if it looked good.

“He rejected it twice but then it just appeared on the machine,” Segall says, laughing. “He never formally accepted it.” …

Segall is delighted that iMac grew on Jobs. “It’s a cool thing. You don’t get to name too many products, and not ones that become so successful. It’s really great. I’m really delighted. It became the nomenclature for so many other products. Millions of people see that work.”

Segall says over the last few years, the debate about dropping the “i” prefix has come up several times at Apple. “They’ve asked: ‘Should the company drop the “i”?’ But there’s a desire to keep it consistent: iMac, iPod, iPhone. It’s not as clean as it should be, but it works.”

You can read more of the interview, including the story of how the “Think Different” campaign got started, at Cult of Mac here.

Also worth visiting: Segall’s own blog, Observatory, with his commentary on everything from Motorola’s (MOT) Cliq ads (he loves them) to Research in Motion’s (RIMM) appropriation of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love (hates it; “they’ve successfully broken the gall barrier.”).

Kahney, the former news editor of, is the author of several books about Apple (AAPL), including most recently Inside Steve’s Brain.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]