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Steve Jobs quotes on naming products

Creating a great name may seem impossible but Steve Jobs was able to do it repeatedly. How? It’s the result of a disciplined approach.

“Name for your customer, not your product.”

When Steve introduced the iMac, he started by telling the audience what the “i” stood for. Internet, individual, instruct, inform and inspire. Where did these words come from? From what his customers wanted in a computer. Your product should be named for the needs of your customers, not the needs of your product or marketing.

“Choose your name based on how it feels.”

One of the easiest mistakes to make in naming a product is to over-think it. Steve came up with the name Apple after coming back from an apple farm. He thought the name felt fun, spirited and unintimidating. How a name feels, is it’s most important trait. Don’t overcomplicate it.

“Try your name out loud and on others.”

Engineers working on a new product would often ask Steve what he was thinking the eventual name would be. Steve’s response was to start listing possible names out loud. He wanted to see how they felt in his mouth and ears and how other people reacted to them. Names have a rhythm. Saying them out loud makes this rhythm easier to spot.

“Never let naming stop progress on a product.” 

Until a product has it’s name Apple uses codenames that are generic or carry the concept of the product in some way. One example of this is the original iMac. It was codenamed C1. This let Steve focus on getting the product right without getting side-tracked on naming. A name only matters if the product is great and attacks the right problem. That’s where you should focus first.

“Make your names compete.”

Naming is hard because you’re starting from nothing. It’s like a blank canvas. To get around this, Steve issued challenges. For the iMac, Steve announced: “We already have a name we like a lot, but I want you guys to see if you can beat it. The name is MacMan.” Giving a competing name to try and beat meant removing analysis paralysis. Avoid trying to come up with the perfection solution at first.

”Set a deadline and stick to it.”

In addition to making names compete, Steve would give a hard deadline. He would add, “Now you’ve only got one week left to come up with a better name, or it’s going to be MacMan.” This added another limitation: time. There was no longer an endless stretch of it to waste. He used the same technique with the name Apple. “We simply decided we were going to call it Apple computers unless someone suggested a better name by 5 o’clock that day. So the name stayed.”

“Go with the best you’ve got.

You’d be surprised how often Apple’s names seem to come as a result of simply not finding anything better. This was the most common theme in my research. Apple, iMac, iPod, Siri, and half a dozen other product names were all a result of Steve and his team not being able to find better alternatives. This should tell you that going with the best name you can come up with and shipping at the right time is more important than finding the exact perfect name.