A long time ago, like, totally, in the 1990s the de facto browsers were Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape, the equivalent of today’s Safari and Firefox. The latter in both cases had more geek cred, while the former had better looks. Back in those days I always chose IE, mostly because the broken image icon of Netscape was far more scary. At the turn of the century as browser competition increased, IE’s stronghold on the market dipped deeper than the Titanic and has become not just a source of frustration for programmers who need to concoct hacks to make things work specifically for IE, but it’s also a sad punchline. They even managed to completely alienate the growing Mac population by discontinuing development for that platform in 2003. Microsoft is hoping that IE9 and its commitment to CSS3, Web Open Font Format and HTML5 will bring back some glory when it is released sometime in 2011; it is currently in beta testing. As an aside: According to our stats, 10% of our readers are on IE, and 1% of that 10% is beta testing IE9. All the images in this post have been pulled from a comprehensive blog post at IE Blog.
The original logo was drawn starting with the Helvetica Black typeface as a base. It’s a classic, timeless font that is derived from a typeface created more than a century ago. In The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, this typeface is described as a “heavy un-modulated line and tiny aperture (which) evoke an image of uncultivated strength, force and persistence.” Helvetica has such a rich history as a typeface that a feature-length documentary was made about it in 2007. Designers have used Helvetica as a go-to typeface for decades — it continues to be a classic.
That all sounds like a winning plan, but what we wanted was to modernize the logo giving it a new sense of balance, legibility, energy, freshness, lighter weight, and sense of speed, while retaining the familiar e people have trusted for 15 years. We wanted to open up that tiny aperture of Helvetica Black in the same way we opened up the browser to all the power of Windows and PC hardware, and so we did.
— IE Blog
If we take it as a rule and starting point for critique that application icons must have bevels and shadows, the IE9 icon is remarkably superior to IE8, with much softer shading and without the pronounced bevels. A definite improvement and more in line with the most recent crop of application icons. The change from Helvetica Black to a customized version of Chalet is a big improvement too, it makes it looks less bloated and clunky. Going with an “e” that has wider counters makes perfect sense for an icon that is constantly reduced to small sizes. The swoosh for the orbit… yeah, it’s a swoosh and I don’t know if the new one is better or worse. It just is.
Finally, there is the typography, which is as unappetizing as the rest of Microsoft’s brands that are set in the same typeface, Segoe. So at least it’s consistently bland. I must admit that when the IE e-globe logo first came out I really liked it, it was simple, but it just devolved too much over the years and this is just like when you turn up the music up to 11 and it’s loud, then you turn it down to 9 and it doesn’t seem so bad anymore. This is still loud (and bad) but not so much by comparison.
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