More than my typical introduction that establishes who and what the company, organization, product, or service is because we all pretty much know who and what Microsoft is — those who don’t please step off the internet — we can pick up right in 2012 where Microsoft has almost completed a, if not
360 180, at the very least 27090-degree shift of both the quality of its hardware and software and the way it visually presents itself. This year has seen a full immersion into Microsoft’s now publicly catchy Metro design philosophy that favors flat colors, light sans serif usage, and user interface elements on a grid — an approach that is hard to be in disagreement with as it saves us from the 1980s, 90s, and early 00s Microsoft design philosophy which never get an official name, but let’s just call it Hideous. With the upcoming launch of a new Windows operating system as well as a completely revamped Office and on the heels of what has arguably been their sexiest product launch ever with its Surface tablet, Microsoft made its biggest move yesterday, with the introduction of the new logo, to transform its identity and its perception among consumers. The new logo was designed internally but is reflective of the involvement of outside consultancies that have been helping Microsoft reshape many of its brand touchpoints.
The Microsoft brand is about much more than logos or product names. We are lucky to play a role in the lives of more than a billion people every day. The ways people experience our products are our most important “brand impressions”. That’s why the new Microsoft logo takes its inspiration from our product design principles while drawing upon the heritage of our brand values, fonts and colors.
— Jeff Hansen / General Manager, Brand Strategy, Microsoft
The logo has two components: the logotype and the symbol. For the logotype, we are using the Segoe font which is the same font we use in our products as well as our marketing communications. The symbol is important in a world of digital motion (as demonstrated in the video above.) The symbol’s squares of color are intended to express the company’s diverse portfolio of products.
— Jeff Hansen / General Manager, Brand Strategy, Microsoft
There are two interesting threads that build into this logo. The first is Microsoft’s decision to push aside its corporate logo history and not try to revive or recycle any of the previous stylings — although personally I would have loved to see a revival of the Metallica-esque 1980 logo. Instead they have chosen to build the new logo around the history of Windows, building on the four-color square arrangement first seen in the form of a flag and most recently as a single-color, tilted version in the Windows 8 logo. This is smart. Microsoft’s 1987 logo, and its earlier iterations, have that World-Domination-Consumers-are-our-Minions attitude to them that was the norm for corporations that did indeed wanted to dominate the world but we all hate those kind of companies now and is the main reason why pretty much every company in the Fortune 100 has switched from logos that use big, bold, all-uppercase wordmarks to friendly, approachable, light, all-lowercase wordmarks you would want to share a beer with. It’s also smart because the Windows logo has probably more recognition than the corporate logo as it has sat in billions of personal computers since 1995. The only remnant of the old corporate logo is the “ft” ligature — yippee ki yay.
The second thread is, obviously, the evolution into the Metro system and the reason why this new logo feels so underwhelming and like not such big news at all. For the past two, three, and perhaps four years, Microsoft has been slowly deploying different interfaces, advertisements, and products that feature this simplified approach helmed by the Segoe font that has become as distinctive of Microsoft as Myriad of Apple. So after the botched launch of the Windows 8 logo — sorry! (not really) — the successful launch of Surface, and the preview of Office (see below, after store photos), that have all introduced Metro to the larger masses the new logo does not come as a surprise. It falls perfectly in place with what we’ve been seeing. Leading to a general shrug of the shoulders when it comes to this logo. I described it as “Meh” on internet television. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this logo but there is also nothing absolutely exciting about it. You can’t really hate it, because how can you hate four squares arranged in a square — if you hate on it, you have serious anger management issues. And you can’t really love it, because how can you love four squares arranged in a square — if you love it, you have seriously low standards. All these statements are to say that Microsoft did the right thing: they are sticking to their design strategy and they are not antagonizing anyone. Win-win. The only real Lose I see is the new congestion of four-square logos in the Microsoft universe: Windows 8 is four tilted squares, Microsoft Store is four squares with squares in the squares, and now, the main Microsoft logo. Could get confusing.
The final argument I’ll present on this is the interesting reversal of roles between Apple and Microsoft. Apple has always been the anti-Microsoft and Microsoft has always been the anti-Apple, pretty much in all respects. Speaking graphically: while Microsoft was unleashing Hideous on its Windows OS in the 1990s, Apple’s “Classic” OS was a thing of simplistic beauty, which then they fucked up with OS X but that’s another story. And while Microsoft shied away from its corporate logo, Apple steamrolled the entire country with its stores and its glowing apple logo as a beacon of simplicity and goodness. Lately Apple has also been fucking up its logo with extraneous texture effects, coupled with OS X and all the core Apple applications that have become ghastly, putting us Apple-devotees in a position where Apple being the anti-Microsoft is a negative thing. Microsoft’s commitment to graphic simplicity is what attracted us to Apple and its OS in the first place and now that that is disappearing it leaves these four, dumb squares as the next beacon of simplicity and goodness. Okay, perhaps a stretch, but it’s a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind until now. Scary. But golf claps for Microsoft.
Presented just for context and as another example of Microsoft’s visual transformation, the latest Office: