This week there was big news in the logo and branding arena: Microsoft had a new logo after 25 years of use with the old one.
As someone who blogs about design, branding and business, I was ready to jump on the story and give my opinion.
Microsoft users have often had no choice
The problem is that compared to most Americans, I really don’t know Microsoft very well. Microsoft is one the largest US businesses. With their Office and Windows products, their brand is woven into the tapestry of American business. There are so many people who rely on Windows for their PC computer and Office products such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Many of these people haven’t ever shopped for an alternative because they were given these products at work and have used them without much questioning for years, if not decades.
It’s not that Microsoft users are brand evangelists, but face it, for years Microsoft had cornered the market on day-to-day business software. If someone sends you a Word file, they expect you have ability to open, read and edit it.
Designers are the outliers
Designers, on the other hand, are one group that has often stood apart from Microsoft’s reign. Even before Apple got cool, designers used their Macs to run design programs like Quark and InDesign. I am one of those designers who has loved Apple for years, even before the iPod, iPhone or iPad. If you don’t believe me, read my list of Apple products I’ve owned starting in 1983. I am one of the many designers who never got steamrolled into the Microsoft family of products.
Does that mean that I can’t evaluate the Microsoft logo?
Of course not. But any good branding exercise should take into account the audience. And as a designer we must recognize that we are not part of that typical Microsoft audience.
But wait, we do that all the time for our clients. We put ourselves in the shoes of their prospects and clients and make recommendations on branding strategies, logo design, web design and more. That is why we get hired.
Again this is true. But I think that Microsoft is so ingrained in the psyche of so many Americans, and it’s hard to mimic that connection when you don’t feel it first hand.
OK, here’s this designer’s opinion on the Microsoft logo
My initial reaction was that I was very pleased by the simplicity. Microsoft is such a leader in the business world, that I cheered when I saw that they avoided gradients, drop shadows, etc. I’m sick of all that goop, and I hope this turns the direction of corporate branding back towards simplicity that drove the leaders of logo design such as Paul Rand.
But that reaction is more a commentary of the state of logo design and branding on a larger scale. What do I think about the actual logo and how it helps (or hurts) Microsoft?
Things they got right:
- Simplicity. I like the simplicity. It’s clear and open feeling. It doesn’t seem trendy.
- Font. It was a good decision to chose one of their own fonts for the lettering. I think to do anything else, would be conceding the lack of quality in their fonts.
- Colors connecting to other brand elements. Those four colors are at the core of their Windows product. Millions of people see them everyday as they boot up their Windows-based computer. It makes sense to keep and build on that connection.
What could have been better:
- Not memorable. As much as a I like the simplicity, it lacks any sort of distinction that will make it particularly memorable. For example, I read an article that talked about the blibbet that was part of the older logos. This would be a great little detail that could be finessed to make it more distinct.
- All backward looking, not enough forward thinking. I like that they are making a connection with their Windows product in both their color choice and use of the four squares. However, I don’t get a sense of where Microsoft is headed (see my next point).
- Too reactionary. This is my biggest complaint about the logo. It seems decidedly a copy cat of Apple. That’s what people tend to hate about Microsoft. Instead of standing up and leading, they seem to always be playing catch-up with Apple and now Google.
The design is clean and calm. There is hardly anything objectionable. But a new logo is always is a very visible sign that a company is making a change, and this seems to suggest that Microsoft is continuing along the same path of resting on its past successes and is not ready to be an industry leader.