Kim proposes "the slate" as a new universal Microsoft logo. It’s still a window pane, the designer explains, but seen from an oblique angle.

Kim, who is finishing is degree at Art Center College of Design, had three days to carry the project through from concept to completion.

Ideas, sketches, and notes tacked on the wall of Kim’s studio show the evolution of his proposal.

A comparison of "the big three," Apple, Google, and Microsoft. "I decided that Microsoft needs to be… slightly aggressive, unlike Apple and Google’s friendly marketing," writes Kim.

Microsoft’s current logomark.

Kim’s proposed redesign changes the typeface to an uncapitalized sans-serif, with a well-adjusted kerning.

It’s a "new start," writes Kim, whose visual identity appropriates outer space imagery in stark black and white.

How the current logo works with Microsoft’s diversified product lines was a major concern for the young designer, who thinks that the perspective angle of the current logo clashes when it’s stamped on hand-held products.

On the left, Kim points out some of the company’s newest, coolest products. On the right, their over-friendly branding for Microsoft Office--"a branding effort that simply does not inspire people."

The centerpiece of Kim’s proposal is the new logo, which he calls "the slate." It was inspired by the oblique perspective of windows in corporate office towers.

Adapting the slate for the company’s many product lines, from tablets to software, shows its flexibility.

Meanwhile, a super-sized version frames a re-written brand philosophy:
"The Next Microsoft is built around a belief and passion for the future…expressed in a bold and mysterious fashion."

The slate becomes a window pane, like Microsoft’s past logos, which can be super-sized to frame the "mysterious" imagery Kim sees as essential.

Another iteration of the slate shows crowded city streets.

And a third, the city itself.

Stamped on a Surface tablet and Windows phone, the slate is a less "busy" visual identity.

Which also extends to Microsoft’s packaging. Here, boxes for the company’s newly-unveiled line of tablets.

Kim demonstrates that the slate could be a ubiquitous presence in the multi-armed corporation, fading into the background at any scale.

Again, we see how Kim has imagined the new logo adapting to Microsoft’s various brand families.

He’s even reimagined print ads--here, we see a full-page spread (or billboard?) for the Surface tablet.

The designer thinks the brand isn’t properly conveying the excitement and vision of their new products--here, he redesigns an ad for the Windows phone.

The same goes for the company’s newest iterations of desktop software, from Office to the Windows app store.

Yes, the slate has even colonized a Manhattan billboard, one of the areas in which Apple has done such an excellent job marketing their brand.

A "loading" screen shows the slate being filled in, while the Windows phone loads.

Here’s how Kim explains the differences between Apple, Google, and Windows UI. On the left, Apple’s interfaces rely heavily on "skeuomorphics," or design details that make it seem old, worn, and familiar. On the far right, Microsoft is the opposite, with a purely digital interface. In the middle, Google is somewhere in between.

Kim seems to be a fan of Microsoft’s Metro UI language, but he has a few bones to pick. For example, the current super-bright color palette makes certain things tough to read. He proposes a more somber alternative.

As to the "pure digital" UI, Kim appreciates the notion, but argues that it makes certain apps illegible, like the Wallet app. Here, he introduces a few design "metaphors" to increase legibility.

Kim sees his proposal as a way to make good on the company’s history as an innovator. "Microsoft: A promise made, a promise kept."

A Student's Smart Microsoft Rebranding Is Better Than The Real Thing

In the wake of Microsoft’s big rebranding, let’s compare it to one concept by a young design student named Andrew Kim.

On August 23rd, Microsoft announced its latest rebranding. It was, shall we say, a little boring. As an interesting contrast, we’re reposting this story about a proposed Microsoft rebranding.—Ed.

Microsoft has had its fair share of problems, but within the last year, the company has undergone something of a transformation. Just last month, Steve Ballmer introduced the new Surface tablet, and initial impressions are fairly positive.

However, Microsoft’s current visual identity—an inconsistent collection of new and old parts—does little to help convey this new direction. “I think the flaw with Microsoft’s rebrands is that they aren’t cohesive,” comments Andrew Kim, a 21-year-old designer who recently reimagined the company’s brand identity during a three-day design charrette. “It feels outdated and has connotations that aren’t helping Windows Phone or Surface.” The Next Microsoft is Kim’s reimagining of the company for the tablet age, and it’s gaining serious traction online.

Over the past 26 years, the Microsoft logo has undergone roughly eight redesigns, but they’ve never deviated from the four-paned window. When the company introduced its new, simplified logo this spring, they positioned it as a radical departure from tradition—new font, new imagery, new color. In reality, says Kim, “the new logo is radical, but does not shed the past." Furthermore, what works on a Microsoft Office box doesn’t necessarily work for the brand’s rapidly expanding line of products, like XBox and Surface. “Microsoft is showing a progressive vision that was missing in the company for years,” says Kim, and their logo should reflect that progressivity. By clinging to the past, Microsoft is projecting a muddled picture of its new direction.

Instead, Kim proposes something called “the slate,” a parallelogram inspired by the windows of corporate towers (“windows in the metropolis never look like four squares,” he explains). The slate can be adapted for any of Microsoft’s product lines: At its simplest, it’s infilled with constellations and cityscapes. For Office, it becomes more of a banner, riffing off past iterations of Office branding. The idea is to unify the company’s diverse products under one simple, oblique mark.

Importantly, the slate lets Metro, Microsoft’s UI design standard, shine. Introduced last year, Metro sets the graphic standards for the company’s tablet and phone interfaces. But Kim points out that the 2012 logo’s forced perspective conflicts with the colorful, simple squares of the Surface UI. The slate, meanwhile, fits in with the flat Metro style perfectly.

Kim has also made tweaks to the Surface UI. One of the main premises of Metro is the shedding of extraneous design “metaphors,” or elements that make the interface look older than it really is—the sliders, buttons, and rasterized textures familiar in Apple products. These metaphors are “skeuomorphic,” meaning that they’re functionally unnecessary, but they make us feel a little more comfortable with new technology (Co.Design wrote about them here). When Microsoft introduced Metro last year, they were adamant about doing away with the drop shadows of yore and "treating pixels as pixels," hence the poppy, super-graphic look you get on Windows phones. The one problem, explains Kim, is that purely digital UIs can be difficult to read. He’s reintroduced a few metaphors—notably, in the Wallet app—to improve readability. “Functional metaphors aren’t skeuomorphic,” he argues.

Maybe it’s not so surprising that it took an outsider to point out these fairly obvious flaws. Kim had the advantage of working free from the shackles of corporate bureaucracy, and the endless rounds of edits that are every designer’s bane. It’d be interesting to see what Microsoft’s lead designers could come up with, freed from the company’s notoriously rigid management structure. Still, Kim’s work is a preview of how a younger generation of designers will treat today’s hot-button issues, like skeuomorphics. The Next Microsoft is a thoughtful, balanced treatment of a company fraught with history.

So, who’s next? I could think of a presidential campaign or two that might be interested.

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220 Comments

  • I don't hate it, but there are several things wrong with this design. a) the shape is too simple, not recognisable enough. b) never put "mysterious" as a key element in a branding for a tech company. that should be obvious. c) the packaging and ads are bland and boring as hell. d) as someone who likes the Metro UI, Kim should be able recognise that it was made to bring consistency to all Microsoft devices. Claiming that they aren't consistent is ridiculous.

    It's not terrible, especially for being conceived and developed within 3 days, but it is not better than the real thing.

  • Joey Lopez

    SMH this is not a logo, this is those fluttering confetti you see in the background of ads for new years eve parties. It holds zero attention, banal and represents nothing.

  • Jason Hader

    Lame. I think it's perfectly fine if you disagree with Microsoft's rebranding, but this is nothing superior. I don't know why these kinds of articles keep showing up on FastCompany.

  • Designgoodness

    Typical student shtuff. Lacks the evolutionary branding continuity and equity desired by a company like Microsoft. Surprised to see this featured, this is par for the course at most college design programs. Looks like a last minute scramble (which it was). I'm very surprised to hear the opinions of those who think this even stands close to the fascinating rebrand Microsoft took to market. The typography treatments are incredibly weak and the brand marks have little harmony.

  • AH Creative

    **DIDN'T READ THE ARTICLE ONLY WENT THROUGH THE IMAGES AND DESIGN PROCESS**

    Now that's out of the way, wow people, everyone's an expert here!
    To those who gave Kim credit for the thinking, execution, and presentation of this new idea in 3 [freaking] days, that's completely valid. Not to mention living life as a student as many of us know it—this wasn't the only assignment he had. The best part about this, whether you'd like to admit or not, is all of us can appreciate Kim's ability to creatively solve a problem, nimbly and efficiently. 

    It didn't have to be ground breaking, it had to solve a problem and it had to meet a few requirements. So what if no one here likes what he came up with, it doesn't really matter. He took a risk. That's what true creatives of our time do.

    As for the results itself, it's truly hard to pull off such a minimal design without conjuring up references to Apple (I started to do it). This only means that Kim did do his research in thinking about who the big players really are (his Big Three were right there). And if you're going to compete with the big boys, you better look the part and then communicate how you're bigger in something different. 

    However there was something attractive, I'll say unique, about his photography treatments (the black and white, mysteriously expansive space imagery) which did relate back to his inventive messaging. It was certainly a new approach to consider for Microsoft, for as we know the matured company, even with the rebrand, it's still a bit unclear where they're going.

    Bottom Line: this kid/guy/adult/human/designer will be going places no matter what we say here. YES! He did get covered in Co., twice. YES! This was something that made us uncomfortable, and even annoyed at what we visually ingested. But this is the type of work and conversation that makes this creative industry so attractively appealing. 

    Believe it or not, this industry was not made for everyone. So take pride in that and give this guy credit where it's due.  

  • Vaughn Gunnell

    Personally, the payoff is a little too idealistic - potentially so much that it feels removed from a technology company. You always have to question the strategic framing of the brand in the eyes of the customer.

    It would have read much better if Kim had used one of his previous lines, one mentioned in his first "What is a brand" research doc. 

    "The future, today." would have been a bit more in line with the industry. Bearing in mind that's just off the top of my head - I haven't checked to see if any other company uses that payoff.
    Another comment - brand name and loog have to work together to make sense. I agree the forced perspective of the actual Microsoft logo is a bit conflicting with the Metro UI, BUT you read "Windows" and you understand the logo. When I now read "Windows", in context of the newly proposed parallelogram, it feels like the conceptual bridge is a little unfinished - however, a great project and definitely in the right direction. This has the potential to be even more amazing if that logo can be refined a little further to hit that conceptual nail square on the head.

    Also, the Microsoft logo was is now a flat very Metro-UI-like logo (http://www.microsoft.com/en-za.... The Windows 8 logo is the one with forced perspective.

    PS: Let's not all forget, this was done in three days - that's a ton of work for one person, especially a student, and yes there will be issues with it from a strategic point of view, but well done to the guy who pulled this off!

  • Voice

    Sorry, but it lacks substance for me and I find the rationale lacking too.

    Smart student visuals? Agreed, but nothing more than that.

  • PKC

    Clean and applicable design, especially with the thought process explained. Alternatively, he could apply four of the same logos to create a slanted MS window to ease the complaints of other comments here about the deviation from the history. The four window pane logo is a little skeumorphic/metaphoric itself.

    The billboards I feel don't work as well...maybe if applied to vertical spaces like walls or whole sides of buildings next to freeways.

    And I'm surprised nobody mentioned this but I see a lot of potential in the Windows 1.0 logo from 1985, surprisingly radical despite its age.

  • Prosys

    For three days of work I have to give this a round of applause. Some polish in the slogans etc might be required but it has a great spirit. Whatever else people might say, If I had been shown this same energy when people said 'Windows 8" and "Surface" I know for a fact i would have been much more keen. I go by my personal emotional reaction

    I think there's enough identity here to run on for many years.

    I'm of the opinion that in computing today design has to lead technology meaning designers are responsible for defining an experience (functionally and in the brand) that is compelling and desired and technology side of the house serves religiously to allow that to exist. If MS technology were put into the service of such a design mandate as this and forbidden from bringing to market anything which doesn't fill the promise here, I think MS would do amazingly well.

    I love microsoft and respect them, but lets be honest. This is better than what they're using now.

    Well done Andrew.

  • xpez

    Bland! Not very appealing and certainly doesn't evoke the positive aspirations that a global technology brand should promise.

    Pedestrian opinions may be attracted to simple shapes and simple organization. They certainly don't understand that good branding has to have the longevity to inspire future branding messages for many years.

    The audience should intuitively respond to the symbols as something truthful and intrinsically part of an experience that the product provides. 

    That does not exist in this particular execution.

    The writers of this article just decided to create a provocative article without really understanding the mechanics of branding.

  • caspmct

    sorry, one more thing...'a promise made. a promise kept'...this is, i think, the weakest part of the campaign. i don't know what it's referring to, and, more to the point, i don't care. at all.

    if microsoft has kept their promise (whatever it was), does that mean they'll be turning out the lights and heading home? it's a bit smug and self-congratulatory for a company that has a whole lot of catching up to do.

  • caspmct

    with so many people seeing the work as derivative of Apple branding, that reaction can't be ignored. it may be that the similarities are only on the surface, but the surface is where branding lives and dies. it also may be that the comparison is only drawn by the ill-informed, but branding that ignores the ill-informed is, by definition, a failure.

  • Guest

    The layouts of the ads and slides (?) are more beautiful than the logo itself... logo is crappy really... People will miss such a logo considering it a design element (look at the use of the logo on the van and decide for yourself)

  • Dkrp

    Very crappy design.. what is that a razor blade???? I like MSFT version much better.

  • Wansai Ounkeo

    it's a fantastic effort. I like the thought process behind it.

    However, I think it misses some things. For one, their (rather retarded) perspective tiles was only a temporary thing. They just released a final version that alludes to a more retro, more dynamic yet forward thinking coporate powerhouse. Also, particularly for Office, you miss out that there are 4 core products of office that represented  by the Office logo hence why they typically have 4 pieces to it.

    I like your version aethetically but their newest rebrand, I feel, captures more of the Microsoft they once were and need to be again.

    Remember MS is a company that is much more conservative (along similar lines to IBM) than more consumer facing companies (partly because they are largely B2B). When they enter any market, they do so slowly and deliberately and hedged over a longer time period than most companies can afford or would accept.

    They're producing and operating in a way that is exciting me in ways they never have before, but ultimately their personality is still a very conservative one.

  • Sam Matthews

    Nice Effort. However, let's take it with a pinch of salt.

    The design is not completely innovative... as much as Mr. Kim would have us believe. This appears to be a blatant rip-off of Deutsche Bank's classic logo.

    Secondly, it would hardly benefit Microsoft to go in for such drastic rebranding. It appears that Mr. Kim is highly inspired by window panes in metropolises. Does he have any aversion to window designs of non-metropolis cities?

    Finally, please spare the readers of Fast Company, the pains of going through the same article more than once. Do I detect a hint of favoritism here?