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Innovation By Design

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.

  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>Kim, who is finishing is degree at Art Center College of Design, had three days to carry the project through from concept to completion.</p>
  • <p>Ideas, sketches, and notes tacked on the wall of Kim’s studio show the evolution of his proposal.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>Microsoft’s current logomark.</p>
  • <p>Kim’s proposed redesign changes the typeface to an uncapitalized sans-serif, with a well-adjusted kerning.</p>
  • <p>It’s a "new start," writes Kim, whose visual identity appropriates outer space imagery in stark black and white.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>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."</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>Adapting the slate for the company’s many product lines, from tablets to software, shows its flexibility.</p>
  • <p>Meanwhile, a super-sized version frames a re-written brand philosophy: <br />
"The Next Microsoft is built around a belief and passion for the future…expressed in a bold and mysterious fashion."</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>Another iteration of the slate shows crowded city streets.</p>
  • <p>And a third, the city itself.</p>
  • <p>Stamped on a Surface tablet and Windows phone, the slate is a less "busy" visual identity.</p>
  • <p>Which also extends to Microsoft’s packaging. Here, boxes for the company’s newly-unveiled line of tablets.</p>
  • <p>Kim demonstrates that the slate could be a ubiquitous presence in the multi-armed corporation, fading into the background at any scale.</p>
  • <p>Again, we see how Kim has imagined the new logo adapting to Microsoft’s various brand families.</p>
  • <p>He’s even reimagined print ads--here, we see a full-page spread (or billboard?) for the Surface tablet.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>The same goes for the company’s newest iterations of desktop software, from Office to the Windows app store.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>A "loading" screen shows the slate being filled in, while the Windows phone loads.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>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.</p>
  • <p>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."</p>
  • 01 /28

    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.

  • 02 /28

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

  • 03 /28

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

  • 04 /28

    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.

  • 05 /28

    Microsoft’s current logomark.

  • 06 /28

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

  • 07 /28

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

  • 08 /28

    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.

  • 09 /28

    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."

  • 10 /28

    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.

  • 11 /28

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

  • 12 /28

    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."

  • 13 /28

    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.

  • 14 /28

    Another iteration of the slate shows crowded city streets.

  • 15 /28

    And a third, the city itself.

  • 16 /28

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

  • 17 /28

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

  • 18 /28

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

  • 19 /28

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

  • 20 /28

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

  • 21 /28

    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.

  • 22 /28

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

  • 23 /28

    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.

  • 24 /28

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

  • 25 /28

    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.

  • 26 /28

    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.

  • 27 /28

    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.

  • 28 /28

    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."

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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