Theoretically, the most important reason to change a logo—Karl Heiselman would argue the only reason—is to announce a new direction that a company will take. Pay no mind to whether the peanut gallery likes it.
Last year, Paula Scher of Pentagram led Microsoft’s redesign. She cast Microsoft as the anti-Apple, and her clever marketing ploy aimed to make the skeuomorphiles at Apple look old-fashioned and tasteless in their turtlenecks. Microsoft now owns flat design, while Apple owns…faux-glass round-cornered squares. A flat vs. skeuomorphic debate has consequently roused the UI and UX communities. Some lead designers at Apple have even sided with the Microsoft aesthetic.
However, the new Microsoft and new Windows have been the biggest flops we’ve seen in a very long time. Vista’s failure was slight by comparison.
One way to explain Microsoft’s failure is by pointing out the extent to which the company wandered off-brand and misread its loyal users. The hail-mary rebranding effort feels like when McCain selected Palin as a running mate. But Palin didn’t convert dems, and Windows 8 didn’t convert Mac users.
Paula Scher demonstrated an incomplete understanding of the Windows brand when she asked Microsoft execs, “Your name is Windows. Why are you a flag?” Her question assumes that Microsoft lost touch with the spirit of its brand. She should have been asking why some users choose PCs over Macs.
Generally, trendy urban democrats buy macs, and everyone else buys PCs. PCs have always been more middlebrow, more Jerry Bruckheimer than Macs. The grassy hills wallpaper by Charles O’Rear is truer to the Microsoft brand than a literal window. (What was she talking about?) Windows isn’t sexy for its design, but it’s sexy for its over-the-top theatricality. Microsoft, then, was the Anti-Apple already, and it should have pushed towards the XBox end of its spectrum.
Non-designers aren’t so giddy about Microsoft’s choice to join the competitive minimalists. They demonstrably prefer a busier aesthetic. “Less is not more,” they say as they marvel at the Game of Thrones logo. These are Windows users.
And so, Pentagram, with its track record of ultra-minimalist designs and brand-insensitive solutions, was the wrong agency to guide Microsoft through this rebranding effort. They should have gone to Interbrand, who did an amazing job with the Sony rebrand.
If Microsoft wants to ask users to learn a totally novel operating system, they need to make the damn thing fun to learn. Draw us in. Lead us into a brave new world of bells, whistles, and gradients with a blind eye to the elite designers who would snippily chide you for being a middlebrow brand.