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The New Microsoft Logo

The old tech giant freshens up, but still looks like a follower.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Aug 24th, 2012. Artwork published in 2012.

Today, Microsoft announced a new logo using Segoe. It is their first logo change since 1987 and it certainly feels fresher than their aging mark in Helvetica Bold Italic. The typeface choice could be considered quite fitting. It follows the visual identity that Microsoft already established in their products and marketing for years, and it reflects the style of typography that is at the core of their Windows Phone and Windows 8 (formerly “Metro”) operating systems. But I think it’s the wrong choice. Or maybe the right one, but several years too late.

Microsoft Windows 8 represents a dramatic change from previous Windows versions. It’s built around a simple layout of “tiles” and the Segoe WP typeface.

Segoe is a typeface that is clearly inspired by Adrian Frutiger’s landmark 1975 design for the Charles de Gaulle Airport signage. Some (including the European Union) say Segoe is too similar to Frutiger, earning it the same derision that Arial gets for its similarity to Helvetica: Microsoft’s poor replication of a typeface they didn’t want to pay for. Perhaps it’s a hair-splitting rebuttal, but Segoe is not a Microsoft design or commission – it was an existing Monotype typeface that Microsoft licensed. But whatever the legal and ethical considerations, I have more respect for Segoe as a design than Arial. It doesn’t force itself into Frutiger’s metrics (letter widths and spacing) and designer Steve Matteson incorporated changes that – especially in the UI and WP variations – make sense for their intended use.

The problem with the new Microsoft logo isn’t really that Segoe is an unoriginal typeface, it’s that Segoe makes for an unoriginal identity. Last year, Sam Berlow noticed how a trip through the mall has become a monotonous typographic experience. A similar cloud of uniformity has now descended over the landscape of mainstream technology, which is now a field of brands set in Humanist type. Over ten years ago, Apple shifted away from its condensed ITC Garamond to Myriad, Robert Slimbach’s interpretation of the Frutiger model. (Adobe also uses Myriad quite often, although a new identity face was announced in 2009.) There are signs that Myriad is growing stale in Cupertino – Helvetica is gradually becoming Apple’s first choice on the screens of its devices, and we could see it replace Myriad in their marketing as well – but for now, it is clearly the face of Apple. And to most viewers, Myriad and Segoe are essentially the same thing.

Of course, there is more to a visual brand than the typeface. How Microsoft uses Segoe can determine its personality. Looking at the homepages of Microsoft and Apple one sees some obvious differences: Microsoft is wisely echoing the Metro UI, predominantly white type aligned to the sides and corners of brightly colored boxes, while Apple floats black Myriad in spare white backgrounds in the same tried-and-true way it has done for over a decade. Still, the implementation isn’t enough to propel Microsoft as a recognizable brand. Their homepage is fairly dull, almost like a stock web template. And while I commend the daring simplicity of the symbol in the new logo (a welcome attitude in the wake of recent gradients and drop shadows), it has the same effect as the website design: so basic it’s banal.

Main imagery from the current homepages of Microsoft.com and Apple.com: typographic brothers.

Some comments on the “Monotony of Retail” article suggested that Sam’s call for variety was missing the point. The goal of a major consumer brand isn’t to grab the public’s attention, or even to distinguish oneself. The goal is to make shoppers feel comfortable. Familiarity breeds trust. Two or three years ago, I would have said this approach falls in line with Microsoft’s culture and identity: trying so hard not to offend that the result is bland, routine, expected. But ever since they first revealed Metro, a UI design language that is truly innovative and new, I got the feeling Microsoft was making a real effort to be a leader. Yet, in using a Frutiger-esque typeface for their logo and visual identity, they simply resume their position as a follower, appearing (in spite of their innovations) many years behind the curve.


14 Comments on “The New Microsoft Logo”

  1. Bojkowski says:
    Aug 24th, 2012  2:02 am
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    The trend for mimicking other brands to “breed familiarity” says more about the exectutives of big companies these days and their paralysing advisity to creative risk-taking than the modern consumers needs. Differentiation is what creates dramatic results instead of simply hiding behind more innovative brands.

  2. Magnus says:
    Aug 24th, 2012  5:02 am
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    Great article!

    Regarding Arial being replicated for Microsoft, there is another side of the story. The history is much more interesting and includes both IBM and Monotype before Microsoft decided to incorporate it in Windows 3.1.

  3. Mark Clifton says:
    Aug 24th, 2012  5:26 am
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    I remember the controversy accompanying the releases of both Myriad and Segoe, that they were merely knockoffs of Frutiger. But, the tone of both on the page are much lighter and more condensed than Frutiger, which always annoyed me by how large it set in its point size. The newcomers seem more appropriate in their lightness and economy for screen display. Though they display some of their Frutiger inspiration, I consider them entities of their own with more in common with each other than with Frutiger.

    Currently, we have so many releases of sans faces with diminishing differences from each other, and historical examples, that I hope the debate over who ripped off whom will be rendered moot. There’s such a wealth of options to choose from, it almost doesn’t matter which typeface one chooses to use within a given class. 

    I think that’s where the problem lies from the point of view of the article, that in the quest for neutrality all sources are converging on a single monolithic style. I’m sure there will be a backlash in the corporate identity world soon, especially since other classes of type design are providing fertile inspiration for uniquiness within constraints of functionality.

    What has been befuddling me is that, though this wealth of options exists for distinctive typographic identities, why are so many designers defaulting to the same tired Helvetica/Gotham choices? I can understand for brands like American Apparel, where a neutral, Swiss design philosophy has become merely ironic, hipster kitsch, but what about other brands? How can this be seen as anything other than laziness?

  4. Aug 24th, 2012  7:07 am
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    Interesting seeing the juxtaposition of those two adverts. Another difference is that the Microsoft advert does not show us their product – the computer is turned so we don’t see the screen. The Apple ad shows off in one image that the device is thin, the screen bright, it runs fancy software, and that you will be able to recognize them in the local coffeehouse when you are secretly making the decision based on whatever everyone else is using. :-)

  5. Brıan says:
    Aug 24th, 2012  4:39 pm
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    See, I’d agree that the (textual part of the) new logo is pretty lack-luster… The symbol part actually looks fairly good as, e.g., a favicon:

    New logo as favicon in Chrome

    But as for Segoe UI itself, I’m a huge fan, particularly of the newer version that comes with Windows 8. In spite of any superficial similarities, I think it has a completely different feel from Myriad and Frutiger, especially in continuous text. It (along with Segoe UI Symbol) covers a really convenient range of Unicode characters, too.

  6. Richard says:
    Aug 27th, 2012  10:51 pm
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    I never imagined Microsoft could come up with a logo that is even more boring than what they started with. I find the windows panes to be a superflouous tie-in to the Windows brand and the grey text makes the logo appear insubtantial somehow.

    Frankly, I think this logo update is one of the lamest rebrandings I’ve seen in quite a while. Instead of trying to create the illusion of being modern and relevant, perhaps they should focus on trying to make good products.

  7. River says:
    Aug 27th, 2012  11:49 pm
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    Microsoft ad: happy looking people who *are not me* using some indeterminate electronic device.

     

    Apple ad: slick looking computer of heroic proportion waiting *for me* to use it to make something cool. 

  8. Hamranhansenhansen says:
    Aug 27th, 2012  11:55 pm
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    I doubt that Apple will switch their identity to Helvetica, which I believe is used as the system font in iOS specifically because of its perceived neutrality. The Helvetica type in iOS is “non-content type.” It is meant to fade into the background and not disturb the presentation of other type within apps and content.

    Mac OS X was initially way more colorful and textured and it was great until all the apps showed up a couple of years later and had to compete with it. Since then, the interface has receded again and again in every interation. Flattening the Lucida Grande into Helvetica as on iOS would make perfect sense. We already see Helvetica in Apple’s pro Mac apps.

    And Apple developers and content producers specifically agree not to use Myriad in order not to confuse the consumer that what we are saying is coming from Apple’s voice. When they switch from Myriad, I think they will go to something distinctive. Apple’s identity is content, but the system font is not. They need different faces.

    There is at least a chance that a Microsoft app for iOS could get flagged for “using Myriad” even though it is Segoe.

    With the Microsoft redesign, I would have done custom shapes for these letters, both to make the Microsoft word mark more distinctive, but also to separate the corporate identity from the system font that every Windows app and content is going to be saddled with. Segoe should attempt to say nothing as the system font, yet Microsoft is making it say Microsoft. But I would bet they prioritized engineering over design — they can show the Microsoft logo in any context just by typing it. No vector art is needed. Engineers happy.

    The thing that is bizarre with adopting this type 10 years after Apple is that the main criticism that Microsoft is trying to overcome today is that they are 10 years behind Apple. It is actually about 7.5 years that they are behind, with amazing consistency, but still — I would have lobbied against anything that echoes Apple. Microsoft has to create their own identity now that they are no longer the poor man’s Mac. The iPad is the poor man’s Mac today. I guess Microsoft is aiming to be the poor man’s iPad, but I think Apple already has that in the works, too, comsidering it is iPod hardware. Maybe I’m wrong, though — maybe Microsoft are aiming for BlandPad. Like an iPad, but much blander. Maybe iPad seems like too much fun and too productive for some people, and they want a mouse-driven Excel on their iPad.

  9. James says:
    Aug 28th, 2012  2:59 pm
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    I like the way that the new logo is both a spin on the traditional Windows logo and a reference to the new tiles/Metro design of Windows 8 – it pays homage and looks forward at the same time. Clever.

    What I don’t like about it is that it’s a little too bland. Look at that banner on the homepage – the logo combined with the sans-serif type and the obvious stock photo just looks so…generic. It could just as easily be an ad for Dell or HP. It could be an ad for a department store like Target or Ikea. Heck, I’d believe it as an ad for laundry detergent.

    What I find the most interesting is how they’re tying the branding of the entire company to an unproven product (Windows 8). What happens if Windows 8 is a Vista-style disaster in terms of public perception? Everything from the UI of Windows 8 down to the very logo of the company has that same look to it. Will they have to do another complete rebranding if Windows 8 is a flop?

  10. Warren says:
    Aug 28th, 2012  8:19 pm
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    [E]ver since [Microsoft] first revealed Metro, a UI design language that is truly innovative and new, I got the feeling Microsoft was making a real effort to be a leader. Yet, in using a Frutiger-esque typeface for their logo and visual identity, they simply resume their position as a follower…'

    I still think we’ve (again) missed the point here. Segoe is not a hugely trendy typeface (Frutiger is almost poised to be the Helvetica of the '010s, and that is not a compliment), but in this case it’s not intended to be.

    Metro is rectilinear and as such eminently conservative, despite its somewhat radical departure from previous MS UIs. As such, it is an OS that will fit nicely in with 'enterprise’ users.

    In going with a very low-key but modern grotesk like Segoe, MS has underscored its conservatism and 'reliability’, which is precisely in keeping with what its 'enterprise’ customers expect.

    I really am not all that comfortable defending MS, but I think they’ve made the right choice here.

  11. Aug 28th, 2012  10:20 pm
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    Fair point. But I wouldn’t describe Segoe as a “grotesk” or “rectilinear”. In nearly every aspect, it’s a Humanist sans with open apertures and curves that are round, not straight.

  12. Sergey says:
    Jun 7th, 2013  9:49 am
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    I have noticed some changes that happens with Segoe UI typeface bundled in Windows 8. I must confess changes like this make me scared. Perhaps they comes out of corporate Segoe family (not UI).


    segoe UI new vs old

  13. Jun 10th, 2013  3:07 pm
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    Yep, there were many changes to Segoe UI in Windows 8. You can read more on Wikipedia.

  14. Michael N says:
    Feb 4th, 2014  10:26 am
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    Great article. I liked reading a bit about your interpretation of the Segoe font.

    I shouldn’t be surprised there are the usual anti-MS shrills though. *sigh*

    @Damian Cugley, River, James: It seems like you guys don’t understand the differences between Microsoft and Apple. Apple, has traditionally been primarly a hardware-focused company, while Microsoft has traditionally been a software-focused company. Of course, both companies dabble on the other side, but those are their primary focuses.

    So of course it makes sense that Apple’s site would feature their hardware, while Microsoft has a hardware-agnostic device. Though Microsoft should refrain from using stock-images quite frequently, it makes sense why MS doesn’t use a specific device as they’re trying to sell you on the software experience and peace of mind that comes from using it.

    @Hamranhansenhansen: If you kept up with the news, you would understand that Microsoft has been aiming to unify their brands and products, under a “One Microsoft” initiative. So it kind of makes sense for a conistent font used throughout their stuff and their corporate image.

    Also, you have your history quite mixed up. If I asked you who had a tablet OS first, who had a smartphone OS first, who had a smartwatch first, among other things, I hope you don’t respond with “Apple.” Because you would be wrong. :)

    If anything, Apple is “late” and catching up. I don’t know what you’ve seen, but the Surface tablets from Microsoft have been highly acclaimed by reviewers and they allow more fun and play than the iPads can provide. :)

     

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