Microsoft: Think Different

Today, Microsoft just unveiled a new logo–it’s first redesign in 25 years. This coincides with the impending launch of the Windows 8 operating system this fall, but perhaps has greater symbolism: it revitalizes one of the world’s largest tech brands that has been recently displaced by both Apple and Google.

At first glance, I wasn’t sure what to make of the redesign. But that actually changed in the span of 30 seconds, when I then caught the YouTube clip unveiling the logo. A quick re-contemplate later and I actually think the new logo is an intelligent move by Microsoft, which operates not only in the consumer domain, but heavily in the enterprise domain as well.

Recent research by Walsh, Winterich, and Mittal (2010, JPBM) suggests drastic redesign may have a negative impact on strongly committed, brand loyal consumers. Followup research (Walsh, Winterich, and Mittal 2011, JCM) indicated logo redesign affects brand attitudes, with particular respect to self-construal. Additionally, Müller, Kocher, and Crettaz (2011, JBR) used both experiments and structural equation modeling to determine a positive relationship between logo redesign, brand modernity, and brand loyalty. Of four dimensions of logo redesign (attractiveness, complexity, appropriateness, and familiarity), only logo attractiveness and logo familiarity had a significant impact on logo attitude. Indeed, they write, “for the IT sector, when similarity between the old and the new logo is high, respondents seeing the new logo rate brand modernity higher than those seeing the old one.”

Here’s how I see the new Microsoft logo redesign being fresh, yet attractive; modern, yet familiar:

1) This is Microsoft’s first logo redesign in 25 years. Radical thinking can backfire when revising a stably accepted logo (e.g., the Gap logo backlash remains a current, contemporary case study in logo redesign failure. Its difference in aesthetic clashed with various brand dimensions and was quickly reverted to the original logo). Keeping the new Microsoft logo consistent with the brand is critical.

Alternately, a recent Starbucks logo redesign had a more thematically consistent change:

2) The original Microsoft logo doesn’t have the Windows symbol in it–only the logotype. This new logo incorporates the most ubiquitous Microsoft icon: the Window. And yet it does so in an understated way, the Windows symbol is just to the left of “Microsoft” logotype, enabling it to be used by itself. Rescaling either the symbol or the logotype would still remain recognizable.

3) The four window tiles tie together prototypical core Microsoft elements: Windows (blue), Office (red), and XBox (green). The debate will soon rage over what “yellow” represents. The tie-in with the Microsoft elements becomes clearer when watching the 30s YouTube spot.

4) The simplicity of the symbol’s Windows squares evokes the simplicity and consistency of the Windows 8/Mobile [not]Metro UI that’s being launched all throughout the Microsoft brand ecosystem.

5) The ‘Microsoft’ logotype seems to have an appropriate kern that looks contemporary (also consistent with the Segoe-based fonts Microsoft is currently using in its ecosystem’s UI: XBox, Bing, Windows, etc….).

And for comparison’s sake, Apple never really evolved its logo too far from its core either. The rainbow-themed apple was used from 1976-1998, a monochrome-themed logo was used from 1998-2001, an Aqua-themed logo was used from 2001-2003, and a glass-themed logo has been used since 2003. (In fact, one might add, Apple was formally known as Apple Computer, Inc. until 2007, when it finally dropped “Computer” in an 8-K SEC filing.) In short, one of the two tech brands more valuable than Microsoft has marginally changed its own logo during the course of its history. Three-apple-logos

This is not all to say that the new Microsoft logo is perfect. For example, while it may be a more contemporary version of what Windows has been doing for a while, and it may mimic Google Chrome, it doesn’t point Microsoft in a direction of anything future-oriented but Windows. That implies that for the foreseeable future, Microsoft is hanging onto its core product, even as Apple and Google start to encroach on desktop(laptop) and mobile devices. At the very least, it’s not only modern for the consumer and corporate user, it’s modern for internal marketing as well. And who doesn’t like to feel rejuvenated?