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This is the third installment of "You Could Almost Do Anything," a three-part series on logo design communication. If you've missed the first or second parts of the series, check them out.
Microsoft's foray into abstract forward slashes began in February 2012 when Paula Scher of Pentagram was tasked with the redesign of Microsoft's Windows brand.
Sam Moreau, the Principal Director of User Experience for Windows recounted an early meeting with Scher and Bierut:
Paula asked us a simple question, "your name is Windows. Why are you a flag?"
Scher had a solid point. Despite the metaphor's legacy, having originated in Windows 3.1 and lasting up until Windows 7, the waving flag was an odd choice. Sure, it afforded the brand the opportunity to display the latest and greatest in graphical effects, but it had no conceptual legs to stand on.
The issue is that despite no longer waving, her resulting Windows logo looked just as much like a flag as did the previous versions. Her intention to remove any reference to flags had fallen flat on its face.
Enter Andrew Kim, at the time a minimalist young gun. Kim's site is paradoxically called "Minimally Minimal." In other words, according to Kim, the site is the least minimal it could possibly be. But this is the opposite of the case, as the site is actually quite minimal.
If anyone sits still, it is not Andrew Kim. Unlike Moving Brands and Google Ventures, who didn't have the audacity to propose a solitary forward-leaning, future-facing mark outright, Kim would do just that.
In July 2012, following Scher's Windows rebrand, Kim was assigned a three-day school project to redesign a popsicle. Instead, he rebelled and chose to design a conceptual corporate identity overhaul for Microsoft, boldly entitled "The Next Microsoft." In it, he proposed an alternative mark–the "Slate." It was a tilted parallelogram which would, in his words, "deliver the future, today." The "Slate" earned Kim glowing reviews in The Verge, Fast Company and Brand New among others.
In his podcast, Kim had some sharp criticisms of Scher's logo:
I think it’s one of the most awkward-looking logos I’ve ever seen…It just looks very uncomfortable on the device, for example, on a Windows 8 tablet, the home button has to be the Windows logo, and because the shape is so strange, it makes the whole front look bizarre. Because now you're looking at a logo that's in perspective and you're also looking at a device that's in another perspective, there are weird perspective issues coming up. It’s just bizarre to the eye.
Kim's argument is somewhat oddly made given that his "Slate" runs into the very same problems, with an even more stark perspective than Scher's.
The rebrand package Kim designed also included a stab at the Microsoft logo proper. As it would turn out, just a month later, Microsoft revealed their own mark. While a Segoe-based logo could be expected, Kim's modified-Segoe mark was prescient.
Microsoft was impressed, and in 2013 picked up Kim for the Xbox team, compensating him for the parallelogram. Microsoft may yet adopt Kim's tilted concept–only time will tell.
King of the Slash
While contemporary designers compete in vain for the 2021 deadline, one designer beat them all to claim victory. That designer was the late French designer Arnaud Mercier.
For most every designer, the design process involves exploring forms along the spectrum of abstraction and representation. As we have seen, this is true even for the most ardent of minimalists.
Yet for modernist designers, mimetic representation and legible letterforms in execution can only be described as failure, for their ideological essence is a fetish for reduction past the point of absurdity.
Several questions present themselves. Firstly, why do modernist designers feel the need to justify obvious (or should I say opaque) abstractions by appealing to metaphorical significance, where no metaphor still exists? This charade certainly fools no one, except perhaps other designers and obsequious journalists.
Take The Verge's review of Moving Brands' HP logo. The Verge had initially put out a lukewarm article up on HP logo. In the interim, Part I of this series ("You Could Almost Do Anything") was published. Not two weeks after I published my piece on the trajectory of the HP logo, Vlad Savov of The Verge published a masterwork of a puff piece on the Moving Brands HP logo and its "perfection."
Savov gushed over Moving Brands' "Progress Mark.":
HP's decision to revive the 2011 logo that it initially rejected is a triumph of good taste and sense…It's rare for me to offer any company an unqualified commendation, but in this case, HP deserves it for correcting an old mistake in the best possible way.
With PR like that, who needs a logo? Certainly not HP.
Alternatively, consider the HP Enterprise logo. CEO Meg Whitman was plenty versed in modernist vernacular to explain the logo:
[What] stands out for me is its simplicity. But, guess what, that's what we're going to be about — easy to do business with and precise in our work, our engineering and our innovation.
Shortly after its launch, Bryony Gomez-Palicio of Brand New published a review of the logo:
When I think of enterprise solutions I do picture, for whatever reason, a server rack or some kind of multi-wired machine in some room with its own climate control, so when I see this logo I see an abstract server drive. Despite it being so minimal and possibly meaning nothing, I like it. It's a cool visual gesture.
What I see in front of me is a rectangle with a green stroke. Perhaps Gomez-Palicio and I are looking at something different. Either way, ostensibly Whitman had fully justified the HP mark, so why did Gomez-Palicio feel compelled to invent metaphors where there were none? This compensatory narrative about server rooms shouldn't be necessary.
A second, more important, question emerges–how can non-designers have confidence in minimalists' designs if the designers themselves so clearly don't. How can there be any integrity to glean from–when the designs so readily fail by their designers' own criteria for judgment?
I have a baseline framework for judging a logo’s accompanying artist's statement. This framework has eluded designers for generations, and it goes like this: does the logo do what you're saying it does?
The fundamental contradiction between what the modernist builds, and the justifications he scurries to appeal to, can only be seen as evidence of a subconscious insecurity about the modernist project.
Yet instead of scrutinizing his ideological tenets, the modernist doubles down. Far from embodying the espoused populist and universal ideological tenets, he embraces an anti-formalist, elitist pretension. By design, one must to be in the know in order to comprehend the design's intent.
The truth is, just because "you could almost do anything" doesn't mean you should.