Microsoft reboots its brand, and get this—it’s pretty good.

Microsoft launched its new brand identity yesterday and it looks like they’re finally doing something right. It does seem to have confused some people who can’t figure out why they’ve dropped the stylised italic typeface of yesteryear in favour of a simple, humanist treatment coupled with a logo they associate with Windows® in particular. And others who can’t figure out why this rebrand isn’t something completely new and mind-blowing. These pundits are missing the point entirely, and here’s why.

Microsoft have not simply updated their logo. They have completely restructured their brand architecture.

Previously, we had the italic Microsoft® logotype that you would find on various bits of hardware like mice and keyboards, but Microsoft isn’t really a hardware company. The Office suite was always called “Microsoft® Office” — but the word Microsoft had no relation to the primary brand logo, though that italic logo would be on the box. Under that ‘Office’ brand each piece of software then had its own logo.  And then there’s Microsoft® Windows® with the famous, colourful window icon. Now, the Office suite has for a while been a pretty neat standalone brand in itself, but when you start to consider the overall structure of the Microsoft brand and its relation to its products you can quickly realise what a clusterfuck it all was. Different logos for this, different rules for that, fleets of products changing seemingly arbitrarily in relation to everything else, very much a window into the structure of Microsoft the corporation — a series of separate entities working autonomously under their own flags, but somehow all in the same building. Not the best message.

So, let’s go back to Windows. Windows, the operating system is what has made Microsoft the company it is today. With Windows shipping pre-installed on over 90% of all personal computers, Windows is by far the dominant brand and the driving force of the company, it also has the most recognisable visual device the company has—the window—so isn’t it really the obvious thing to do to bring that to the forefront and capitalise on that brand equity? Well, yes it is, and that is what they have done. By no means a minor tweak.

So, now we have Microsoft back on the top of the pile, under that we have Windows and then we have the Office brand and its fleet of individual products. This is known as a ‘branded house’ model whereas what we had previously was a mishmash ‘house of brands’ hybrid that seemed to have no rules. Microsoft’s most recognisable visual asset is now right at the top alongside the company name, and it’s been pared down to its simplest form, which, by no accident also ties in nicely with the visual style of their new Metro user interface which will be in place soon with the release of Windows 8 on both PCs and mobile devices alike.

Windows’ new UI—Metro:

Jeff Hansen, general manager of brand strategy, says “The ways people experience our products are our most important brand impressions… That’s why the new Microsoft logo takes its inspiration from our product design principles while drawing upon the heritage of our brand values, fonts and colors.”

This is the first time Microsoft have updated their logo since February 1987, and with Windows getting completely overhauled and a pretty nice looking mobile platform, Microsoft certainly seem to be entering a much needed new phase, and this time it all appears to have unity. The real test will no doubt be whether any of this unity is being introduced at the business structure level, a problem which Microsoft’s arch enemy Apple have long overcome.

Oh look—this looks familiar:

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