I met Bill Gates once… and I didn’t ask him the one question I wanted to. The newly introduced “Bing” logotype (and Armin’s post about it at underconsideration.com) is yet another reminder that I dropped the ball. With the amount of money and time spent building and branding their updated search experience, bing.com, how can Microsoft punctuate their work with a logotype this embarrassing? Freshman design students learn why it’s bad form to scale letterforms, worst case is that those four characters could have been redrawn – was there no designer in the room?
In 1997, I was an intern at Microsoft, there were around 250 developer interns and 7 designers (this being a pretty telling statistic). The well planned summer of intern festivities included dinner with Mr. Gates. No, not at his new house (it was still under construction), but the old one. After 6 weeks on the job, with a few design successes under my belt and checked into the products, and a few trips to the campus Microsoft store (which was a never ending circus of horrendous graphic design) I was eager and excited to meet the man, shake his hand and ask him one question…
Do you think that a company with such a magnanimous global reach/influence as Microsoft has a higher responsibility to raise the bar by delivering forward thinking and inspirational identity, product, and interface design?
I never asked the question. In fact, the evening destroyed all preconceived notions that Microsoft was built on anything containing creative integrity. Every sentence spoken by Bill G. that evening was about markets, conversions and dollars. Nothing about creativity, inspiration or empowering users to make things. For better or for worse, it defined my outlook on MSFT and dimmed my enthusiasm for being there. There was no way I could ask my question and not get tackled by security. I also had promised my supervisor that I would behave myself. Sure, I could have changed the delivery, but at that moment it seemed futile.
The dinner was great, there were a few dozen interns in my group that night, not too many tho. I shared the walk out with Bill G. where I was able to introduce myself and shared some idle discussion about the summer, Seattle and the Imaging Department, he was nice.
There is no question that since then Microsoft has learned that good design can go a long way. While we may not always love the products they ship, the branding and design seems to play a more pivotal role. However, from my experience, skilled designers were constantly dismissed by engineers and business folks. I saw some truly amazing design during my time in Redmond, sadly none of it ever shipped. I like to think that that somewhere in the backstory of that mutilated Bing logo, there are some really nice designs.