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Microsoft Edge Branding

Microsoft’s new browser is called Microsoft Edge. It uses a derivative name, derivative logo, and derivative visual identity to Microsoft Internet Explorer, a lead candidate when ranking the world’s most pervasive, entrenched and vilified software.

Originally, this post was a scathing review of the new identity. But somewhere between describing the name as “shockingly inauthentic” and the icon as “flaccid”, I lost heart. Little productive is born from hyperbolic ranting.

Taking a step back, I’ll try to structure my frustration.

In the past five years, Microsoft has shown compelling glimpses of innovation. Big ideas bubble up: the Metro design standard, Kinect, Surface. Here, we have a product engineered free from the technical baggage of its rightfully lampooned ancestor — but then promptly saddled with an emasculated identity that ties it right back to the 20 years of legacy problems from which it finally escaped. A spike of ingenuity, promptly sanded down by bureaucratic comfort zones and marketing over-think. It’s painfully Microsoft.

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Diving Into Lexmark’s New Brand

Five years ago, the software company for whom I served as creative director was acquired by Lexmark. Since then, the two brands have operated concurrently, and have added to the software roster with a dozen additional acquisitions. While Lexmark has received credit from analysts and customers for the strategically important and growing software component, their brand has never quite achieved escape velocity from “a printer company”.

The launch of the new global Lexmark brand announces the unification of the entire Lexmark technology portfolio — organic and acquired, hardware and software, old and new. It’s a transformative step to strongly communicate the diverse technology offering and value proposition.

Beginning at the beginning

While the new logo and identity are important, and I’ll talk about them more in a bit, this runs deeper than eye candy. Our first step was to engage a respected global branding agency to lift Lexmark the company from the soil and examine the total entity from stem to roots: our values, our competition, our future. This discovery phase was crucial to understand the shape of the challenge ahead.

Our messaging goals were complex. We needed to convey Lexmark’s core value proposition of delivering precise information to the right person at their moment of need. This ability to both expand a person’s visibility into their organization’s information at the same time drawing focus to the most critical bit of data needed within a business process was a core talk track leading into the design discussions.

It’s a powerful idea, but terribly abstract. Easy to explain in 30 minutes, almost impossible within a few sentences. In other words: a fabulous design challenge.

Mulling over information visibility, we rallied around the idea of an aperture. Not a camera aperture in a literal sense. Rather, the idea of focus. The ability to scale a line of sight, encompassing a wide or tight purview, honing in on specific information. Effortlessly wide, precisely narrow. An idea that reveals dynamic scale and a persistent point of attention.

The icon

From the aperture concept, the logo’s icon became evident. We messed with spacing, gradients, lines, patterns, size. But in the end, the geometry worked the hardest in its purest form, without decoration. Purposefully, the red diamond of the heritage logo inspires the center of our brand mark.

The square shape has the added benefit of working wonderfully as a digital avatar, and is already becoming an emblem for our online spaces.

Lexmark icon
The new icon and the link to the heritage diamond.

Selecting the colors was its own subplot. Green is an exercise in subtle psychology. Slight deviations connote radically divergent ideas: a touch of yellow feels lime and tropical, a hair of red muddies it to earthy camouflage, a dab of blue drifts into oceany flavors, deepening the tone feels too pine tree, and going too light lacks proper intensity. In the end, we selected vibrant, pure greens.

Pantone greens
Definitely not easy being green.

But why green? Two clear reasons.

  1. Green is common in consumer brands, but the B2B technology space revolves heavily around red and blue. I don’t know why. Our competitive analysis was surprising: overall technology branding has major gaps in the color spectrum, and green is nearly empty in B2B.
  2. Green is literally as far away from red as you can go. Since 1991, Lexmark had centered on red and black. It did this successfully. But to communicate the weight of this change, to make it unquestionably new, we set up base camp on the other side of the color wheel.

The wordmark

From the beginning, we sought a distinct font. Our standard had been Proxima Nova — beautiful and robust, but as common as a pigeon in Central Park. In the end, we settled on a font that brought the full-bodied curves of a modern sans, but injected enough personality to separate not just our core logo but our armada of marketing material.

One of my criteria for the logo was to hint at a slight playfulness, something that would suggest that Lexmark was not a stodgy and dated company. The rotated “x” does this well. It’s unexpected, but fun, and echoes the lines of the icon. A very pleasing side benefit is the subtle feel of two arrows coming together, positioning the center of the X as a center of balance.

Lexmark Logo examples
The new Lexmark logo.

The composite brand mark was the result of a long, explorative journey, but like the best logos, feels completely obvious once you’ve arrived.

The visual identity

In parallel, we explored the extended identity. Building on the ideas of bright color, strong geometry and the aperture of information, our system carries across brochures, websites, stationery, building signage, hardware products, packaging, software interfaces, employee badges, executive briefing centers, interior design, service vehicles and about a hundred other applications.

Lexmark Brand Examples
Examples of the extended identity.

We’re still getting the hang of these new dancing shoes, but the internal team is excited, and we’ve already developed some beautiful material. More than anything, we’re psyched about the response we’ve received from customers and the extended community, and are optimistic that this brand will open new opportunities for Lexmark.

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2014 Reading Recap

Books read in 2014

Hell (Robert Olen Butler)
The story of a guy who gets dead and then tries to escape hell, but ultimately the slow pacing and unwelcoming characters feel like a slog through purgatory. Considering the book’s hype, I’m clearly missing something.

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
What happens when an ex-con with nothing to live for is employed by a living god and begins affecting a global war between the New and Old gods. Gaiman’s star-studded career writing for comic books shines through: his narrative is crisp, characters are fascinating, and plenty of dark corners are left for the reader to contemplate. A classic.

The Enterprise of Death (Jesse Bullington)
So there’s this teenage slave who is captured by a necromancer, becomes his apprentice, and before escaping learns the secrets of resurrection, the undead and the spirit worlds. Before the ultimate showdown, she travels with soldiers, whores and cracked doctors while battling off-the-deep-end Inquisitors.

Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
You’ve all read it, or at least know the story. This is to pirates what Bram Stoker’s Dracula is to vampires. Compelling, original, and completely worth your time.

Carrion Comfort (Dan Simmons)
A book about mind vampires, Nazis, corruption and control. A horror story in the Stephen King genre, yes, but the real terror is the crippling racism that pervades every character, making the everyday passerby as hair-raising as the ghouls running concentration camps.

The Casual Vacancy (JK Rowling)
When a local councilman dies without warning, a tiny English hamlet spins off the rails as politics and biases bubble like effervescent acid to the surface. Rowling’s ability to create life-like characters with the most subtle nuance, just a few words, is unparalleled, and what sounds like a flaky plot concept becomes a reflective, incisive, cruel and delicate page-turner that cannot be put down. Highly recommended.

Neuromancer (William Gibson)
For the science fiction / dark future fan, this book is the primer for a hundred other novels, television series, movies and techno albums. Gibson paints a psychedelic and unsettling future of wide economic separation, haywire AI, and military corruption that moves at the speed of the motorcycle battle in Akira. This was my second time through, and I’m already planning a third.

The Dante Club (Matthew Pearl)
Murders that mimic passages in The Inferno confound police. Who else can solve them but a bunch of poets working on a translation of Dante’s works? A meh mystery novel, but a dandy romp for Dante trainspotters.

The Crook Factory (Dan Simmons)
Nazi forces swarm around Cuba, but the U.S. can’t officially do much except send a secret agent to team up with Ernest Hemingway for covert surveillance. A fun history-based adventure, but the real gem is the character study of Hemingway.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs)
A teenager visits Scotland to untangle his funky family history, and ends up stepping back into time to instead find a school that was home for children with creepy superpowerish abilities. The magic of this book is in the authentic period photography of kids. (Of course there’s a movie, and of course it’s directed by Tim Burton.)

Inferno (Dan Brown)
Dumb and unrewarding. Even for Dan Brown.

Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth (Curt Stager)
What’s next for us? Not tomorrow, not 2020, but far, far into the future, where almost nothing is guaranteed? Curt Stager addresses the big question of human life so far out that the only clues we have is what’s already happened. Astronomy, tectonics, climate change … all will shape how, and where, we live.

Content Everywhere (Sara Wachter-Boettcher)
A beautifully written and illustrated book delving deep into structured content, and how modularity as a strategy can serve every content channel. A perfect complement to anything Karen McGrane.

Mental Models (Indi Young)
This book is cited often, so I read it. A fascinating UX strategy born from real-world practice. Mandatory reading for #UX friends.

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LavaCon 2014 Wrap-Up

My first LavaCon, and I was impressed. Great city and venue, engaging speakers both new and known, tasty food at every turn. Jack Molisani operated at next-level super-host speeds, checking in almost every session, making sure folks had everything they needed. Not that he needed to. The execution and attention to detail were top-notch.

There were so many appealing sessions running in parallel (five session tracks) that I vacillated often on which to attend. Competition for attention was fierce. While I appreciate the diversity of speakers, there’s a compelling argument for the simplified experience of single-track conferences like An Event Apart.

For those that sat through my humble presentation: thank you. We had an expansive conversation on taking content global, touching on localization, cultural nuances, and workflows that won’t make you go mad. There’s no faster way to up your game than speak with folks smarter than you, and my game was measurably upped.

If you’re interested, here are the slides:

Going Global Without Going Insane from Kevin Potts

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Teaching Myself French

In May, my wife and I went to France and Italy for a few weeks. Besides the amazeballs wine, food, history and beauty, I was humbled by the ease at which our friends in Europe switched between languages. I’m from the States. Multilingualism is an afterthought. A grasp of english and a mouth-breathing ego carry most folks from kindergarten to grave. The European paradigm was humbling. I felt viscerally foreign. American.

But it was also inspiring. So in July, I started teaching myself French.

Besides my own time, this is a straight-up zero-budget project. So without money, books, tutors or oversight, I did what any self-respecting n00b would do: fired up ye olde app store.

First app: Duolingo

  • Immediately useful. You “taste” the language right away.
  • Starts right in with patterns. Word memorization is de-emphasized. Assumes nothing and does not apologize for it.
  • Fluid and zippy interface. Colorful, approachable. Gamey.

Second app: Memrise

  • More traditional approach: memorization, grammar, building blocks.
  • Builds a broader vocabulary from the start. Gets into more complex phrases quicker. Harder.
  • Clunkier interface, but very responsive. More diverse audio samples (a good thing).

Impressions?

Both emphasize audio. I find this critical, because spoken and written French are basically different languages. Little is phonetic, and verb forms written differently are pronounced the same. Dictation, predictably, is a struggle as it’s the crossing of these streams.

The major downside to the app-first approach is lack of human interaction. Both push you right into the weeds of rules without explanation. Time after time my question is not “how do I say this?” but “why do I say it this way?” Adjective placement varies, noun gender feels arbitrary, and question structure continues to confound.

Ironically, the best thing about the apps is their web complements. Both offer a richer, explanatory and contextual web application that provides interactivity and detail not present on the tiny screen. Example: Duolingo provides commenting for every phrase. Like PHP, this community conversation is a trove of useful doofus-friendly detail.

But it’s not enough. I purchased my first helper book to provide the formal explanation the apps lack. And I still wish I had a human over my shoulder.

Progress?

OK, I guess. I can frame short sentences: Bonjour. Le chat a mange une souris. Je suis un americain enneyeux. Etc. But little meaningful writing, and not much reading comprehension, and a live conversation would terrify me.

I’ll keep going. I’m not sure I can ever be fluent without engaging in real-life conversations, but I can at least have a strong academic understanding to, like, read wine bottles and stuff.

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