Rejecting Materiality for the “Authentically Digital,” Or a Note about Windows 8 New Logo
Certain corners of the web seem to be all aflame, debating the aesthetic merits of the updated Windows 8 logo. Some, like Venture Beat, deem it ugly, denouncing it as as Microsoft’s “Gap Moment” and declaring that it looks like it was made in “MS Paint.” Others aren’t sure what to make of the new, Pentagram-approved design. If Michael Beirut and Paula Scher are behind it, it can’t be all that bad, right? I enjoy its minimalism and think it does a nice job of conjuring up the Metro UI of Windows 8. I do, however, hate the non-font font that is Segoe UI. It reminds me of a knock off helvetica, akin to a “brada” or “jucci” bag. Debates about whether it looks like a window or a flag aside, there’s something else about the logo I’d like to focus on: it’s representation of the “authentically digital.”
On a Windows Team blog post, Principal Designer of User Experience Sam Moreau wrote that the new Metro inspired logo not only invoked the new Metro UI of Windows 8 but also represented the “authentically digital”:
“It was important that the new logo carries our Metro principle of being “Authentically Digital”. By that, we mean it does not try to emulate faux-industrial design characteristics such as materiality (glass, wood, plastic, etc.). It has motion – aligning with the fast and fluid style you’ll find throughout Windows 8.”
There is something intriguing to me about rejecting design characteristics that invoke materiality for something that conjures motion and fluidity. It suggests that it is possible to reject the materiality of the device hardware from the operating system. As a marketing ploy, it’s actually quite clever, especially given that Windows 8 is being positioned as a game changer of an operating system that combines platforms, apps and hardware. And what I’ve seen of the fluidity of Windows 8 across multiple devices, it’s enough for me to think that this approach might actually resonate with consumers. It’s slick and minimalist enough to get people thinking a little more about the system rather than the device. But is it enough to get people to fetishsize the system over the device? Let’s face it, no company has cornered the market on commodity fetishism quite like Apple has.
Now in full disclosure, I work as a global search account planner and strategist for an agency that handles Microsoft’s commericial and consumer accounts. I work with our sister agencies to plan media strategy for all of Microsoft’s major business units and yes, I’m working on Windows 8 planning (don’t ask for any information because I will not provide any; I’m disclosing my client relationship because it’s the ethical thing to do). Even more disclosure, I am a user of Apple products. Disclosure out of the way, this phrase “authentically digital” has haunted most of my planning documents. It’s sort of rubbed me the wrong way, mostly because years of critical theory have trained me to cringe every time I hear the word “authentic.” Moreau’s post is as close to a definition of the phrase as I have seen yet.
But can anything be truly authentic when it comes to discussing digital anything? Moreover, can we conceive of anything digital without the materiality of the devices that allow entry points and access? Personally speaking, I can’t have a conversation about the digital web without talking about the devices that allow me access or how my environmental context shapes my use of the devices which then shapes my digital access and experiences. Arguably the metaphors of materiality (e.g., space,borders, boundaries, etc) have allowed theorists and casual observers alike a language to discuss the complexities of the internet, digital ecosystems, software, etc. Will the phrase “authentically digital” resonate, will it become a way to demarcate digital experiences? If it is the turning point for the ‘authentically digital’ then what will become inauthentic, the falsely digital?
I’ve said it before (here?), and I’ll say it again: formalism is making a return.
But to progress with this line of questioning, we also have to ask whether “authenticity [of a subject’s relationship to form]” is even meaningful: is there anything intrinsically better or worse about about capitalizing on the formal properties of the medium in using it to communicate? Why did this tendency suddenly become unfashionable in the ’60s? And why might it again be popular now?
It’s no coincidence that the word “authenticity” is being thrown around, when we we’re in an era increasingly tired of irony and the PoMo MO. However, the answer to the question, “can we conceive of anything digital without the materiality of the devices that allow entry points and access?” is an emphatic “Yes”. Forgetting that digital refers simply to a language—and not a device—is the doorway to doubting the answer of that question. That digitality is a quality of language which is used to communicate in new, non-linguistic, graphic ways should be the first clue that there are few boundaries to what it may mean for ‘the digital’ to be “authentic”.
There is no ‘metaphor of materiality’ in the use of terms like “borders”, “space”, “boundaries” etc when (as I presume, anyway) you refer to the representation of digital graphics on electronic displays: these are not intrinsic in any way to the material world. As you note (and simultaneously contradict yourself), they provide us with a language to discuss concepts that are essentially abstract but which may be understood graphically.
Your final questions, whether the term “authentically digital” will catch on, and whether it may function to create (artificially?) the demarcation from the “inauthentically” digital, are more ambiguous but less interesting. Whether or not the term catches on, I doubt it carries the discursive weight necessary to ultimately reform perceptions enough in any way significant enough for such a demarcation to really exist, since it’s clear how frivolous and unhistorical the term has been put forth. If only now we’re questioning and advancing the “authentically digital”, it may fairly easily be put forth that we’ve already begun from the position of “inauthentic” digitality. That’s only one of the many problems with actually taking this question seriously.
But the discussion is an indicator; once Commerce starts catching on to, and disseminating some of the more peripheral, philosophic or artistic discussions (as I caught some of the auto manufacturers doing this past Thursday), you know that it will soon crack in to the public sphere and before long become understood in popular terms.
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- skibinskipedia said: Excellent piece, C. (And I happen to like it, Segoe and all. But then, I designed my own logo in MS Paint. ;-)
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