Metro is Irreplaceable

Microsoft is a company that’s notorious for branding disasters. Product names are usually long and confusing, and are frequently renamed and rebranded, only adding to the mess.

However, Metro was an exception. It was the name of a design language that spread rapidly throughout the company, effectively uniting its products in many ways. It represents the company thinking outside of the box, and leaving its comfort zone to create awesome products. It represents the far more consistent and close-knit ecosystem that the company has been working hard to build over the past few years. And finally, it represents the culture of Microsoft in pursuing all of this.

In terms of branding, it did a great thing. While Metro was initially a term to describe Microsoft’s new, fresh, and authentic design language, it organically came to represent much more.

Reportedly, due to legal issues, Microsoft will be ditching the term and expunging it from well, everything. Products, marketing materials, documentation, help files…


This is a complete disaster. And to make matters worse, Microsoft has handled this horribly. A Microsoft spokesperson issued a comment to Mary-Jo Foley that dismisses Metro as a mere codename:

“We have used Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines. As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names.”

Officially, we have no idea what the real reasons behind this are. In any case, what they’re doing is wrong. Provided that the legal issues are to blame, they should have seriously fought it. I mean come on, you’re Microsoft. Surely you have the resources to deal with a European partner, even if it became a messy and costly situation.

If the statement from the company is complete fact — that it’s a codename that the company suddenly decided to distance itself from — then I’d like to have whatever they were smoking to make them think this is a good idea.

What’s done is done. But what can be done about this moving forward? After going on the record and dismissing Metro as a lowly codename, it’s hard to just backtrack from that provided that they’re contemplating working towards using it again. If they wanted to stay true to their word, they’re going to have to move forward and choose a replacement for Metro.

But there’s one problem. Metro is irreplaceable. No one term has been through all that Metro has to bear the same significance.

Ditching an important brand is hard for any company. Could you imagine if, right around the time of launch, Apple was forced to ditch “iPhone” due to legal disputes? If this is a bad situation for a company like Apple — that’s highly skilled at branding and marketing — could you imagine the ramifications for Microsoft? It’s unlikely that a company rife with branding nightmares can concoct a sufficient replacement.

If today’s rumors prove to be correct, the replacement terminology for Metro will be cringeworthy.

Mary-Jo Foley is hearing that the “Windows 8” will be used to replace Metro terminology:

Here’s the official guidance, my sources say: Anything currently/formerly known as a “Metro-Style application” (with or without a hyphen) will now be known officially as a “Windows 8 application.” References to the “Metro user interface” will now be replaced by “Windows 8 user interface.” And instead of saying “Metro design,” the Softies and those adhering to their official guidelines will be using the words “Windows 8 design.”

Putting aside Metro’s irreplaceable factor, this doesn’t even make any sense. Windows 8 is hardly a sufficient replacement. Metro described an entire design philosophy that exists beyond Windows; the term isn’t remotely capable of enveloping the entire definition of Metro. The best part? Instead of referring to the interface on Windows Phone as Metro, you’ll be calling it the “Windows 8 interface on Windows Phone.”


Image Source: istartedsomething

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Paul Paliath

Paul Paliath is a designer. You should follow me on Twitter here.