Over the last four decades, Microsoft has risen to become one of the world’s most renowned brands by doubling down on its core mission: empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Externally, we see that come to life through what their products, services and technology platforms make possible. Within the company, we see that empowerment blossom as a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion for all of its 163,000 employees worldwide. Microsoft was one of the first big tech firms to establish a Global Diversity & Inclusion (GDI) initiative – and consistently earns some of the highest diversity scores amongst the S&P 50. But true to its roots as a tireless innovator, the company acknowledges there is always more work to be done.
Fast forward to 2019. Nine employee resource groups (ERGs) form one of the cornerstones of Microsoft’s GDI initiatives. These separate groups connect employees with shared interests across identities to provide career development, networking, and mentorship, while also hosting activities that promote community engagement and cultural awareness. Some like BAM (Blacks at Microsoft), Women at Microsoft, and GLEAM (Global LGBTQI+ Employees and Allies at Microsoft) have been around for decades, while others like Military at Microsoft, Disability at Microsoft, and Families at Microsoft have sprung up organically over time.
But with this diversity rose a distinct design challenge: each ERG sometimes operated autonomously from Microsoft and from one another, resulting in an inconsistent range of styles and quality of expression completely dependent on the individual design skillsets among members of each group. There was no unifying visual factor between the ERGs, and ultimately, they didn’t seem connected to the overarching Microsoft brand.
Enter Monigle. Over the course of an 18-month engagement, we partnered with Microsoft’s brand team and representatives from each ERG to thoughtfully co-create a design system both simple and sophisticated, actionable and astute. One that elevates the voice of each community, promotes intersectionality among members of multiple groups and ultimately, empowers each community with the flexibility they need to express themselves uniquely, while linking together by a common visual thread back to the Microsoft brand.
Creating a design language that’s distinct (unique for each group), connected (to each other and to Microsoft) and accessible (in terms of cultural alignment, cognitive processing, and optical perception) meant diving into traditional visual cues with fresh perspective and open minds. For starters, we needed to educate ourselves on what shapes, colors and arrangement meant to each community. Symbols were explored, yet ultimately scrapped. Iteration after iteration of color combinations, both traditional and far-out, led our journey in new directions.
Finally, our experimentation landed on a family of interconnected wordmarks for each ERG. Inspired and born from Microsoft’s proprietary typeface, Segoe, the wordmarks signal diversity and represent the vibrant and dynamic nature of people at Microsoft. Specific color combinations were selected by each ERG to reflect the individual attributes and cultural associations each group had, while their names are locked up in a solid, darker hue for maximum legibility and accessibility.
How we arrived at the design solution is just as important as the system itself. We stumbled, we hit walls, we rallied and course corrected. But what ultimately drove our decision-making and design solution? Relationship-building and open dialogue. Listening, not reacting. Collaborating, not dictating.
Our partnership resulted in a design system that allows for individual community expression and visual unification across communities. The system subtly ties back to the Microsoft brand while also possessing enough equity to stand on its own. But ultimately, it was the moments of interconnectivity, large and small, that defines this project’s success. Enabling individuals to see their full selves reflected across communities and within one company. Empowering the communities with sophisticated, yet easy-to-use design tools so they can focus on their charters. And delivering on Microsoft’s core mission to achieve more. More representation. More equality. More opportunity.