Windows 8's new branding is a framework to a new Microsoft.

Its basis is energetic, global, lifestyle photography …

… and a series of typography and colors that stem from the Metro experience.

The end result redefines Microsoft and Windows 8 as a bit of a boy band--one that assembles several distinct, likable products into one powerhouse umbrella.

At launch, the Surface is the star …

… right alongside Win 8 itself.

The Inside Story Of How Microsoft Built The Windows 8 Brand

To launch its latest OS, Microsoft hired more design and marketing talent than most companies could fathom. We spoke with Wolff Olins, coordinators of the rebranding, about the overarching strategy.

Remember those horrendous Windows commercials with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld? Running in late 2008, the ads proved symbolic of Microsoft’s own failings at the time: What were they about? Was Microsoft Vista? Was Microsoft tablets? Could they be on phones anymore? While Apple and Google were reinventing themselves for the mobile era, Microsoft was making commercials about nothing.

Today, the stakes of Microsoft’s identity are even higher. They need to leverage their Windows 8 OS to retain a foothold on PCs and find that lost chunk of the mobile market through Windows Phone 8. The Surface has to take off. The inevitable Xbox 720 needs to be as relevant as the Xbox 360. And it all starts with Metro, the design language that holds everything together like glue.

About a year ago, Microsoft tapped Wolff Olins to handle branding on Windows 8, the OS that would spill over into every other device Microsoft had planned. Branding their crown-jewel operating system is as much of an affiliation with Microsoft as Wolff Olins can disclose, but from a product architecture standpoint, the Windows 8 brand would naturally be bigger than Windows 8 itself. It would have to redefine Microsoft and its products as competitors—the OS would be the "tip of a spear" in a new, design-forward line of products, some of which haven’t even been announced yet.

And on top of that? Wolff Olins wanted staying power. They wanted an identity that would last longer than a few Seinfeld spots.

"When we built the [branding] system, it’s not just for Windows 8," Executive Creative Director Todd Simmons tells me. "It’s actually built for Windows 9, 10, 11, and every Windows to come."

Conducting the Concert

A project of this magnitude was too much for any one company to handle. "Our role was kind of like the conductor of this concert, if you will," Simmons says. Wolff Olins created the brand standards, but Pentagram crafted the logo. Crispin Porter + Bogusky made the TV commercials. R/GA handled digital ads. Ideo was brought in for product packaging. And we’re probably overlooking a dozen other companies who handled various significant pieces. (Wolff Olins cheekily calls this engineer-like system of organization a "brand OS" of its very own.)

The new strategy was about scale and diversity, consumption and creation. To Wolff Olins, it was time for Microsoft to remind the world that they were Micro-mother@$#*ing-soft.

"If you’re serving a billion consumers every single day, and you’re all around the world, that’s a pretty enviable position. That must mean you have a point of view on the role you’re playing, and you have an incredible window into that world," Simmons says. "We wanted to pull that back into the brand and not be shy about the scale of Microsoft."

To capture the scale, Wolff Olins traveled the world, twice, with photographer Todd Selby, building a photography and video library that would help redefine the identity of not just Windows 8 but Microsoft as a whole. They’ve shot in places like Los Angeles, Barcelona, Beijing, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, Dubai, and Mumbai.

"We’ve gone all around, and the idea is to reflect with the Windows brand the context in which these products play roles in people’s lives—and do it in a really celebratory way," Simmons says. "The Windows audience is everyone. It’s open. It always has been."

Microsoft: Exactly a Sum of Its Parts

It just so happens that, when it comes to smiling faces using Windows 8 products, there’s a huge opportunity for overlap with other Microsoft products. That includes Surface, sure, but also Bing, Office, and Internet Explorer.

"They have all these brands. What we wanted to do is get them working better together and be the sum total of Microsoft as an ecosystem," Simmons says. "We wanted to allow each member of the brand to be themselves as well. We don’t want to create a monolithic version of Microsoft to apply to everything; while we may have a set of common elements, we wanted each of those to manifest uniquely to that brand."

Human photography was a big common element, as were your more standard branding staples, like typography and color palettes. Wolff Olins also spent a lot of time on the voice—the precise diction—of Windows 8.

"You’ll see a lot of ‘we’ statements. It speaks to the collective audience Microsoft serves," Simmons says. "The tonality of being colorful, diverse, vibrant, and inclusive was how we wanted the brand to get to you through all of its pores."

Can It Last?

But whether or not you like the new branding, you have to wonder, is Wolff Olins asking for too much? In the fastest moving industry in the world, the team sought to create a brand that will define Microsoft’s flagship software product for potentially decades to come, while at the same time transcending any individual product.

Why not just focus on Windows 8 the operating system—the most important gamble in Microsoft’s history? Isn’t that enough for now? Simmons, very precisely, disagrees.

"I think it’s going to be important for all of these brands to have continuity when everything else is changing," he says. Because if Microsoft really is reinventing itself today, we’ll still need to recognize them tomorrow.

See more here.

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34 Comments

  • Middean

    I have windows 8 on my laptop. When people ask me how I like it I tell them to pull out their phone and make it do whatever they want it to do without touching it. You have to have a touch screen to use it! Why would any one put it on a computer without a touch screen. I bought my laptop in Dec. they never told me anything about it. I hate it!!

  • Chutzpah0404

    It seems that Microsoft believes that changing the interface is the key to success.  What they ignore is that the current (Windows XP and Windows 7) interface WORKS!!!!  They screwed up Office with their ribbon and now they are screwing up Windows.  Is it any wonder that people are migrating to Apple?  The problem with both Microsoft and Apple is they treat users as being idiots.  I guess they have been looking in the mirror too long.

  • Timothy

    I cannot connect with the above commercials. It's like building up a momentum for a concert where you have no clue who the singer is, not even a glimpse of the singer's voice. It's like a Don Equis beer commercials where you see a guy saying his signature line: "Stay thirsty, my friends", except in this case, you don't really know who the heck this guy is.

  • Vitor Hugo Silva

    Funny thing is, some of these comments show how things been changing lately. I see people applauding Microsoft for the effort, while hatters are hating because 'Microsoft is not Apple' and 'Windows is dead, Mac OSX/iOS is king'. As I recall, things were the opposite a few years ago. Is this a sign of times to come?

  • Mick

    You've really got to applaud what Microsoft have done this year. They have gone through an absolutely massive overhaul of everything! From all their brands, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, the soon to be released X Box, surface, the New Hotmail/Outlook, Office and so much more.

    Personally I think the new UI directions are fantastic and you can already see Metro's influence filtering down through the web in the form of sleeker, more minimal websites that focus on clear iconography and content, rather than gimmicky leather stitching.

    Fantastic!

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    Could Fastcompany please fix the comment system. It basically doesn't really work on a tablet...

  • bichon frise

    These adds give a feel good vibe, much like the first ipod adds that were just silhouettes dancing with the white headphones highlighted. 

    After all, product advertising just shows you how it's going to enhance your life and make you cool around your friends. That's what the lay people want, they don't analyse like most of the comments here. These adds also give a feeling of progress and for microsoft that is a good thing, cause as much as people can't admit it, apple's latest phone was hardly that.

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    So dancing to nice music that makes one feel happy is basically the same as getting more and more excited for skateboarding because I would be searching for basic settings in one of the many places in Windows 8 (which is basically the 10th consumer OS Microsoft has shipped).Kinda nonsense, if one would ask me...

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    So dancing to nice music that makes one feels happy is basically the same as getting more and more exciting for skateboarding because I would be searching for basic settings in one of the many places in Windows 8 (which is basicall

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    I actually like the 2 videos. They're great advertisements for
    1) a travel agency or for a travel TV program on NatGeo, and
    2) a developers conference in Asia that insiders know about.
    In the 1st video I do miss the website of the agency though. Or when the TV program will air. In the 2nd video I miss the date, place and ticket office for the conference.

    Oh, wait... It was about the 10th consumer OS of Microsoft, called 8? Is the brand Microsoft or is the brand Windows actually? Does anyone keep up with that, outside of Microsoft employees? If the brand is Microsoft, then the product would be "Windows 8" (odd already, since it's the 10th consumer OS they're pushing). If the brand is Windows, then the product would be called "8". That would be even odder...

    Anyway. Who was Microsoft, again? What are they making?

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    I actually like the 2 videos. They're great advertisements for
    1) a travel agency or for a travel TV program on NatGeo, and
    2) a developers conference in Asia that insiders know about.
    In the 1st video I do miss the website of the agency though. Or when the TV program will air. In the 2nd video I miss the date, place and ticket office for the conference.

    Oh, wait... It was about the 10th consumer OS of Microsoft, called 8? Is the brand Microsoft or is the brand Windows actually? Does anyone keep up with that, outside of Microsoft employees? If the brand is Microsoft, then the product would be "Windows 8" (odd already, since it's the 10th consumer OS they're pushing). If the brand is Windows, then the product would be called "8". That would be even odder...

    Anyway. Who was Microsoft, again? What are they making?

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    I actually like the 2 videos. They're great advertisements for
    1) a travel agency or for a travel TV program on NatGeo, and
    2) a developers conference in Asia that insiders know about.
    In the 1st video I do miss the website of the agency though. Or when the TV program will air. In the 2nd video I miss the date, place and ticket office for the conference.

    Oh, wait... It was about the 10th consumer OS of Microsoft, called 8? Is the brand Microsoft or is the brand Windows actually? Does anyone keep up with that, outside of Microsoft employees? If the brand is Microsoft, then the product would be "Windows 8" (odd already, since it's the 10th consumer OS they're pushing). If the brand is Windows, then the product would be called "8". That would be even odder...

    Anyway. Who was Microsoft, again? What are they making?

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    I actually like the 2 videos. They're great advertisements for
    1) a travel agency or for a travel TV program on NatGeo, and
    2) a developers conference in Asia that insiders know about.
    In the 1st video I do miss the website of the agency though. Or when the TV program will air. In the 2nd video I miss the date, place and ticket office for the conference.

    Oh, wait... It was about the 10th consumer OS of Microsoft, called 8? Is the brand Microsoft or is the brand Windows actually? Does anyone keep up with that, outside of Microsoft employees? If the brand is Microsoft, then the product would be "Windows 8" (odd already, since it's the 10th consumer OS they're pushing). If the brand is Windows, then the product would be called "8". That would be even odder...

    Anyway. Who was Microsoft, again? What are they making?

  • jacob_Somers

    Most comments on here are looking pretty negative, and I can't help but ask why?
    Have you seen Microsoft in the last few years? It may be shallow feel-goodery of a rebranding, but at least they're trying!
    For once, Microsoft is actually starting to look like a living brand, I still remember Microsoft as Windows 95 I thought was so amazing because it could play solitaire. Or the Windows ME that used to take 3 days to download the song Survivor by Destiny's Child. Or the Windows Xp my parents still use, that barely plays youtube videos. Hell, even Xp was better than the Windows Vista my parents bought me for University I got so frustrated with and replaced with my old Macbook. I've never since thought of microsoft as a real option.

    For once Microsoft is actually looking alive. Who cares if the brand videos are light on product, as the products start to come out, so will the ads for them!

  • Elmtree

    There's a simple problem with Windows 8: trackpads. Windows trackpads are not good enough to offer the cohesive scrolling the design requires.

    And a bigger problem: in desperation at being left out on tablets, they've taken a UI that worked and burned it down. As Windows, Windows works. As an iPad replacement, it's just not there yet. 

  • DMBRAND

    I have yet to interact with Surface. But the brand is showing some signs of cohesion. It's really an echo of the Windows 8 UI. Anyhow, if the products work well then it all makes sense and seems brilliant. Products are scrutinized more than ever now, and they have to live up to the hype. If you're betting on the amount of energy MS put into the brand then you'd like to think they have something good to offer. Time and critics will tell if the proof is in your palm. We just have to W8. 

  • asteriskgroup

    Why the archaic and unnecessary window muntin? It looks like the windows in my parents house. I know it is a window because it says so right next to the little icon. Take your cue from Apple and simplify. Some more.
     

  • T Paulus

    Agree with many here - it's just 100% fluff. 

    While it's nice that a bunch of creative execs got to go on a round-the-world trip TWICE, this does almost nothing to concentrate on the tools, the drastically revised interface or the ways in which it improves on prior iterations of MS. 

    All I see are Benetton-ish hip kids running around and having the time of their goddamn lives. SNORE. That's a big old fail for the creative team - you have a genuinely exciting product for once and you decide to go for the emotional angle that we'd see in your average clothing spot. 

    Apple's going pretty far down this road now too - the Siri spots and the Genius Bar employee have really been new lows for a brand that used to let the product speak for itself.  

  • VasyaPupkinsan

    BS and comments are by shills. Ballmersoft are idiots, take a closer look at their keynotes, videos etc.