Method to the Madness: Meet the men that re-branded Microsoft, and learn how they did it


This is not Apple. This is not Google. This is Microsoft. And this is a technology company that is unlike any other company out there. This is the sleeping giant of the technology industry. But, Microsoft sleeps no more. Albert Shum and Todd Simmons the men that have awakened Microsoft.

Albert Shum is the General Manager of Windows Phone Design and is the man that is mostly responsible for the new ‘Metro’ interface that purveys through every aspect of Microsoft’s product ethos.

Todd Simmons is the Executive Creative Director of Wolff Olins, the “International Brand Consultants” that Microsoft hired to re-imagine their public figure. He is the man responsible for the dramatically different advertising campaign that Microsoft has undertaken to recreate themselves in the public eye.

In a rare undertaking these two have uploaded a video of a conference in Oslo, Norway where they discuss the massive amount of work that they have undertaken to recreate Microsoft. The video is rather long, but if you have 45 minutes to spare it’s worth a watch. It is a true look into the mindset that is driving arguably the biggest turn around in the technology industry since Steve Jobs re-imagined Apple.

Microsoft sought the aide of an outside force to remake its image as slow-moving and sluggish to change,  Microsoft was the symbol of corporate power in the technology industry. This outside agency, Wolff Olins would spearhead the dramatic recreation of Microsoft’s image. They would be responsible for the advertising and the association of Microsoft with icons that are cool and fun. Todd Simmons would work very closely with Albert Shum to ‘transform the company. They would change the style of Microsoft’s products to a unified design all the way to the new logos that Microsoft uses.

Microsoft is a company that has several very different multi-billion dollar companies. Simmons makes several very interesting comparisons between Microsoft and Apple. He says that Apple is an apple, one fruit, whereas Microsoft is a whole bowl of fruit. Where Apple has one ethos, it is a company that has only one business. It builds devices and the software that runs them and they have only one real target audience. Microsoft has many many business lines with completely different purposes and several very different target audiences. Getting all of these business lines running and moving at the same time is under a unified brand is a tremendous task.


Microsoft was one of the last companies that was delivering new products in a several year development cycle, whereas everyone else is delivering products yearly. Now with the introduction of Windows 8 and Windows Phone, Microsoft has ramped up to deliver new products yearly, and with Windows Blue later this year it will be solidified as a reality for the company.

“Your brand is exactly what people say it is at any given time.”

Your brand can change as quickly as it was initially created. It is essential to the success of any company. Microsoft was seen as a slow follower that rode on the fact that no one could compete with them in the industries that they controlled. Any brand can be changed. Simmons is responsible for shifting this perception. With these changes there had to be a place to start. That place was Windows.

Long the public symbol and the product that every person uses, Windows was where it had to begin. It is the delivery mechanism by which Microsoft can unilaterally deliver all of its other products. Changing Windows was the greatest risk, but also the greatest opportunity. Office is the ambassador of Microsoft to the other platforms. This is namely iOS and Android. Office will come to these platforms eventually. Office is a very different business from the Windows business. “It’s mobile, it runs on Android, it runs on iOS, so it’s a little more multi-faceted [than Windows].”


It’s not over yet. They are also working to remake all of the major brands at Microsoft. This includes Bing, Skype, Xbox and more, with the ultimate goal of creating a unified ‘Microsoftness’ across all the brands. The idea is that users will feel a unified feeling that the product that you are using is a Microsoft product. They showed off sketches for the re-branding of Xbox and Bing, but these are early sketches that have almost certainly evolved since these sketches were made before Windows 8 was even finished.

There was a lot of information presented in the 45 minutes or so that they presented, and they could have still kept going. This definitely helps to fill in the many ‘why’ questions that are left by Microsoft’s many decisions with Windows 8 and its other product lines as of late.

  • meowth

    A painted turd is still a turd.

  • Billscarnage

    Seriously, MS has milked dry the term “re-imagining”. Enough already.