When Windows Vista,
Those are pretty high stakes for a few notes. So how to come up with the right sound? "I knew from day one that it would be a tricky process," says project maestro Steve Ball, group program manager for Vista. In the end, it took 18 months—and a team of 20 composers, sound designers, engineers, and developers.
Ball began by asking 10 artists, designers, and musicians—among them Kid Crimson's Robert Fripp, drummer Pat Mastelotto, composer Tucker Martine, and Oscar-winning sound designer Randy Thom—to come up with three to six sounds that were uplifting and unique, energizing and authentic. They submitted 500 entries, some orchestrally ornate, others weird and sound effect-y.
The key insight that helped the team focus came when Martine, listening to one riff, mimicked it, clap-clap, clap-clap. It was a rhythmic breakthrough, echoing the message, "Win-dows, Vis-ta." They determined that a peaceful theme was what the hypercaffeinated, overstimulated PC users of the world needed now. "It needed to be a soft light from the corner, rather than a spotlight," Ball says.
After focus-group testing in Los Angeles, the team picked three finalists. Jim Allchin, copresident of the Windows Group, made the final call: a Tucker Martine rhythm, with dual glassy, ascending melodies in four chords (echoing the four colors of the Windows Vista "window") atop a short, harpy Robert Fripp soundscape, with orchestration by Ball.
That wasn't so hard.
Correction: This article should have identified Robert Fripp's band as King Crimson.
According to studies by branding guru Martin Lindstrom and market research firm Millward Brown, sound has a 41% chance of influencing how people perceive brands.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.