Case study: Microsoft Sonic Signature

The Challenge

Microsoft had an interesting challenge. They wanted an application they could use on their new product, the Surface Pro 4 tablet, at their first product announcement event for a laptop. Microsoft wanted an application that engages people, showcases the processing power and capabilities of the Surface Pro 4, and created both a memorable and favorable experience.

An additional challenge was that this application had to perform at Microsoft’s live event announcing the Surface Pro 4 with many VIPs in attendance. The application has to work in a way so that hundreds of people at a live event immediately understand how to use it. The application has to be intuitive and cannot fail. This created unique engineering challenges related to handling both server and bandwidth performance issues. As well as user interface and user experience issues.

It was decided that we would build an application that creates musical ringtones from signing your name on the Surface Pro 4. Once the musical ringtone is finished you then email that ringtone to yourself for use on your digital devices. This presented some distinct challenges. How to take someone’s signature and convert it into a melody? No matter what someone writes on the Surface Pro the melody has to sound good—it should sound musical not mechanical. The resulting melodies needed to sound good people or people would not email it to themselves and the application would not succeed. Additionally if you sign your name twice the same way, the resulting melody must be the same if the application is truly performing as envisioned. The application needs to create a real, true melody based on user input and not use pre-made melodies that are randomly selected for display. The application has to work flawlessly in order for people to actually use the ringtone they create, but how do you make a pleasant melody from a drawing with multiple instruments? That is the primary challenge.

The Strategy

We thought through many options, and we discarded many in the process of developing this application for Microsoft. It was key to have staff members with education and backgrounds in music and music theory. It was an invaluable advantage for us—not all studios could tackle this project. The core challenge was how to make a ringtone that was created from measurable, random user input and have it sound good. The resulting musical notes had to sound good next to one another when heard. The solution for our resident musicians was brillant, use the pentatonic music scale as musical notes in this scale sound good together. We made the scale match the length of a signature—shorter length is higher scale, longer is lower scale. We also selected notes based on the strokes of a signature. Higher strokes are higher notes, and lower strokes are lower notes. For the ringtones we used string instruments. The right hand playing single notes with the left hand adding chords for structure, a violin for background atmosphere and a cymbal roll and crash for excitement. This resulted in an uplifting, cheerful, pleasant melody which matches the brand persona that Microsoft wants to portray in the marketplace.

We also focused on having the application show the strengths of the Surface Pro and how easy it is to use. The application greets you and instructs you on what it will do for you—sign your name and click ‘next’ and the resulting melody plays for you along with animation. The average length of ringtones created is about four seconds. If you like the resulting melody the application then allows you to attach the new ringtone to an email and send it to yourself to load onto your digital devices. The responsive email sent to you contains the ringtone in different formats to support Windows, Apple, and Android devices as well as links to social media so that you can share on your network of choice and anyone can listen to it.

The Result

We have high quality standards and expectations for every project, and with this one for Microsoft even more so. We sent Big Behavior team members to provide onsite support, security, and peace of mind at the event in New York City. Microsoft created an experiential marketing event for the Surface Pro 4 in that space with hundreds of people in attendance including many VIPs.

Despite a very tight timeline and quickly advancing deadline schedule this application for Microsoft was a huge success. Microsoft executives from around the world praised it, and people in general loved it. They found it simple to use, intuitive and fun and were happy with the results. For example one man signed his wife’s name and emailed it to her, and then did the same for his kids. By the end of the event a majority of those in attendance had used it and emailed a ringtone to themselves.

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