Surface Special Edition merges new and classic designs with Windows 11 Bloom and Liberty
To celebrate a decade of Surface, a special edition of Microsoft’s signature 2-in-1 device draws its inspiration from Windows 11’s desktop wallpaper and nearly 150 years of history at a world-renowned global design house.
The Surface Pro Liberty Keyboard with Slim Pen 2*, which shows off the collaboration between Microsoft Surface and the London-based Liberty, is now available in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Japan (though supplies are limited).
“It’s such a contrast of things and you would never expect this to happen in some ways,” says Elliott Hsu, a principal hardware designer at Microsoft who headed a team that worked with Liberty to also create the laser engraved Surface Pro 9 Liberty Special Edition* and printed keyboard, which embodies the elaborate florals Liberty is known for and serves as a natural branch of the Windows 11 Bloom that debuted last year.
Windows 11 introduced Bloom to the world in 2021 as the very first image you saw on the screen: a desktop wallpaper that served as a symbolic image of starting anew with this operating system. Inspired by flowers, it was created entirely in the digital world.
That was something that fascinated Adam Herbert and his design team at Liberty, a company he’d long admired and loved before he started working there four years ago.
While Microsoft’s designers use technology in almost every step of their creative process, Liberty’s designers use pens, pencils and paper. They go outside to sketch. They draw from the real world.
“I’ve always loved Liberty,” Herbert says. “I think it is a key figure in the DNA of British design. We create things that feel traditional and also unexpected at the same time. All of our designs start out as a drawing, painting, collage or sketch. It’s a really interesting melting pot of ideas and design approaches.”
Herbert admits it was “mind-blowing” for him to see how Microsoft created the Bloom flower that’s come to symbolize Windows 11.
Established in 1875, Liberty has seen many trends come and go. But fashion and design being cyclical, the company has been able to ride many waves and stay relevant.
“What’s magical about their brand is a 90-year-old and a 19-year-old can wear the same scarf in a different way with the same print, and it works,” Hsu says. “From the design standpoint, we had always been inspired by Liberty and what they do, from their craftsmanship to brand ethos.”
It’s a proud tradition that Herbert grew to appreciate even more after discovering the vastness of Liberty’s archives, which reveals different eras of the company’s design history.
“Whatever we create now goes back into that archive,” Herbert says. “We look at designs from 100 years ago and we redraw them and bring them back to life. I love to think that in 100 years, Liberty Designers will look at what we did now and they might revisit our work and use it in a totally different way.”
Liberty and Microsoft’s relationship began in 2019, when Hsu visited Liberty’s headquarters in London to find design inspiration in the brand’s well-known floral patterns. At that time, he and Herbert – who hit it off almost immediately – focused on the Washington state flower, the rhododendron, in trying to make an initial connection between the brands.
The pandemic put a pause on their progress on the project, but it reiterated something that became integral to developing this special edition: the prominence of PCs in daily life.
“PCs and devices have become even more personal to people,” Hsu says. “During the pandemic, your PC never went away. It was always on your desk, always on your table. Everything in your personal and professional life came through that portal, which keeps us connected in trying times.”
For Herbert, his interaction with technology during the pandemic pushed him out of his comfort zone. Suddenly he had to work and communicate with his team while they were scattered all over London, when previously they put together design presentations with boards that had physical fabric swatches attached to them.
“It felt important with the Microsoft project to do something that felt very intrinsically Liberty”
“Microsoft Teams was our savior in that process. We have different partners all over the world and I think it’s opened up a whole new way of working, which is really exciting,” says Herbert, who had previously worked at Paul Smith, Kate Spade and other fashion- and pattern-centric brands. “Technology had become part of our everyday landscape.”
Hsu adds, “And if it’s always there, why can’t it feel more like a part of the home? Why couldn’t it be the beautiful centerpiece?”
There have been many iterations of the Surface design over the years, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Windows 11 that the design inspiration really clicked. With the 10th anniversary of Surface coming up, Hsu thought this would be a great opportunity for Herbert and his team at Liberty to take Bloom and translate it to a style of their own.
“Liberty owns florals in the fashion sense. And we created this operating system that has a floral,” Hsu says. “They’re intertwined, tying together hardware and software.” There’s even an exclusive Liberty 11 Windows 11 theme that comes with this special edition.
“We’ve never really begun from a starting point of something that’s a digitally created flower,” Herbert says. But Bloom resonated with him since florals are part of Liberty’s core identity.
“It felt important with the Microsoft project to do something that felt very intrinsically Liberty,” Herbert says. “Successful collaborations and partnerships build a bridge between two unexpected brands. You take things from one world and apply them into the other and vice versa. One of the things that I was totally fascinated by was the craftsmanship in Microsoft. Our design processes are actually very similar. We just have different outcomes. It’s been an interesting journey.”
The laser engraving intrigued Herbert, who saw in this merging of fashion and technology worlds something akin to fine jewelry.
“We could try things out in a different way that neither of us had maybe done before,” Herbert says.
Hsu says it’s a collaboration that worked out well for this project.
“We felt like this was our moment to say we’re here to stay. We’ve established ourselves. We are a brand and now we’re looking ahead into the next 10 years,” Hsu says. “We have a 10-year history of innovation and looking ahead, we will continue our innovation but also disrupt the market in ways like this that bring a personal and emotional connection to our products.”
* Limited quantities only at Liberty and Microsoft Stores in select markets.