Ask the Artist: How Windows 7's Iconic Home Screen Evolved

Chuck Anderson, creator of Windows 7's laid-back, cerulean-cool default wallpaper and login screen, showed me the evolution of his work—including Easter eggs, avoiding Mac tropes and why flaming skulls didn't make the final design.

Chuck is the embodiment of the dreams of thousands of DeviantArt users—he started out in screenprinting just after high school, worked for t-shirt maker Threadless by day and began creating a name for himself in the online art community by night. Under the pseudonym NoPattern (now the name of his design shop), he achieved incredible success at a startlingly young age: You've seen his work before on projects with Pepsi, Urban Outfitters, Reebok, and many more. My personal favorite has to be the cover art for Lupe Fiasco's fantastic debut album, Food & Liquor:

Ask the Artist: How Windows 7's Iconic Home Screen Evolved

Today, at only 24, he's achieved a new level of stardom: His designs for Windows 7 will literally be seen by hundreds of millions of people over the lifespan of the OS. Microsoft hunted him down, and it was definitely a good call; Windows 7 is the best-looking Windows OS ever, and its style is reflected in the cool screens designed by Chuck. Check out some of his previous work in the below gallery (including a great graffiti-inspired piece for Zune) to get a sense of his style.

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Since he's such an independent guy, I was curious to hear how he managed to collaborate with Microsoft, the tech corporation most likely to have the word "monolithic" as an epithet. Chuck says the actual design team he worked with was quite small and surprisingly open to his ideas. The first thing they showed him back in December 2008 were those glorious Dr.-Seuss-as-read-by-Hunter-S.-Thompson wallpapers, so it was clear right off the bat that censorship wouldn't really be a problem.

The two pieces took about four months, start to finish. Chuck started with a pencil and paper, and moved on to Photoshop for the Windows 7 sheen, but the two pieces retain that sketchy feel—in fact, all the individual threads on the login screen were hand-drawn with a Wacom tablet.

This first gallery shows the stages of the default login screen, the first image to be completed. Later came the default desktop wallpaper and Windows 7's physical packaging, which both have the login screen as their aesthetic jumping-off point. This is where it begins—click on the first thumbnail to read Chuck's own words about how his vision evolved.

The Login Screen

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As it turns out, there are a few repetitions of the number seven in the login screen, but weirdly enough, that little Easter egg started out as an accident. Once Chuck and Microsoft noticed that there were seven white strands on the bottom left, they started repeating the number: There are also seven leaves, seven branches, and seven flower petals in the yellow quadrant of the Windows logo.

The default Windows 7 desktop is one of my favorites; usually the very first thing I do with a new computer is replace whatever wallpaper comes with it (Apple is a particular offender here—I hate that cheeseball space motif) and yet I happily left this one on my latest computer.

The Default Desktop

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Microsoft sought out this young, independent, mixed media digital artist rather than going through traditional channels, and it resulted in a fresh new look that couldn't have come from another source. It's credit to them, as is the walkthrough itself. You'd never see Apple showing, say, the pieces that mysteriously got tossed aside in favor of that clip-art snow leopard on their latest OS X packaging, would you?

Thanks to Chuck and to Microsoft for showing us their rejects. [NoPattern, Chuck's Twitter]

Note: Speaking of rejects, you might notice that all the screens are capped at 700 pixels in width. It's because Microsoft isn't dumb: They don't want shots they took a pass on becoming the wallpaper of netbooks and PCs all over. Sorry guys, we tried.