As we mark 25 years of Moving Brands, we say goodbye to long-time MB’er and former MD Geoff Linsell, who has retired to start a new chapter. In the third of a four-part series looking back at his fascinating Moving Brands story, Geoff remembers a remarkable project that would become a defining moment for the company in its focus on the future of humanity.
The call came out of nowhere, but at just the right time, with Moving Brands up against it financially.
“Hello? I just joined Hewlett-Packard California, and I need a branding agency. I’m going around the world meeting interesting people that have been recommended to me or I’ve come across. I want to come and see you — I’ll be in London at 2.30 pm on Thursday, and I’ll give you 90 minutes.”
When Glenna Patton pulled up in a chauffeur-driven black car and swept glamorously into the studio, it marked the start of our big American adventure — a journey which led us to where we are today, with studios in San Francisco and New York and MBers dotted across the States.
“By then, we’d managed to do the building up a bit, so it wasn’t quite old skip doors anymore, but it was still fairly rough around the edges,” recalls Geoff. “We have tried and tried to make the building more refined, but it always wins… it will always be a converted factory, with concrete floors and metal windows that leak water and cold air, and toilets which look like they came from 1947.”
Great stories of daring
The meeting lasted 90 minutes, as promised, during which the Moving Brands team did their best to impress.
“We told her the great stories of daring,” says Geoff. “What we’d done with Nokia and all the rest of it. And then she says, ‘Oh, my 90 minutes is up, I have another meeting, goodbye,’ and she sweeps out, gets in her black car, and away she goes.”
After hearing nothing for several weeks, the team was close to giving up hope when the call came.
“Alright, I went around the world, I met loads of different people, and you’re the ones I’ve chosen. Can you come to California next week, for a two-week induction on the Hewlett-Packard Corporation?”
Looking back, Geoff retains a mild sense of disbelief at the train of events. “How did we get onto her list of agencies in cities worldwide? I suppose it was Nokia. But when she drew up on Charlotte Road, why didn’t she think, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ and pull away sharpish?”
Silicon Valley exploits
“However it happened, within two weeks, a team of us were on a plane to HP’s Silicon Valley headquarters. We stayed there for two weeks, learning, listening, and walking around, thinking, ‘We’re in Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard’s perfectly preserved office. That’s their desk. This is amazing.”
Originally commissioned in 2008, the HP rebranding job was as exciting as it was challenging. Consumers and business customers alike considered the once-iconic HP dull and old-fashioned. Unifying its portfolio behind a compelling vision presented an extraordinary business and creative opportunity — to transform the world’s largest technology company into its most powerful brand.
To make sure we were visible to as many people as possible and to understand the business as fully as possible, we spent two weeks out of every six in HP’s Palo Alto HQ, while our UK-based design team had to work US West Coast hours, which meant long, late nights.
During those stints across the pond, we helped them grapple with some fundamental questions around their identity and found at the core a conviction that technology must improve human life. We encapsulated this concept — that HP stands for something much more far-reaching and profound than its devices — simply as Human Progress. And over our two-and-a-half-year partnership, this was the ambitious vision we created for the tech giant’s future.
A defining moment
As well as providing another significant chapter in Moving Brands’ history, the saga also gave Geoff the highlight of his long career.
The moment came at the HP HQ after a branding workshop featuring members of the two teams. Ben (Wolstenholme) sketched the four lines of the HP mark in pencil on a piece of paper, and HP exec Phil Kenny held it up for a photo.
“That was the moment the logo was born,” says Geoff. “I can’t tell you how much I love sitting in a room in 2023, with somebody opposite me with an HP laptop open, and that mark is on the back of their laptop. And I say, ‘I was there when that was first sketched.’”
With HP undergoing internal upheaval, it took several years before the mark Moving Brands created finally emerged in 2016 on selected premium HP products, those four ultra-refined, forward-leaning lines causing an immediate stir.
Blessed with remarkable opportunities
As we evolved and further refined our craft over the following years, we would go on to work with many other US and Silicon Valley businesses, from Apple and Adobe to Facebook and Google. And the belief that creativity and innovation should benefit humanity has gradually worked its way deep into the fabric of Moving Brands as we strive to channel our skills, energy and curiosity towards cultivating a more sustainable, equitable, and representative future for all.
The HP story is one of many that has left Geoff marvelling at Moving Brands’ incredible journey. “The business has always been blessed with these remarkable opportunities — remarkable interventions with remarkable companies,” he says.
The Moving Brands story is one of passion and fearlessness, hard work and attention to detail, collaboration and innovation. As we look ahead to the next 25 years and beyond, we plan to make the most of our fortunate position as a partner to many of the world’s powerful brands by working to promote human and ecological well-being at every level.
“We wanted the best creative partner in the world, so we went to Moving Brands.”
VP of HP Brand Strategy and Experience Design.