Journey of Microsoft Holiday Character Design Part 1: Character Illustrations for FY22
Designed by Eunice Choi
Quick Overview of the Project:
The Microsoft Studio team is responsible for developing creative assets for holiday sales, including key promotional moments like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We create themed backgrounds and holiday graphics, which are then distributed to cross-channel teams and creative agencies. These assets are used to produce deliverables such as digital ads, social media posts, and emails. One of the most meticulous aspects of our work is assembling a comprehensive toolkit. This toolkit acts as a rulebook, guiding users to create cohesive content and ensuring the quality of the work.
Character design process
My main focus was to create fun, globally-friendly animal characters designed to bring joy to our audience. These holiday characters would warmly invite everyone to celebrate with Microsoft, deliver gifts, help unwrap them, and dance to holiday music. The task initially seemed daunting, but I started by sketching a few birds.​​​​​​​
Initially, we wanted to include a lot of colors, making the bird look rather tropical. The bird made sense for those living in the southern hemisphere, but we felt it might be pushing too much into that realm.
The overarching aesthetic for FY22 holiday campaign consists of flat, geometric shapes filled with vibrant colors and pattern. We also bring in gold to add a touch of holiday magic. Our characters follow that same look and feel.​​​​​​​
Our characters come in six colors: clay, juniper, neutral, orchid, reef, and Xbox green.
Panda vs. Llama?
After the bird, our team brainstormed what other holiday animals could be. A reindeer? A fox? A little mouse, like the ones in Cinderella? The list goes on.​​​​​​​

Sketches of penguins and a deer
We also had some interesting contenders like a panda and a llama. These two animals piqued my interest the most because they felt fresh and different from the stereotypical “holiday” and “wintry” vibe. Pandas are exotic, lovely, and well-received by almost everyone. Llamas are just so fun with their funny mannerisms and fluffiness (the internet especially loves llamas).​​​​​​​
Initial llama ideas
As a large corporation, Microsoft needed to ensure our characters were culturally appropriate. Unfortunately, the panda couldn’t make the cut, as they are animals of reverence in China and other Asian regions, and we were advised to avoid any misuse. The llama, however, passed the test, and we got the green light to proceed.
Final Characters for FY22
​​​​​​​Here are the final characters who brought joy to our Holiday season in 2021. The deer and the llama were reserved for larger placements. The fox, the penguin, and the bird each represented a promotional moment.​​​​​​​
It was so much fun seeing my character creations debut in many live contents all over the world, spreading holiday cheer globally.​​​​​​​
Reflection and Conclusion
Overall, the FY22 holiday campaign was very well-received by both our stakeholders and our global audience. Our creatives successfully adapted the flat, geometric design aesthetic that was trendy at the time. The variety of colors with a touch of gold brought excitement to designers who appreciated the range of options to play with. Our characters were so popular that we received requests for more variations for future FY23 and FY24 holiday campaigns. ​​​​​​​Special love went to our llama, who was the most popular character despite its chunky size. Our bird was used the most for its versatility. The penguin was well-received for its quirky personality, sliding around and having so much fun. Having these characters play a part in what could come off as dry, sales-driven moments helped bring in narratives that were personable, inclusive, and lighthearted.

Creative Lead: Dawn Hill
Editorial Lead: Mel Blume
Design Team: Dawn Hill, Sara Kaiyala, Sam Stuesser, Eunice Choi, Kat Caro, Michelle Hatcher
PM: Lisa Porter
Animator: Sunhee Jung

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