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Microsoft's Design Drive

Microsoft wants to change its reputation for functional and unremarkable design
Microsoft's Design Drive
Photograph by Robert Burroughs/Liaison (Gates); Kyle Johnson for Bloomberg Businessweek (Shum)

In 2010, Jon Bell was an interaction designer in the Seattle office of Frog Design, the company that created the beige cases for some of the iconic early Apple computers. Like many of his colleagues—and most of his profession—he worshiped Steve Jobs. While he’d owned a series of iPhones and MacBooks, he’d never purchased a Windows PC.

Still, in November 2010 curiosity led him to the mall to check out a Samsung phone running Microsoft’s brand-new Windows Phone software. It looked different from anything else on the market, a lively grid of different-sized rectangles with smooth transitions between apps. “I just had this spidey-sense that I couldn’t put into words,” says Bell. He bought the phone. Minutes later, he texted a friend at Microsoft to ask about jobs there. Bell, 33, joined in January 2011 and is now a Windows Phone design lead. His colleagues were aghast. “Unanimously, they said, ‘They’re doomed, that’s it, turn out the lights,’” he recalls.