Trainers to telephones

One of the key figures in redefining the Windows experience on smartphones is Albert Shum, who's been with Microsoft for barely two-and-a-half two years. His previous employer for 12 years: sneaker manufacturer Nike, where he worked in design.

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Albert ShumAlbert Shum was offered the job of director of "Mobile Experience Design" for the Windows Phone group, with the challenge to recreate the operating system's user interface in a way that would let users "emotionally" connect with Windows smartphone.

Importing outsiders with fresh eyes and ideas, and giving them a free hand, is one side of the coin. The other is pairing outsiders like Shum with veteran insiders who are invested in and responsible for recreating a growth business. Andrew Lees, who grew Microsoft's server products into a multi-billion dollar franchise, took over the company's Mobile Communications Business about three years ago. He's brought in top marketing, engineering, and developer relations talent from other business units, such as the Zune media player and Windows Media Center projects.

The work of Shum and his colleagues on redesigning the mobile user experience for Microsoft customers is the first visible result of this effort, and Windows Phone 7 was unveiled last month.

With Windows Phone 7, smartphone users start with three buttons at the bottom of the screen: start, search and back. The initial lock screen gives way to a completely redesigned start screen (what Shum and others call the "Start Experience"). Microsoft has discarded the familiar grid-like display of application icons.

Instead, the user interface offers a flexible, customisable display that combines elegantly clean, crisp text with intelligent icons, dubbed "live tiles" because they're linked with online data sources such as Facebook or Flickr or e-mail, grouped in "hubs" or collections that bring together related data from applications, corporate servers like Microsoft Exchange, and the web. Text and tiles "overflow" the touch screen, but users pan quickly through arrangements that are visually consistent in each hub.

Shum has a background in engineering and architecture, and a master's degree from the Stanford Design Program. Avid in programming, he's an equally avid cyclist and runner.

You've said elsewhere that you don't want to just "enhance the experience, but make a deeper emotional connection with products." What do you mean by that?

One of our key experience threads is making it personal. How do you make a product personal? The answer is: with the user's content. Consumers want their content on their device. Our live tiles make the user interface come alive through your content.

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