Tjeerd Hoek, director of Windows UX, also leaves Microsoft (Design)

Tjeerd HoekA Microsoft employee who worked with Tjeerd said only a few weeks ago, “I hope Microsoft is able to get great use out of him – he has true talent.” I guess he didn’t see this coming either.

The trend is clear, Microsoft is losing some of its most dedicated, most talented and most inspiring employees from the Windows client group. It started with the father of Windows, Jim Allchin; followed closely by the person who changed the perception of user experience, Hillel Cooperman; most recently the graphics-wonderwoman, Jenny Lam; and now the top-gun of Windows User Experience, Tjeerd Hoek.

It shocks me as much as it probably shook the entire Microsoft Design group to comprehend such a key figure leave the company so unexpectedly. As someone who chats with him frequently (we have some very memorable conversations) and have met him in-person at CES this January, it didn’t cross my mind even once that he wanted to do something else. He was so passionate and involved with everything he did. But then again, I said the same about Jenny Lam. 😉

Windows NeptuneEven though it is a bit hard to believe, it’s even harder to believe Tjeerd has been with Microsoft for 13 years, nearly as remarkable as Gandalf Allchin’s 17. He joined Microsoft in 1994 straight out of a masters in industrial design from Holland with the ambition to “do something meaningful and design products that are being used by lots and lots of people”. Over those years, he’s worked on everything from Microsoft At Work, Microsoft Office, Windows “Neptune”, Windows XP, MSN Explorer and most recently (for the longest amount of time), Windows Vista.

There’s a lot of experience, expertise and PowerPoint slides at stake here. Microsoft is not only losing an employee, but an employee who knows how it all works, how teams works best, the strengths and weaknesses of each designer, and general user experience expertise. Every person who I’ve come across who’s had experience working with him or for him speaks highly of him. So far yet, there doesn’t seem to be anyone replacing his position.

Frog DesignTjeerd has taken up a position for Executive Creative Director at Frog Design, a leading industrial design company with offices around the world, including Seattle. I assume Tjeerd has joined Frog because many of his former Microsoft Design colleagues are there, most notably Cees Van Dok who worked with him on Windows Vista. But also, Frog has a rich history of supporting and developing for new Microsoft technologies including most recently, Windows Vista and Expression. Some of their recent works include the candy-licious WPF-powered Yahoo Messenger.

Hopefully, I’ll catch up with Tjeerd next week to find out about why he left, the fate of his infamous PowerPoint deck as well as everything surrounding Microsoft and Frog Design and who he thinks I should stalk next. Until then, I wish him the best of luck at Frog and it certainly won’t be the last we’ll see of Tjeerd in the world of Windows. :)

Update: Frog Design has now published a press release showing off their new catch.

22 insightful thoughts

  1. good. i’d like to see some fresh blood in there. all those people above are in some way responsible for the the disastrous last 5 years.

  2. So, basically everybody you stalk leaves Microsoft. I bet there are a few people inside MS who would like for you to start following Ballmer. :)

  3. All the best for him! The blue orb is one of the best design decisions made for Vista and could end in a new design metaphor for important tasks in combination with the Office menu and Windows Live orb. (Where the orange theme for AERO glass is one of the worst. 😉 )

    Wasn’t the frog design team responsible for “Luna”? These icons are still the best ever created for an ui, period! So, maybe there is hope we will get a shadow under IE’s icon in version 7.5? ;P

  4. @steve: Maybe. From an objective standpoint Vista’s ui has the worst quality of all versions but this must not be the fault of the design team itself. I belief that there are a lot of intern problems in self-organisation that causes this.

    So maybe MS will hire frog & fish (or buy them both :o) )

  5. wow, now virtually everyone who worked on Longhorn is gone! I wonder if it has anything to do with MS’s attempt to get rid of the “longhorn” OS. Tjeerd will be missed none the less.

  6. There are many great designers, and I think that most of the designers/developers in MS actually ARE replacable. They’re not gods. Nonetheless, I wish him the best of luck too :)

  7. Oh my gosh “change” is a good thing. Even Walt Disney wanted the rides at his theme parks to always change! (And people still seem to whine, as you seem to be doing)

    While it’s “sad” to have smart people leave a company, it’s fine because new people will replace them.

    Blake Handler
    Microsoft MVP

  8. @Blake Handler: I couldn’t agree more with you. There are many talented people in this business and I don’t like the evangelism around a selected few of them.

    As a musician I know that you can get good by practising on one piece a long time. But to be great, you’ll have to gain more experience by exploring different pieces/genres.

    It’s the same with work. I think fresh will do him good, and as stated in the article; we’re not going to loose him in the world of Windows.

  9. @Morten

    As Microsoft grew past its humble origins, each and every employee got increasingly more replaceable. I think that, by now, even Ballmer and Gates could safely retire and Wall Street (which is to say “everybody that counts”) would barely notice.

    Still, this is not good for a company to be comprised of replaceable people. It starts to lose identity. Can you point the “vision” behind Vista? Or Exchange? Or Office 2007? I can’t – it’s a comitee-designed

    Microsoft is fixable, but it won’t be easy.

  10. Sorry… Hitting submit too early…

    Vista, Exchange and Office 2007 are designed by committee. They lack the consistence you can only achieve with a single vision. They can be huge, but not great.

  11. I guess Long will either be following Tjeerd all the way to frogdesigns or he would find another person to stalk at MS.

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