A behind-the-scenes look at designing the new Hotmail: part one

A behind-the-scenes look at designing the new Hotmail: part one

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What we set out to accomplish

Talking to customers gives us great ideas about how to make Hotmail better.

One of the things we hear about the most is inbox overload: folks want to find important emails quickly. Whether it’s an important back-and-forth conversation with friends or a YouTube video that brightened your day, it can be hard to find the messages that matter most. When we set out to design the new Hotmail, our main goal was to solve the problem of too much clutter.

In addition to cleaning up the inbox, customers also told us they want to save time doing email. In response, we designed the email interface to make your message content come alive so that you can enjoy it from right in the email itself. For example, when your sister sends you a link to photos on Flickr, you won’t actually have to go to Flickr. When you buy a package online, you can see where it is from inside your shipping receipt. When you’re collaborating on an Office document, you can do it online without having to install Office. Our goal was to make these features natural and easy to use by putting a lot of careful thought into a clear and uncluttered design that would save you clicks and work without getting in your way.

The design principles we used throughout the process

Our design and research team is made up of people who’ve spent years learning about what our customers care about and how they expect to interact with services on the web. Over time, we’ve developed design principles to make sure we do what’s right. These principles, the Windows User Experience Principles, are intended to make changes feel smooth, not like a sudden “big bang.”


We realize that change is hard for our customers, so we don’t take it lightly. Any change we undertook needed to have clear purpose and a worthwhile payoff.

Questions we asked:

  • Do we fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of the previous experience?
  • Have we considered all the drawbacks of the change?
  • Will people thank us for making this change?


We need to make the hard design choices so that our experience is natural and intuitive at the right moments and trust that people will explore the rest.

Questions we asked:

  • What is the experience going to be great at?
  • Are we presenting interface elements when they’re relevant?


It’s easy to get excited about making every possible thing new and get carried away refreshing or rethinking every last detail, but that doesn’t always make for good design.

Questions we asked:

  • Are we reducing what's unnecessary in our design?
  • Are we reusing what works and reinventing only when needed?
  • How is any new concept justifiably different from what's already there?

A closer look at some of the big changes

In my next two posts, I’m going to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at how we arrived at particular designs for some of our bigger changes in the new Hotmail. I’ll be showing you ideas and concepts that we debated and discussed with Hotmail customers along the way so you can see the range of options we considered and evaluated with real-life customers.

Michael Kopcsak – Senior User Experience Lead, Windows Live

UPDATE: We’re working hard to get the new Hotmail rolled out to the rest of the world. Read this update post for news on the rollout, and once you have the new Hotmail in your hands, look for parts two and three of our look at the design process.

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  • tflf001
    1 Posts

    Forced to Hotmail by my ISP when they decided to outsource webmail to Microsoft Live -   it was a huge step backwards IMHO

    I recently got upgraded to the " new"  Hotmail and am not impressed

    - I don't use my email account for social networking and don't want to (like a lot of people)

    - All the extra services, especially Messenger,  should be opt in instead of automatic, or easy to opt-out of.  

    - I'm pretty much tired of being told what's good for me - at the age of 56, I prefer to make informed decisions and chose only those options I intend to use.  

    - I also tired of being treated like an idiot  by an application on my computer:

         The inboxes for all my email accounts are normally kept empty  - why am I punished with the oh so cute and

                                   irritating,  system generated, no way to opt out of :

    "Wow, you've got a very clean inbox! (Did you know you can receive messages from other e-mail accounts?) "

    Instead of one size fits all, how about a basic package with add-ons I can chose to use if and when I want to???


    Hotmail has successfully made it impossible to use their "new and improved" hotmail to anyone who doesn't have the latest and greatest new computer or web browser. Me? Well, I have a Mac OS X version 10.5.6 and it will not allow me to download the latest version of the browsers that you say work for the "new and improved hotmail". Mind you...my computer is TWO YEARS OLD, why am I blocked out because I dont have the latest and greatest? And dont go telling me to download a PC backed explorer like IE or GoogleChrome because you should know those are horrible to have on a Mac, they slow your computer and freeze everything. You need to have a solution for me that involves a Mac driven internet browser.

    Now to my issues, hotmail has completely frozen me out of my account. I cannot reply to emails, I cannot write new emails, nothing works. I have job offers and interviews coming in my inbox and I cannot, CANNOT, reply to any of them. Did you hear that hotmail? You are costing me jobs! Money!

    What makes this worse is that I have been on the help forums for hotmail for 5 days now, doing everything they are telling me to, giving them all the information they are asking for and what to I get? The same automated response over and over. And you know what? I am one of 30,000!!! Yes...30,000 people complaining in there...and that is only the section about "reading and writing issues".

    Pay attention those at hotmail who are patting yourselves of the back...go listen to what real people are talking about:


    Don't take it from me....take it from those 30,000 people who have the guts to speak out. This was the worst thing ever.

    In one more day I am off to gmail if this does not get fixed. They will import everything for me...how nice, and easy of them to be so helpful to their consumers...

  • Cyrak6
    3 Posts

    Hey! I've got an idea! Why don't all you keyboard jockeys quit kissing each other's a** about how wonderful this POS is, and come down to the ghetto where most of your 360 million users actually live?? It's called the real world!!

    Check out this thread, for starters: windowslivehelp.com/thread.aspx

    In it you can find enlightening insights into just how "great" your beloved creation really is, as well as how helpful and "down-to-earth" your awesome support staff are. They obviously really take the time to read user complaints, and personally respond to each one. Of course they would never dream of simply cutting and pasting the EXACT same robotic responses over and over and over, regardless of relevancy or REALITY.

    I am a Military Contractor working in Afghanistan, and my only access to email is through the computers at my work, so unfortunately, I don't have the option of "optimizing my browser" or "running a Fiddle Trace" or "using a different computer or internet provider" - besides, why should I have to??? They were all working just fine before you forced this abomination on us! Not that it would work anyway, because thousands of people have tried it, and I don't hear ONE of them on that thread saying it fixed the problem. The only solutions seem to be using Google Chrome or switching to AOL or Gmail. Excellent marketing strategy, geniuses! I'm sure Google is laughing their way to the bank!

    Thanks to you and your brilliant idea of cramming this "upgraded" joke with a bunch of useless and superfluous graphics, links, features, and other unnecessary crap, and linking it to worthless "social networking" sites, now my company's computer system thinks that I am trying to access Facebook or Messenger or some crap whenever I click on my Contacts, and blocks me! So even if it worked right (which it absolutely DOESN'T), I still wouldn't be able to use it over here! I'm sure the soldiers I share this base with who use Hotmail are just thrilled right now that they cannot access their email to communicate with their friends and family. Great job, guys!!

    How about TESTING something like this atrocity before you shove it down everyone's throats? Or I know! How about giving us a CHOICE in whether we want to be your guinea pigs? News flash! WE DON'T!!!


  • Did you set out to accomplish alienation of your loyal hotmail users?  To all those hotmail users who have not yet had the misfortune of experiencing the new hotmail and are 'looking forward' to it: enjoy the old version while you still have access.  This new version is rife with bugs, useless and necessary features, tiny font, and FORCED social networking linking, etc.  There has a been a huge outcry against this horrible new version that was unilaterally imposed on hotmail users.  Did I want this? NO!  Was I asked if I wanted this? NO!  Was I given the option to opt-out of this? NO!  Do I have the option of reverting back to the old hotmail (the one that actually works and is user-friendly and THAT I CAN ACTUALLY READ)? NO!

    What were you thinking??????

    GIVE ME BACK MY OLD HOTMAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • so I've finally gotten the new "upgraded" version to each of my hotmail accounts.  I don't like it.  I can't send an email with just an attachment anymore, it gets flagged claiming it's spam.  Well That's how I send out my resumes and cover letters.  Also I don't like it when I sign into hotmail I have to quickly sign out of messenger so it doesn't sign me out of my downloaded version and change my name and display photo there.  It's quite annoying.  I'm sure some features are fantastic (ie the expanded attachment limit).  But you should be giving the users the options to install the upgrade and also what features they'd want for their upgrade.  A lot of users can't send or even read an email because their O/S is older than Vista or Windows 7.  A lot of older computers won't allow a system upgrade because they are older.  Why force people to purchase a new computer when the old version worked just fine.  There are a LOT of complaintsabout this upgrade, and they (including myself) would like the old version back until you give us the options we so desire.  Also you need to fix the problems and get rid of the bugs before you launch something onto over 100 million customers.  It's not fair to us and it's not fair to your tech support who have to listen to us complain about the problems.  Do Something about it Please.  I know you've already lost a lot of users because of this upgrade, and I'm sure you'll be losing a lot more if it continues.

  • The hotmail upgrade is being done in clusters. I was just upgraded and having issues like a lot of other users.

    Read about them here at the Windows Live Solution Center.



  • Please make sure you guys provide mobile facility in Nepal as well

    Zip code :-


  • @bRonCOde - Thanks for your feedback, we'll have more info to share on this blog in due course.

  • bRonCOde
    24 Posts

    @Ben Vincent The latest post indicated ActiveSync for "later this summer"  but no mention of ssl.  So what does that mean, even later?

  • bRonCOde
    24 Posts

    @Ben Vincent Perhaps I missed it, but did this blog ever make clear that wave4 has subwaves?  In case you didn't, you should make clear (post) that upgraded accounts will not have all the features mentioned as being part of wave4

  • evilc676
    13 Posts

    After all this time of waiting for Hotmail Wave 4 and now getting it I really don't like it at all.

    Contacts have taken a step back by saying they will automatically update fields - I want to control what contact info I have for my contacts, and not to be overwritten unless I'm happy for this to happen.

    Really dislike!  

    Also just seems too busy and messy with contacts.

    Definately not clean and streamlined.

  • @bRonCOde - Hotmail isn't one big monolithic platform built by a single engineering team. As a result we ship different parts at different times based on the schedule we built when we started the Wave. We're going to continue to update everyone through this blog when we have news to share. Thanks for your interest in Hotmail, we appreciate it.

  • bRonCOde
    24 Posts

    @Ben Vincent Has wave4 been broken up into multiple smaller releases?  Is there more info on this?  How many releases?  Feature breakdown for each?  Timing? When will the ssl release take place?

  • @bRonCOde - SSL is not part of this release, we'll share more details on it's availability on this blog in due course.

  • I do not have the new Hotmail Wave 4 yet. But my question for Hotmail plus Members who have the update, is did the ads disappear? Since the rollout date of Windows Live Hotmail Wave 4, I and some other Hotmail Plus subscribers have had ads in our accounts. I have been to tons of forums including the Microsoft Support Forum to complain about it, and nothing has been done. I figured that maybe this was just part of them rolling out the upgrade and the ads would disappear once you were upgraded to 4.

  • bRonCOde
    24 Posts

    I don't see the option in new hotmail to configure full session ssl?  Is it there?  Also, where are the instructions to configure full session ssl in deltasync clients?

  • Mine just updated as well. Will the birthdays of my FaceBook-based contacts eventually show on my Contacts Birthdays calendar?

  • I have the new hotmail now, and I am exploring the new features right now :)

    it looks good.

  • treize13
    12 Posts

    Wow, I can now say I have the new Hotmail!!!

  • To be honest, I don't really like how you're instantly shown as "Online" on the sidebar for the MSN Messenger. I'd like it if we were able to be shown "offline" instead of constantly online. I tried to change it, but no cigar.  I wish there were more options in the new Hotmail.

  • @WolfScott - Generally speaking once you are signed into Hotmail, you won't need to re-sign in to other Windows Live Services for a specific period of time. But that's not true in all cases, especially when it comes to sensitive data (password, credit card details, your documents, access to your home machine etc etc) where we ask you to sign in again. This is done to reduce the surface area an attacker has to get to your sensitive data. As we add new services we make a conscious decision about which type of authentication to use.

    Holm and HealthVault will make similiar decisions based on the nature of their content. Personally I'm fine if HealthVault prompts me all the time, you don't want anyone else getting to that data.

  • Maybe this isn't the correct place to post this, but I am wondering when Windows Live Hotmail will have a dashboard associated with it, that gives me links to all my Windows Live/Microsoft services I am using or connected to, like Mesh (soon to be replaced by Sync, unfortunately), Hohm, HealthVault, etc...  I beleive that would be a great benefit.  Right now, even when signed in to Hotmail, I have to sign in to any other service.  I want to sign in once and go to the services I want to without signing in again.  How about some true integration.

  • @Rohan Chrome is epic. I really like IE because it integrates well though, I'm just waiting for IE 9 before I consider switching.

  • Just in case anyone cares, I feel that Google Chrome is the best browser. Both Firefox and IE are too slow for me.

  • @RMR1969 Firefox is not 100% better, that is not a fact, and you cannot prove it. So do not stop trying to push it as one.

  • PWK
    7 Posts

    I've been listen to the hype for months know.  Maybe the Hotmail team should index everyone's mail before making the announcement public?   Mmm no that to logical.

  • I just downloaded Windows Live MM Beta 4 two days ago. I was working on some video from my trip to Israel. I can't tell you how amazing the program is. Well done you guys. With a little creativity you can get the application to do just about anything. Although I would like to see some layering abilities introduced at some point. Here's a link to the video I created yesterday for the opening title sequence. Thanks for a job well done!


  • According to wikipedia, " The new version was released on June 15, 2010 and is rolling out to Hotmail's 360 million users (and new users) over the course of the following six weeks. The rollout started with under 1% of people having the new Hotmail after almost 4 weeks. Microsoft have confirmed that the upgrade process will soon speed up."

  • Weiqi
    7 Posts

    Its all nice to read and see , but when will the users actually get to see the new Hotmail in Action? Its been quite a long time since Hotmail was announced, but all we are seeing is how its the next best thing to sliced bread but the majority of the users are yet to see if it in flesh.

    MS should not have announced the roll-out until they had completed the indexing or whatever technicality necessary to upgrade it for all users. Now this looks like a pure marketing hype with no real product for the consumers to compare.  Reading a new announcement or blog post about Hotmail from MS only aggravates the situation. Hope the roll-out happens faster and such situations are avoided in future.

  • @Michael   Now you guys need to try to kill time until every user will get the Hotmail version? Hope you' ve hired some Novelist because I can imagine it will take some more months ^^

  • sp1der
    35 Posts

    when will upgrade process complete???

    i need for exhcange active sync....

  • evilc676
    13 Posts

    I agree, the update/upgrade has been handled REALLY badly.  I was optimitsic about the new Hotmail (especially Exchange Sync - which may or may not be working when (IF) updated to Hotmail Wave 4).  However, given that GMail has that already in place, and as Hotmail updates just take far too long to roll out, as well as lagging way behind in the useful features then I may be better opting for my original plan of moving over to GMail for good.  Why they announced that Hotmail Wave 4 had been 'released' I have no idea!  Very bad marketing.  If it was done to hype us up it's had the opposite effect and made us frustrated.  Not really excited about the update anymore to be honest, and think it may well be GMail from now on.  I've used hotmail for YEARS!  Shame.

  • I can see more updates on windowsteamblog about new hotmail than my hotmail service.Show us the stuff..Now we have enough information to use the new features...that is...if we can get our hands on the new features.I think you handled the update pretty badly...You are not a startup with limited resource...

  • Does anyone have the new hotmail? I believe this new hotmail upgrade is a marketing tool. Microsoft should put out a schedule of the upgrade intervals. Also, they need to improve the standards of their products on Mac. I use Windows 7 and Office 2010 but I still have a Macbook. However, sync and messenger on Mac is not as great as it is on Windows. Windows need to improve that.

  • RMR1969
    13 Posts

    James-I didn't tell you to switch browsers, I said firefox is 100% better and that they have an add on that eliminated the ads for free.  You can use what ever you want and pay for a service that is free that I choose not to.  I thing you need to read and think before responding and not read and react.  I was not attacking you like you attacked me I was stating facts.  I guess if you are going to work for microsoft you have a bias and won't look at all options.

  • RMR1969
    13 Posts

    JohnCz-The webmail ad blocker for firefox not only removes the ads it also extends the right side of the screen to give you more room.  Any way, my frustration with hotmail is they announce an upgrade months ago and then they take on a snails pace to upgrade with very few updates on whats going on.  I think it's bad that a company would hype something and not get it out quicker.  Yes,  I have read that it takes time to update the servers and all that but Microsofts planning was poor at best.

  • Would be easier to understand the design changes if I actually had the new version. I realize it's a slow process but hearing all the hype and getting none of the action leaves one a bit wanting!

  • @RMR1969 I pay for my services, and FireFox is not 100% better. I hardly see how you even make a point. Telling someone to switch browsers does not fix the issue, it is simply offering a different alternative that I may not want. Please, don't go into tech support, as you would be horrible at it.  Also here is the thing, I have no problem spending money with companies I trust like MS. I plan on working for them one day anyway so who cares. I support MS, if you have an issue with that, I am not sorry.

  • JohnCz
    204 Posts

    @RMR1969, although your approach might work...I hardly consider $1.70/mo an issue and you gain more screen real estate.

  • RMR1969
    13 Posts

    Both JohnCz and James-If you use the Firefox browser that is 100% better than IE8.  You can get an add on called webmail ad blocker that blocks all ads in hotmail.  The best thing is it's free and you don't have to pay Microsoft a dime.

  • JohnCz
    204 Posts

    As a Office Live Small Business customer I've been very happy with using Hotmail as our base email system.  I do pay to get rid of the ads.  I'm curious how the upcoming changes compare with BPOS Exchange.

  • RMR1969
    13 Posts

    James-You just proved my point about Microsoft wanting you to upgrade to other products and spend your money.

  • @RMR1969 That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my life.

    @Mikefarinha Just buy Hotmail Plus, no ads. It is what I did.

  • RMR1969
    13 Posts

    It's all a hoax!!  They are not upgrading hotmail.  I have not seen any evidence and have not talk with anybody that actually has it.  Just a ploy to get you to upgrade to other products of Microsoft.

  • Would you rather pay for the service?

  • I think one of the biggest travesty's of Hotmail are the graphical Ad's.

  • when am I getting the new hotmail? does anyone have it yet?

  • td90uk
    5 Posts

    I'd like to see these changes, but I am yet to get the new Hotmail. Patience is a virtue.