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Microsoft replaces veteran Xbox design boss

The company will work on the next Xbox console without the brand and design chops of Don Coyner, who joined the Xbox team just as Microsoft started developing the video game console more than a decade ago.

The Xbox team, in 2000, with the chrome Xbox concept prototype. Don Coyner, who led marketing for the console, is wearing the patterned shirt in the middle row, far right.

As Microsoft's Xbox group moves toward launching a successor to the Xbox 360, it will do so without the brand and design leadership of Don Coyner, who has guided that strategy since the console's inception more than a decade ago.

Two sources who work for Microsoft say Coyner is no longer leading the design and experience group for Xbox. One of those sources said Coyner was replaced by Emma Williams, who helped guide the just-launched redesign of the Xbox Live interface.

Microsoft declined to confirm or deny the organization changes. "We don't comment on personnel issues," a spokesman said.

Coyner is a well-regarded executive at Microsoft, who joined the Xbox team as the company began working on the video game console in 1999. Coyner started as director of marketing for the group. As development of the Xbox 360 gained steam, his role expanded to include user experience. According to journalist Dean Takahashi's book, "The Xbox 360 Uncloaked," Coyner championed creating a unified design language for Microsoft's second stab at console gaming.

"He wanted to whole user experience to be consistent, like an Apple product, where everything from the screen to the package looked like it was designed by just one person," Takahashi, now lead writer for GamesBeat at VentureBeat, wrote.

That unified design won plaudits for the console at its 2005 debut and helped propel it to much greater success than its predecessor. Sales of the device have continued to grow month-over-month, defying conventional wisdom that console sales should taper after five years or so. Xbox 360 will finish this year as the best-selling console in the United States.

Coyner, who joined Microsoft from Nintendo in 1995, served most recently as general manager of entertainment design at the company. According to his LinkedIn profile, Coyner managed 140 software and hardware designers and user researchers in Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business group. The sources say he hasn't left the company. It's unclear, though, what his next role will be, or why Coyner is no longer in the job.

Williams, Coyner's replacement, will be tasked with guiding the design and brand strategy as the group moves toward launching the next console. The game developer Web site Develop recently pegged the launch of the next console for 2013, something a source on the Xbox team confirmed. Microsoft declined to comment on the timing of the next Xbox.

Most recently, Williams, general manager of Xbox Experiences, led a group that worked on the updated interface for Xbox Live, launched last week. The group adapted the tile-based Metro interface, which first debuted with Windows Phone 7 last year, to the Xbox experience.

It's a dramatically different look for gamers, featuring content hubs--such as video, games, and social--displayed horizontally across the top of the screen. From each hub, users can chose from a selection of rectangular tiles that display content, such as the latest games played or the hottest movies available on demand. And with Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing controller, consumers can also use gestures and voice to navigate through the new interface.

"Science fiction has become science fact," Williams said in the Microsoft press release announcing the update.

Williams joined Microsoft in 2003 from Intuition Consulting, a channel-strategy consulting firm, where she was chief operating officer, according to her LinkedIn page. Prior to that, she was director of engineering at the Silicon Valley headquarters of BMC Software.