With an MFA in Painting from The Art Institute of Chicago, Howlett was one of the first designers hired into Microsoft in 1985. While there, she built the company's first user interface design team. She led the team that designed the 3D graphic interface for Windows 95. She was also instrumental in starting Microsoft's corporate art collection.
In 1996 her book Visual Interface Design for Windows was published. In it, she explains the design process and provides a number of makeovers of real-world software products. It is recognized as one of the first books to bridge the gap between artistic product designers and technical software engineers.
After retiring from Microsoft she returned to painting. She maintains a studio in Seattle and exhibits work throughout the United States.
- "Interview with Virginia Howlett, mother of Verdana" Retrieved September 9, 2005.
- Personal Home Page
- Microsoft Art Collection
- Visual Interface Design for Windows (ISBN 0-471-13419-8)