Microsoft wants to remain recognizable, but with a fresh new look at the same time.
The company has announced new icons for its Office suite of products for the first time in five years, reflecting product changes and added emphasis on the cloud.
Office now exists on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, and Microsoft has been building a single core codebase to make rapid monthly improvements to the apps. These icons are designed to reflect how Office has changed recently, with new AI features, more collaborative features, and its platform independence for key apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
The new icons deemphasize the letter for each Office app, but still manage to look familiar. “Our design solution was to de-couple the letter and the symbol from the icons, essentially creating two panels (one for the letter and one for the symbol) that we can pair or separate,” explains Jon Friedman , partner director of design at Microsoft. “This allows us to maintain familiarity while still emphasizing simplicity when inside the app.”
Icons aren’t the only feature getting a refresh.
The Verge continued:
Icons are only one part of design, and Microsoft is making some subtle changes to Office elsewhere. The software giant is simplifying its ribbon interface and bringing its Fluent Design system from Windows 10 to Office apps. The subtle color changes to modernize the look and feel of Office are coming to Windows, Mac, mobile, and the web. One of Microsoft’s most popular mobile apps, Outlook Mobile, is also getting a major design overhaul soon with shared mailbox support and new gestures for accounts and folders.
Not everyone is a fan of the new look.
Larry Dignan wrote for ZDNet:
In a word, Microsoft’s Office icons are meh. In two words, New Coke. In three words, give me a break. And should we go to four words it’s something like: Well, they kinda suck.
Now I know that Microsoft Design put a lot of work into these icons . Who knows how many consultants, brand managers, armchair designers and real designers were involved with these icons. The last update to the Microsoft Office icons were in 2013.
I didn’t notice the change in 2013 and if Microsoft Office really had great icons they’d just kind of evolve and I wouldn’t notice them now. Think how the Pepsi logo has evolved over time.
Instead, these new Office icons simply try too hard.
Others noted that the changes are in line with industry design trends.
If you’re used to clicking or tapping on the existing Office icons to launch the apps, it may take time to retrain your brain to recognize the new designs without a nanosecond of mental exertion. Rather than creating something that screams “Microsoft!,” the company seems to have had simplicity as an overarching goal, which is not a bad idea when an icon will be rendered on an array of screens, sometimes at a dinky size. Just as corporate logos have tended to become less quirky and more similar in recent years , we may be in an age of iconography that stresses legibility over character.
The changes might seem small, but some are reading quite a bit into the redesign.
Yes, they’re purely superficial changes that don’t translate to functional improvements. However, it’s easy to see this as a symbolic milestone for Microsoft as a whole, not just Office. The 2013 icons came at the tail end of the Steve Ballmer era, when the company still revolved heavily around Windows and was only just ramping up its cloud services (Office 365 launched in 2011). Flash forward to 2018 and it’s a different story. Conventional Office releases and Windows still exist, of course, but Microsoft is thriving in the cloud and considers Windows just one piece of a larger puzzle. There’s a real chance you might never click these icons on a PC’s desktop, and that speaks volumes about the tech giant’s transition.
On social media, some compared the look to competitors and voiced disapproval:
— Josh Biggs (@biggsjm) November 29, 2018
Others gave the new look a big vote of confidence:
Microsoft has been hit or miss with Windows updates and features, but these icons are objectively H A W T https://t.co/pQ7cqG8CF1
— Cameron Crenshaw (@MechGingeneer) November 30, 2018
— Eric Marsi (@EricMarsi) November 30, 2018
What do you think of the changes, PR Daily readers?