Outlook not so good
Microsoft has unveiled a new set of icons for its Office apps as part of a broader effort to modernise the look and feel of its productivity suite. It’s the first time in five years that the icons have changed, and they’re designed to emphasise content, using a flexible visual system that works across various devices and platforms.
Office has become a lot more powerful since dropping perpetual licences. The suite has gained a bigger presence on the Web and has made great strides in mobile with apps for Android and iOS. Crucially, key apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook have become platform independent. Along with added collaboration features and AI-powered tools, Office has transformed into a tool that lets you work together in real-time from almost any device. As a signal to customers, Microsoft has evolved the icons to reflect these significant product changes.
The design of the new icons rethinks the letter-to-symbol relationship. Each icon is essentially made up of two panels – one for the letter and one for the symbol – that can be paired or separated. In the past, the letter generally assumed a larger proportion of the icon area than the symbol. Now, the symbol is emphasised, because while the letter represents the app itself, the symbol speaks more to people’s creations. The decoupling of the two elements, notes head of Microsoft Design, Jon Friedman, also adds a sense of depth, which could be exploited in 3D contexts.
Another design decision saw the removal of the “document outline” in previous icons – the focus is now on content. For example, we see individual cells for the Excel icon and a pie chart for PowerPoint. In this way, Friedman adds, the icons are meant to “embody the collaborative nature of the apps they represent.”
Naturally, the icons retain the colour schemes of previous iterations to maintain familiarity among users. However, long-time Outlook users will be vexed to see that the new icon for that app remains stubbornly blue, having changed from orange/gold in 2013. It becomes lost in a sea of other blue icons – Word, OneDrive, Yammer, Skype and Edge, to name a few.
The new icons will be pushed out to over one billion Office users across the world over the next few months, starting with mobile and Web.