It’s been five years since the icons for Microsoft Office were last updated, and the Microsoft of then and the Microsoft of now are two very different companies. Since CEO Satya Nadella took over in February 2014, the company has evolved from a sleepy giant in Seattle to, this week, surpassing rival Apple as the most valuable publicly traded company in the world.
One of the most recognizable looks in tech, the Office suite has been a consistent presence in consumers’ lives for years. Today, the company is unveiling a redesign of its entire suite of Microsoft Office icons, with all 10 getting a brighter, more modern look.
According to Jon Friedman, general manager of experiences and device design, the icons are a metaphor for the company’s current vision. They also serve as a billboard for the company every time a user opens an app.
“If there’s over a billion people using Office, you have to imagine there are billions of impression of these icons every day,” he said.
Overall, the icons are much more modern. They’re more colorful, bolder and yet softer, with gradient hues—green for Excel, orange for PowerPoint, blue for Word.
They’re reminiscent of a paint swatch, and look like something you want to use rather that something simply to be clicked on.
Each icon still retains some of its original design, especially with the letters and color-coding. In some ways, they feel a bit reminiscent of Adobe’s Creative Suite—although Adobe puts far more emphasis on its letters than Microsoft’s new look, which let the W, P, X and other letters play a secondary role.
“It’s important for us to feel like they feel like a family,” said Becky Brown, Microsoft’s creative director. “That they’re constructed in the same way to emphasize how all of the apps within office are working together.”
Brown, who spent much of the past year working on the project, seeks to maintain the company’s heritage while also updating the look to what the company aspires to be—and has already become.
The updates are the first phase in a plan to rebrand Microsoft’s look, with more changes to other products and services expected next year. The project was a collaboration across the company, pulling in designers from the hardware division and other parts of the company to provide input.
Microsoft’s heightened focus on design is part of a broader shift within the brand as it further embraces the use of artificial intelligence. According to Friedman, empathy builds trust, and trust will play a critical role in whether humans trust AI.
“If you want to design something that really starts to reach people in a way that they trust, that makes sense for them, you have to have huge empathy in understanding what they need and in a way that’s full of humility and learning,” Friedman said.
AI or not, he said it also comes down to what feels right to use.
“People fall in love with products when they care about how they feel when using it.”