Microsoft is redesigning Office, making a series of small changes that the company says add up to a simpler and more customizable experience to the productivity suite’s more than 1 billion monthly users.
In an interview with GeekWire, Jon Friedman, general manager of design management and operations at Microsoft, said the changes are meant to reflect the changing dynamic in the workplace. By 2020, Millennials will be the dominant age group, but several generations will share offices, and each group works in its own way, Friedman said.
“The context of the world is changing dramatically, and while we’ve grown up with these productivity experiences that we’ve grown to love, I think there is a broader set of people we have to adapt to,” Friedman said.
Across Office apps, users will notice a more streamlined ribbon — the bar of commands at the top of the page. The three-lined ribbon has been reduced to a single line in the redesign. Microsoft added more differentiation and pops of color to those command icons to make them stand out.
Microsoft is highlighting the most common commands, such as replying to a message in Outlook, or marking text bold in Word. Friedman said 10 basic Outlook commands are used by everyone and make up 95 percent of all actions. The customization comes in for those other less common commands, giving users the ability to pin their favorite actions to the ribbon.
“We designed something that gave people out of the box the 95 percent of what they need and gives them the flexibility with the 5 percent that makes it their own,” Friedman said.
Users have the option of going back to the original ribbon, as well, Friendman said. These changes are coming to Word on Office.com today, and next to receive them will be Outlook in July.
Microsoft overhauled the look of all its icons across Office. The goal is a modern feel and a more inclusive design. By making icons stand out from each other, Office can become easier to use for people who are visually impaired, Friedman said.
The new icons will come to the Word web version first, make their way to Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Windows later this month and debut on Outlook in July.
Microsoft is also emphasizing the search bar in the new design and infusing artificial intelligence into it. Just clicking on the search button will bring up documents they have recently worked on. Upcoming calendar items like flights will also come up without having to conduct a search.
The common thread between these changes, Friedman says, is a “simultaneous quest for simplicity and power.” The company asked users what they wanted out of Office, and they liked everything it could do, but they wanted a more simplified experience.
Microsoft’s redesign comes on the heels of an overhaul of Google’s Gmail. Those changes, announced in April, focus on doing more within the email window and infusing AI into every part of the experience.
Friedman said Microsoft has been working on this Office redesign for approximately a year. The shift to Office 365 and Office.com has seen the company issuing updates more gradually, versus throwing huge changes together every couple of years. It gives Microsoft the ability to monitor its updates and quickly fix any issues and blunts shock users might see from dramatic changes.
“Day in and day out, Office will get a little bit better,” Friedman said. “A year from now, you look at Office and it will be significantly better and different than you know today, but it won’t feel like that big of a difference.”