Gestalt Principle: 2018 Office 365 Redesign

Last week, Microsoft’s redesign of the Office 365 suite icons appearing on my Mac Launchpad pleasantly surprised me. The updated app icons demonstrate a refreshing new take on what an app icon can look like while also preserving its cultural heritage as the staple office productivity tool in modern times. I read Jon Friedman’s Medium post about the redesign to understand how Microsoft conceived this stunning new visual design language.

From Microsoft’s Video Introduction of the new Office 365 Logo

Office 365’s last icon update was implemented in 2013. Ever since, Office 365 has been continually evolving to keep up with consumer demand to be a real-time collaborative office application. This involved implementing a cloud-based framework that transitioned Microsoft Office from a one-time purchase software bundle to a subscription-based software that’s hosted on the cloud. Doing so allowed Microsoft to interconnect Office 365 with Microsoft’s other offerings such as AI tools and LinkedIn insights to create a product that demonstrates their new design language: fluid and seamless experiences.

Friedman emphasized that fluid experiences involved catering to different devices where Office 365 is used (i.e. mobile, web, desktop) | Picture from Friedman’s Medium post

According to his Medium post, Friedman explains that Microsoft Design team applied Gestalt principles in their key design changes. Gestalt is known as the law of simplicity, and it describes the “basic principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It seems that Friedman envisions Office 365 as a holistic product that seamlessly connects its individual programs (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.) and their use cases together to allow users to intuitively interact within the ecosystem without ever feeling disconnected.

Since 2003, Microsoft Office has seen 5 generations of visual design. The Microsoft Design team decided to keep the iconic colors to preserve tradition and instill a sense of familiarity in the users.

I believe the visual design echoes Friedman and the Microsoft Design team’s application of Gestalt principles because of its use of gradients. The gradients delineated into what seems like modular pieces convey the idea of collaboration: things building upon one another. Friedman writes in his post that their design solution was to simplify the icons by ” decoupling the letter and the symbol in the icons.” This also creates a sense of depth, alluding to Microsoft’s recent implementation of 3D content across all apps in Office 365.

Picture from Friedman’s Medium post

“Similarly, we’ve changed the letter-to-symbol ratio. Traditionally, the letter occupied two-thirds of the icon, and the symbol took up one-third. We’ve changed this ratio to now emphasize the symbol because while the letter represents the tool itself, the symbol speaks more to people’s creations.” – Jon Friedman

Quoted from Friedman’s Medium post

Reading Friedman’s post explaining the visual design change of Office 365 has made me more interested in UI/UX design. It is amazing to comprehend the thought process behind a visual design change that essentially affects the whole world, and to see how powerful the visual design can be invoking a certain feeling. In the future, I hope to experience creating digital logos and implementing the visual design trends that are major tech companies are now creating.

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