Office 365’s New Look Is a Good First Step

One small step, many more to go

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft is working on a complete revamp of its Office 365 apps, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
  • The first iteration of these changes is available to Office Insiders.
  • Microsoft plans to continue updating the UI and features in Office 365 to provide a more focused and simpler approach to using its applications.
A mockup of what the new Microsoft Office might look like.

Microsoft / Medium

The new and improved UI For Microsoft Office 365 is finally available to Office Insiders. While nice, it doesn’t yet seem to reflect the company’s focus on simplicity and ease of use.

Microsoft has been updating the user interface (UI) for its Office 365 suite of tools since last year. Following the reveal of Windows 11, the company seems to have doubled down on the efforts to revamp the look and feel of the applications.

This past week, Microsoft started rolling out the first update, including several new UI changes for Office 365, such as more rounded corners on the app’s ribbon, easier access to sharing, and other key features. After playing around with the new UI for a few days, I'm happy to say it does make navigation a little simpler to work with while also making the ribbon easier on the eyes.

"Ultimately, Office 365 still feels like the same suite of tools we’ve been using for years now."

Redecorating the Ribbon

In June of last year, Jon Friedman, corporate vice president of design and research at Microsoft, revealed a look at the future of Office 365. In that original sneak peek, Friedman touched on Microsoft’s plans to hone in on focus and simplicity. Additionally, Friedman’s post also seemed to hint at removing the ribbon—the user interface featured at the top of Word and other Office products.

The current iteration that Microsoft is showcasing to Office Insiders pulls from that original reveal, though it looks like the company isn’t in a hurry to replace the ribbon completely.

Instead, the UI update acts as a redecoration of the ribbon, itself. The colors and words on the ribbon are cleaner and crisper, making it easier to read. The entire app feels bouncier and more bubbly, similar to the look that other Windows 11 UI features heavily.

Screenshot of the new Microsoft Office 365 Ribbon.

Ultimately, what is available so far doesn’t feel like it’s any easier or more difficult to use than previous iterations of the Office 365 UI. However, it is nice to see Microsoft making some changes to the UI, which has fundamentally stayed the same for several years.

All the usual categories you’d expect can be found inside of the new UI just as easily as before, so it shouldn’t be that difficult for users to make the switch whenever Microsoft pushes it out to the public.

Just Getting Started

Despite a heavy emphasis on focus and simplicity, the current UI changes don’t seem to hit those markers, and it would be nice to see programs like Excel getting better support to help users dive into it.

If Microsoft can nail that feeling of simplicity and make Office even easier to get up and running, it could start to push back against the competition from other word processors like Google Docs, especially when the online version of Office starts to receive these updates.

Microsoft reportedly still is working on an adaptable command toolbar instead of a ribbon, but at least for now, users can still expect to see the ribbon playing a big part in using applications like Office, Excel, and PowerPoint.

How much that will change in the future or how quickly it will change is still unclear. What we can say, for now, is that the UI changes don’t usher in an entirely new feel for the Office suite, and that isn’t a bad thing. 

The Future Vision of Microsoft 365 (2020)

The company estimates that it will probably take at least a year or two to roll out all the planned changes for Office 365. This means users could be waiting a while before we start to see any background updates to the core systems and features of the tool suite.

Ultimately, Office 365 still feels like the same suite of tools we’ve been using for years now. There’s some comfort in that familiarity, but I can’t help but hope that Microsoft continues to push the tools forward and offer deeper changes to how we use them.

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