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Microsoft details potential new designs for the Office UI

It's exploring a new contextual ribbon.
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
July 22, 2020
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Microsoft shows off potential changes to the Office UI
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Some might think that Microsoft should pick a user interface for its Office products and stick with it, but its UX designers have other plans. The company has unveiled yet more potential changes to its Microsoft 365 user interface in an ambitious Medium post.

Amidst the grandiloquent ideas, the main change appears to be to the ribbon. Though Microsoft never really finished its original fluent design, it now wants to adopt what it calls a flexible ribbon in place of the single-line ribbon.

“The next wave of Microsoft 365 UX changes will go even further by fading brand colors from app headers and exploring adaptive commanding,” wrote design and research VP Jon Friedman. “A flexible ribbon that progressively discloses contextually relevant commands at the right time just where you need them.”

Judging by the video, this could mean that Microsoft will use icons and app color branding in the headers to make it clear what app you’re in. It also plans to replace the fixed ribbon with one that can be docked and floated based on what you’re doing, perhaps like a glorified right- or ctrl-click command box. The team hasn’t locked down the final design, however.

The designers also want to put the command search bar in the top center, making it easier to find the myriad functions available in Word, Excel and other apps. “We’ll further advance our seamless, cross-suite Search to bring relevant information to your fingertips,” wrote Friedman.

All the changes are in service of keeping you focused on the task at hand, whether it requires lengthy concentration or quick tasks. “By designing for multiple cognitive states, focused experiences throughout the Microsoft 365 ecosystem minimize external distractions, lessen self-interruptions, and jumpstart flow,” according to Friedman.

The sprawling article and lavish video don’t convey much information, but may unintentionally explain why the Office UI has become so complicated. Hopefully the new design ideas will help, but they could take awhile. “While some of these changes will roll out within a year or two, others are still very much exploratory,” wrote Friedman.

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