This past week, Microsoft made headlines across the web for a strange reason. The company announced it was in the process of rolling out newly designed Windows 10 icons to its Windows Insiders.
The feedback was quite critical, and some have found the new icons as Microsoft’s way of just putting lipstick on a pig. But Microsoft has a reason for it all. In a Medium blog post, Microsoft opens up on the decision, and how it is “bringing the aesthetic principles of design to a new paradigm of user-friendly computing.”
Authored by Microsoft’s own Christina Koehn, the post gives a nice look at how the Icons in Windows have evolved over the years. According to Koehn, Microsoft recently realized a shift in the meaning of the PC. Thanks to mobile phones and tablets, people have more devices, up to four per person, according to Koehn. To Microsoft’s designers, this means looking at Windows from a different scope. In her own words.
“As designers, this signals to us that modern life is complicated. And as designers for Windows, this signals a need for simplicity at the systems level. In terms of a system, we can look to the Windows icons as a means of wayfinding. Systems are inherently complex and icons provide simple points of reference.”
This is why Microsoft is now phasing out the flat icons many have become familiar with in Windows. Sure, these icons might look weird now, but according to Microsoft, more icons are coming to the scene, and the approach needs to evolve with it. It’s also especially important for Microsoft, as the company now has apps that are cross-platform. According to Koehn.
“We needed to incorporate more visual cues into the icon design language using our modernized Fluent Design Language […] Our experience ecosystems are incredibly intricate and have started to spill out of Windows into third-party platforms like Android, iOS, and Mac. We’re dedicated to making our icons familiar, beautiful, and inclusive.”
So, like it or not, these new icons look to be the start of something new at Microsoft. Weird as they are for some due to the current inconsistencies, icons now have more depth, color, and are quick and easy to find. They fit in well with the rounded corners from Fluent Design and give Windows a new and modern look. Microsoft promises that more icons are coming soon, so over time, the design might become more consistent. Get used to it.