Microsoft is hyping the addition of 300 more icons to Office 365 perhaps hoping to distract customers from the many problems finding and using the Insert | Icons feature in Office 365.
We like the addition of SVG graphics (Icons) into Office because it opens up a much wider range of scalable graphics. Office lacked support for a scalable graphic format before SVG’s became available.
What a shame that a feature with such potential is spoiled by a primitive interface and a lack of transparency about what’s added.
Overall, the Icons interface is very poor. Aside from no search feature, hovering a mouse pointer doesn’t show an enlarged version of the small icon. That makes it harder to select the right one, especially from similar icons.
Where’s the search?
Microsoft adds more Icons but does nothing to make finding them easier.
There’s no search or find option. No way to type a keyword or two to find suitable icons. Modern icon/emoji panels have this. Windows 10 Emoji Panel and Character Map have search, so does WhatsApp’s emoji panel.
Office 365 customers have to scroll through the long (now longer) lists of icons with only arbitrary categories to guide them.
Locked into modal
Icons is a modal interface in Windows, meaning the user is locked to using the Icons dialog and can’t switch away without choosing Insert or cancel. That makes it hard for the user to insert icons around a document or edit the text while adding icons.
Not sure what that means?
Compare the Icons dialog with the long-standing Insert | Symbol which isn’t modal. With Symbols, it’s easy to add symbols while also editing the document text – switching between the document and the symbol list. Word’s Find / Replace dialog is also non-modal which lets you Find something then click in the document for editing.
Forgetting history and customers needs
Icons is a new Office feature, made without learning from the history of Office or past user feedback. Way back last century, users battled with Microsoft to reduce the number of modal dialogs. Now in 2019, customers must fight the same battles over again.
It’s hard to understand how Icons in Office even started development as a modal dialog and with no search capability. They are things customers reasonably expect and should be there from the start.
Windows Emoji Panel
Even the lame and inept Emoji Panel in Windows 10 (Win + . ) lets users switch between the dialog and the current program. There’s a search feature too; it’s not very good but at least it’s there.
We described the Windows 10 Emoji Panel as the part of the Windows 10 update which totally sucks because of its problems. That was a little harsh because at least the Emoji Panel has a clumsy search and is not modal, while Office Icons doesn’t have these core features at all.
Why is Icons so bad?
Most likely it’s easier and cheaper for Microsoft to throw another 300 icons into Office 365 than spend time and money improving the underlying technology.
Another triumph of Microsoft marketing style over substantive help for customers.