Why is the new Office 365 look so bland?

Office 365 for Windows is getting a ‘visual refresh’ a changed look to the ribbon and overall appearance of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook (the other Office apps will change later).

This new look is currently in beta testing and may change a little before public release.  It’s only fair to start by saying we dislike these changes which are more than just a ‘refresh’.  Strip away Microsoft’s hyperbole about “new, fresh user experience” and ‘Fluent design’ and you’ll see that paying customers are being offered a bland, undistinguished interface. 

The main beneficiary of this new look is Microsoft, not their paying customers.

It’s hard to see how this flat and insipid look will ‘help you focus more on your work’.

Especially since there’s few visual clues to distinguish Word from Excel or PowerPoint.

Thankfully the Colorful theme is still available. Yes, it’s a little garish but at least it’s easy to pick the apps apart.

We’ll talk more about the changes to the Quick Access Toolbar.  It’s NOT true that users can ‘Customize the state’ of the QAT. There are now compulsory buttons on the title bar that can’t be moved, so they can serve Microsoft’s corporate agenda.

The existing Office themes remain (Colorful, Dark Gray, Black, White and ‘Use system setting’). However the changes to the Quick Access Toolbar will persist across all themes.

Superficial, self-serving ‘refresh’

All up, this ‘visual refresh’ is a superficial exercise which adds little for Office users.  There are parts that are more focused on Microsoft corporate agenda (pushing OneDrive via fixed, large AutoSave) than what paying customers want.

Nothing done about long-standing problems with the ribbon and QAT.  No better range of icons, no easier renaming of custom QAT items. Galleries don’t show the current setting unless it was already visible.

Amazingly, the Style gallery is now WORSE in the ‘visual refresh’ showing LESS detail than at present.

The current Style Gallery shows the style name, style type (if paragraph only) and a small sample of the formatting.

The new version just shows the style name with the formatting included in the name.  No visual clues about the type of style. The style names are harder to read because they are in a mix of fonts, sizes and colors.

Word Style Gallery current view (left) and ‘Visual Refresh’ preview (right).

This is part of Microsoft’s push to dumb-down the Office interface for all users no matter how experienced or confident they might be.  The patronizing concept of ‘simplifying’ interface ignores the needs of the millions of experienced Office users.

Outlook new sidebar

Outlook 365 for Windows is getting a changed interface (Microsoft calls it an ‘experience’).

Apps Sidebar

There’s a new sidebar which lets you switch between the main Outlook windows (Mail, Calendar, Contacts) and open other Office apps like Word, Excel, To Do etc.  Click the ‘three dots’ at the bottom

It’s similar to the sidebar in Outlook on the web for Microsoft 365 business plans and Outlook.com.

The Outlook Quick Access Toolbar has the same ‘below the ribbon’ option, thankfully without any compulsory title bar buttons.

But the QAT can be returned to the title bar.

Who gets it?

The Office 365 for Windows visual refresh is available to Insiders/Beta channel v2108 build 14301.20004 or later on Windows 11 or Windows 10.  Click the ‘Coming Soon’ button top left to enable, or more likely disable, the changed interface.

Source: Microsoft

How new is the Microsoft Office interface really?
Outlook 2010 gets the ribbon interface