All change: Microsoft is redesigning the 100 icons used for its apps and tools

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Microsoft users can expect to see over 100 new icons for its mobile apps and Windows utility tools in the coming year. 

The company last year revealed 10 new Office icons, which attempted to "keep tradition alive while gently pushing the envelope" with its Fluent Design System. Apps such as Outlook, Powerpoint, Word and Excel all retained the a single letter in the icon (O, P, W, E and so on), but the letters were separated from the icon and appear to hover above it.       

Microsoft has now scaled up that design change for over 100 icons, which include standalone apps, Windows utilities and mixed reality icons. The new icons were all "cut from the same cloth", according to Jon Friedman, corporate vice president of design and research at Microsoft.

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Friedman says design teams from across the company united under Microsoft's Fluent Design System to redesign icons for its enterprise, small business and consumer products while ensuring "each icon authentically represented both the product truth and the larger Microsoft brand".

As with the Office icon overhaul, Microsoft faces the same challenge today of updating icons for today's context without losing touch with its 45-year history. 

"We needed to signal innovation and change while maintaining familiarity for customers. We also had to develop a flexible and open design system to span a range of contexts while still being true to Microsoft," said Friedman. 

Fluent Design apparently helped Microsoft deal with this challenge by guiding designers towards icon designs that users already understand but still reflect its "diverse yet connected system". As part of this round of facelifts, Microsoft also expanded its library of icon colors, materials, and finishes.

Some of the new textures include ribbon-like designs in Microsoft's new Chromium-based Edge browser, which got a new blue and green wave icon that still echoes the old Edge.  

Setting aside that Chrome is now the default browser for most users, Friedman offered a take on Microsoft's aspirations for the new Edge and what it means for Office users: "People spend most of their working time using Microsoft Edge and Office to get things done, and the teams were excited to experiment with the new materials on these popular products."

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The new icons are also meant to reflect Microsoft's push for mixed reality technology and its own navigation of platforms. For example, Microsoft these days builds apps for Android and iOS and is attempting to improve the experience for Windows 10 users on these mobile platforms. 

"Whether our customers use their phone, PC, or VR headset to get work done, we wanted to reach people in every environment. The newest design guidelines helped us unify icon construction across the company and within each product family," explains Friedman.