Office 2010: Visuals and Branding

Hello, I’m Keri Vandeberghe and I work in Microsoft’s Office Design Group (ODG) as a User Experience Designer. I would like to share the story behind the visual approach and brand integration for Office 2010. I’ll give you a behind the scenes look at the philosophy that led us to the current design direction.


Office 2010 is not a complete makeover but a visual refresh to refine surfaces and remove unnecessary visual elements so the focus is on users’ content and less on the borders and widgets that frame the content part of a window (this frame is also known as the “chrome”). In order to achieve this we’ve reduced the number of borders, boxes, and horizontal banding which gave 6 extra pixels of vertical space back to the content area. By adding more white space, and carefully placed visual elements, we strove to create an interface that appears less intrusive, lightweight, and leaves more room for the self-expression of those using it.

For Office 2007 the Ribbon was a new UI paradigm and the visual styling was emphasized to expose features, show the relationship of controls, and bring forth functionality that was buried in menus and dialogs. Boxes and borders around each control and Ribbon group acted as “visual cues” to guide the user. The Office 2007 Ribbon used a high gloss glass surface, which aligned with the Windows Vista aesthetic, and added an additional “WOW” to a new interface.

Comparison of Office 2007 and Office 2010 Ribbon

In Office 2010 we feel the UI has matured and taken on a more refined appearance without sacrificing the overall structure of the Ribbon and its functionality. A major change for Office 2010 visuals is that the default theme is no longer blue. We chose a neutral palette to minimize sensorial overload when creating documents and we also made a departure from flashy finishes. The Ribbon is still the most prominent UI piece and sets the pace for all that follows. The user interface below the Ribbon is more subdued. The soft gradients and the use of light and color are meant to call attention to or draw the users’ eye to a specific area. There is a visual rhythm defined by white space and a few highly contrasted elements like the Office brand orange to indicate selection and the individual product colors in the File tab.


We’ve continued the tradition of shipping three UI themes; Silver, Blue, and Black. All of the text in the Silver theme now has a 5:1 contrast ratio (the perceived difference in a color that occurs when it is surrounded by another color) with its background. This is a common request from our users with low vision and we’ve found that most users also benefit from the enhanced readability and improvements.

You’ll find the control for switching themes by clicking on the File tab > Options > General > Color Scheme.


Consistency across Platforms

Consistency in the overall visual styling across Office applications, SharePoint, and Web Applications was a major goal this release. We wanted the experience to feel familiar and consistent when moving from one product to the other. The neutral color palette in SharePoint provides a platform for individual company branding to shine with much less effort. Carrying over the neutral color palette to the Web Apps pairs well with a variety of host chromes and ties the experience back to the full service Office applications.


Alignment with Brand Strategy

The Office Design Group worked closely with Microsoft’s brand team to evaluate, refine and identify the in-product branding opportunities. This collaboration ensured that the brand was infused in the product in a relevant and distinctive way.

With Office 2010 we’ve unveiled a new Office brand system. The logo has evolved, moving from the original four colors that signified Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook to a mark that fully embraces the Office orange brand. The logo also completes the evolution from the puzzle pieces last seen in Office XP to a mark that conveys energy, impact, and connection.


The application icons have been re-designed for the release of Office 2010. The new icon designs respond to research that informs us that users can more easily associate icons by letter and color than by abstract design. We’ve adopted an alphabet system to bring a more uniform approach to the wide variety of Office family products.


We’ve also chosen to play up the individual application colors this release and have updated the spectrum of colors to use a more vibrant and pure color palette. We’ve added the product color to the File tab and a few select elements in the Backstage view to make it easier to quickly identify the Office application you are working in. Think of the application colored File tab as a sneak peek into the Backstage view.



The new Microsoft Office brand gesture and updated orange color palette is showcased in the animated splash screen. The animation adds energy, expressiveness, and an element of delight to the product launch experience.


It’s not just a pretty picture
Designing and implementing the visuals for Microsoft Office goes beyond the icons and the age old desire simply to “make it look pretty”. It’s about bridging the gap between the familiar and the unknown, conveying and building on a brand, and helping users complete their daily tasks without getting in the way. Hopefully this quick overview has given you a better understanding of the visual refresh you’ll see in Microsoft Office 2010.